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No Max, No Problem: Why the Giannis Extension Makes Sense

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Extending Giannis’ contract is good! But for only 4 years?

NBA: Chicago Bulls at Milwaukee Bucks Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

The prevailing notion across the NBA for the past year or so was that Giannis is a max contract player, and that it would take effect as an extension to his existing rookie-scale contract. No qualifiers, no conditions — it was a statement that was often treated as a fact. “When,” not “if.”

Back in April, I tried to summarize the case for maxing Giannis Antetokoumpo as early as possible, and very few people voiced their disagreement. It was the right move!

As it turns out, they did agree on an extension. But not the one we thought.

By signing Giannis to a 4-year/$100 million contract extension (effective at the start of the 2017-18 season), the Milwaukee Bucks surprised all of us by not doing the exact thing that so many of us claimed was obvious. But why? Why would the team mess with a sure thing? Are they somehow not convinced that Giannis is The Guy? Did they try to play hardball with him? Was the organization more concerned with saving money than appropriately paying our favorite Greek? Was Jason Kidd involved?! Tons of questions and no clear answers, until...

It just keeps getting better with Giannis, doesn’t it? It’s rare enough that a player takes a deal for less than they could get, and even more rare for the presumed star of a team. And for anyone who says that $6 million is not a significant amount of money, I would argue that the appearance of taking less money is more important than the amount of money itself, as it relates to Giannis’ teammates and their own future contract negotiations.

To me, the length of the contract is a much bigger deal. On the surface, it’s obvious that keeping Giannis around for five years is preferable to having him for four. It’s also obvious that a longer deal would serve as some incremental level of security for both sides; Giannis has another year of his career locked up, and the Bucks have the services of a high-level player for longer, despite the (fair) increase in cost. So why eschew the relative certainty that a max extension provides? And why are so many fans vocally upset about it? In pondering it for the last few days, I’ve boiled this whole saga down to one word.

Trust.

Giannis signed the deal because Giannis trusts the Bucks. He trusts that by giving up a little bit of money, the team will use that flexibility to build a stronger roster around him, and equip the team to contend in the playoffs against the other elite squads in the NBA. Giannis trusts that the owners aren’t being cheap, and that John Hammond and Justin Zanik will be able to take the room he is giving them to do something positive with it in the future.

The Bucks offered the deal because the Bucks trust Giannis. They trust Giannis’ loyalty to the team and the city of Milwaukee, which is uncommon in professional sports. The Bucks trust that Giannis will continue to work on his own game and push himself to be the best player possible, and that he will continue to show investment in the team when the new contract eventually runs out. They also trust that the precedent set by Giannis (and Khris Middleton last offseason, don’t forget about him) will have a positive impact on future negotiations, starting with Jabari Parker next summer, further enabling them to add talent to the roster.

Why might that work? Because Giannis’ teammates appear to trust Giannis. They definitely trust him on the court, and most of the Bucks seem to have decent on-court chemistry (despite the poor results last year and the occasional non-high-five between Khris Middleton and Greg Monroe). And if the West Coast road trip visit to the “gentlemen’s club” last season is any indication, a lot of Bucks seem to get along off-court as well (even if doing it in less TMZ-infested places would be preferable). Regardless of the images some players have and whether they’re seen as selfish or selfless, actions speak louder than words.

Something tells me that the team is in a good position when it comes to getting players to buy in; it looks as if most of the players are bought in already.

Now, some fans like the deal because they trust Giannis, but are worried because they don’t trust the Bucks. After all, the Bucks haven’t truly been relevant in the NBA for 15 years. Constantly treading water and striving for mediocrity gets old, and many fans can’t shake the feeling of pending disappointment that they’ve grown so familiar with.

Allow me to channel my inner cynic for a moment. (Please be advised that he sounds like me doing a poor impression of Gilbert Gottfried.) Ahem...

If Giannis is so great, why mess around with his contract? Just offer him the max and be done with it! Lock him in for the full five years! Enjoy watching him while you can! He’s gonna leave anyway, it’s not like the team is going to be able to actually make good on the promises they’ve made. They never have! What, are we supposed to believe that the team who thought that making a core of Drew Gooden, John Salmons, and Corey Maggette was a good idea?! Or bringing in Bobby Simmons? Or trading for Charlie Villanueva? Cutting Johnny O’Bryant? That’s a bad punchline to ‘The Aristocrats’. It’s crazy!

/wild gesticulating

I get it, I really do. In our staff roundtable, Frank said:

So the dollar figures are obviously a positive for the Bucks, though I also had an immediate flicker of concern that the Bucks could have gotten him for five years and decided to pay much less (and get more cost certainty) for four. I’ve been a Bucks fan for 25 years, so my natural inclination is paranoia, OK?

And Eric added:

For a brief moment, I thought about all the things that could possibly go wrong because, well, I’ve been a Bucks fan my whole life...

It’s really hard to put faith in a franchise that has failed to live up to expectations for such a long time, even with a top-down change in ownership. It’s easy to find a hole in the argument or a loose end that you don’t like, and to hang onto it as a sign that the same old thing is going to happen. It’s almost like a defense mechanism; we want to be right about thinking things will go wrong, rather than be wrong about thinking they’ll go right. It’s easier.

So here’s my plea to all you Bucks fans who see the Giannis extension and take issue with it. Just let it happen. Let the good vibes in. Our team just signed a guy who pushed back the press conference so he could work out, and planned on getting shots up that night with an over-the-hill combo guard who just got added to the team. He’s probably running wind sprints right now, as you’re reading this!

It’s not about the Bucks you’ve grown to know for the last few decades. It’s about Giannis now.