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Holding Pattern: Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Unsigned Supermax

The Bucks have until December 21 to secure their superstar long-term.

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Giannis Antetokounmpo Extension Press Conference Photo by Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images

The window for the Milwaukee Bucks to re-sign NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo opened with the start of free agency, and their window to remain relevant in the league and contend for the NBA Finals coincides with the length of Giannis’ tenure in Milwaukee. After disappointing playoff finishes for two years running, league skeptics and questionable sources claim that Giannis won’t be willing to stick around in Milwaukee, and that he would be better suited vying for titles in Miami, or Los Angeles, or literally anywhere else than Milwaukee. The Brew Hoop Podcast even has Vulture Talk, a segment dedicated to this running “conversation.”

However, none of the chatter has been consistent with the statements Giannis or the moves the team has made. Within a week of getting knocked out of the playoffs in the Orlando bubble, Giannis and his agent met with Marc Lasry to regroup and put all the cards on the table. The Athletic detailed the focus of that September meeting below:

For three hours, they discussed a wide range of topics: the state of the franchise, the ins and outs of this past season and the way it all went wrong at the end, the bubble experience, offseason priorities, the looming question of when the NBA’s next season might start and whether there will be fans on hand when the games begin. Since league rules prohibit the Bucks from engaging in any sort of contract talks with Antetokounmpo just yet — team officials even have to sign a document swearing they followed the rules — no specifics about his supermax extension were discussed.

The most important part of all? Sources say all parties left in good spirits and with a sense of synergy that the Bucks certainly hope continues. The meeting between Antetokounmpo and Lasry does not solidify Antetokounmpo’s future in Milwaukee, but it does serve as an important first step in one of the most important offseasons in the franchise’s history.

Bucks general manager Jon Horst took the hint and reshaped the roster during the abbreviated offseason. He brought in Jrue Holiday to replace Eric Bledsoe at point guard. He reinforced the roster’s midsection with players like DJ Augustin and Torrey Craig, and brought in some younger prospects like Jordan Nwora and Sam Merrill who could develop into useful contributors. He even settled on a deal with the Sacramento Kings to acquire Bogdan Bogdanovic, Giannis’ preferred offseason addition, before getting left at the altar by Bogdan (or his representation). This situation was messy despite Milwaukee doing nothing wrong, but that hasn’t stopped critics from pointing the finger at the Bucks. But even despite the failed sign-and-trade, Milwaukee has made meaningful improvements and should be a more capable playoff team this season.

Is it enough? Why hasn’t Giannis re-signed yet? Well, for one thing, he’s been out of the country, and is expected to return to the United States today. With training camp starting this week and only two weeks until the preseason starts, there are some who feel that the extension could be signed sooner rather than later, and the Bucks have been confident all along. There will be obvious call for celebration if the extension is agreed upon and formalized over the next few days, and if it isn’t, some may treat it as a doomsday scenario.

But they shouldn’t.

Because of the peculiarities of the supermax (officially known as the Designated Veteran Player Extension), a player can only sign the contract between the start of free agency and the start of the regular season, whereas a regular contract can be extended anytime before the deadline during the league year (as the Bucks did with Eric Bledsoe once upon a time). The window re-opens next offseason, when Giannis would be an unrestricted free agent, but the extension is the same.

So if Giannis decides not to accept the deal now, he can always sign the same deal next summer instead. The money is the same, and is in excess of anything that another team could offer. Because the Bucks hold Giannis’ Bird Rights, they can go over the cap to sign him to a new contract (or extend his current one). He’s under contract for this season already ($27.6M), so either way his new contract wouldn’t take effect until next season, when the supermax would start at $39.2M (worth $227,360,000 in total, the largest in league history).

However, regardless of if he signs that extension now or later, his $39.2M counts as a part of the Bucks’ salary obligations going into next offseason, no matter what. The Bucks can’t create cap space by trying to delay the extension; Giannis’ cap hold (which allows the Bucks to retain his Bird Rights) is the same as the supermax, and the only way to remove the restriction is to renounce the cap hold, which therefore prevents Milwaukee from offering the extension at all and would be a monumentally stupid move. So with that said, the Bucks have nothing to gain by holding off on the extension, and no one expects them to.

The Milwaukee front office already made it known that they are offering the supermax, and Jon Horst has been fined for saying so. The supermax was a mechanism added to the collective bargaining agreement to support franchises in retaining their top-end talent, and was seen as a particular boost for small-market teams. Some have pointed to Anthony Davis leaving New Orleans, Kamba Walker leaving Charlotte, or Kawhi Leonard leaving San Antonio as evidence that it doesn’t work, but that ignores the particulars surrounding their situations. In fact, as The Athletic’s Eric Nehm points out, no player who has been offered the supermax has decided to not sign it.

For now, we wait. The Milwaukee Bucks have already put themselves in position to be successful, having mortgaged their future on winning now and convincing Giannis Antetokounmpo that this is the best place for him and his family. The table is set...and it’s up to Giannis to decide if he wants to sit, and when.