It’s hard to even think that it wouldn’t be a slam dunk yes for Giannis to stay in Milwaukee for the rest of his career. The former Finals MVP will be entering his eleventh season with the Bucks at the start of the 2023–24 NBA season. He has given his heart and soul to the Bucks throughout his entire career. He even said as much in an interview with CBS back in March: “I wear my heart on my sleeve and I really appreciate the people who gave me an opportunity and changed my life, my parents’ life, my kids’ life, I don’t take that for granted.”
Plenty of signs point to the two-time League MVP staying with the Bucks for the rest of his career. However, things change quickly in the NBA and what seemed like surefire decisions become a bit murkier. As of now, Giannis will be with the Bucks through the 2024–2025 season, with a player option for the following year set at $51.9 million. However, Giannis is eligible for an extension beyond that season this coming September on the 22nd, one which would add up to three years and $173 million onto his current supermax deal signed in December 2020. Bucks GM Jon Horst said the following about re-signing Giannis to Eric Nehm of The Athletic in July.
“I mean, that’s our job. He is the most incredible human, superstar, teammate, leader, I believe, in all of sports and we’re incredibly blessed to have him. It’s an awesome responsibility to win and compete every year to be in a position to keep him. I think that’s my job and that’s my responsibility and it’s my opportunity and his opportunity and our team’s opportunity. And Griff and (Bucks president) Peter Feigin share in that, as do our owners. I think it’s really cool to have that chance to be able to do that. We’ve been able to do it so far, and we’ll do everything we can to do it again.”
It’s no surprise to hear that from Bucks brass, but what about from the man himself? Recent comments paint a picture that, while not meriting anything close to panic, should raise every eyebrow in the front office. Via Tania Ganguli of the New York Times, Giannis said this about him potentially signing a new contract with the Bucks:
In a few weeks, he will be eligible for a three-year extension worth about $173 million, but he doesn’t plan to sign one just yet.
“The real question’s not going to be this year — numbers-wise it doesn’t make sense,” Antetokounmpo said. “But next year, next summer it would make more sense for both parties. Even then, I don’t know.”
He added: “I would not be the best version of myself if I don’t know that everybody’s on the same page, everybody’s going for a championship, everybody’s going to sacrifice time away from their family like I do. And if I don’t feel that, I’m not signing.”
To be clear, Giannis is eligible for an extension between September 22nd and the start of the season. He cannot sign an extension during the season, but he can sign one again after the season ends. So though this isn’t closing any doors, and Giannis might prefer next summer to make any sort of decision (after all, he would make more money if he extended then), cue the anguish anyway as if this is an imminent issue, because that’s just how NBA media operates:
Giannis on his next contract: “I would not be the best version of myself if I don’t know that everybody’s on the same page, everybody’s going for a championship, everybody’s going to sacrifice time away from their family like I do. And if I don’t feel that, I’m not signing.” https://t.co/1KV56mdceX— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) August 24, 2023
Giannis clearly wants a title-contending roster around him and for the front office to not get complacent while he is the unquestioned best player on the team. In this era of the NBA, star players have substantial power in where they will play in their career, especially if they are at the caliber of Giannis. Kevin Durant has been traded twice in his career, James Harden three times, and LeBron James chooses his destination every time he is a free agent. If the Bucks cannot fulfill what Giannis might be looking for (based on this quote), whether it is through trade or free agency, the Greek Freak may no longer be suiting up at Fiserv Forum in the home locker room.
Another eyebrow-raiser is the following set of comments, first from Ganguli and then from Giannis, regarding the Bucks’ offseason coaching change:
Milwaukee fired its coach, Mike Budenholzer, and hired Adrian Griffin, who had been an assistant coach for the Toronto Raptors. That change, Antetokounmpo said, is part of why he is unsure if he’ll sign an extension.
“You’ve got to see the dynamics,” he said. “How the coach is going to be, how we’re going to be together. At the end of the day, I feel like all my teammates know and the organization knows that I want to win a championship. As long as we’re on the same page with that and you show me and we go together to win a championship, I’m all for it. The moment I feel like, oh, yeah, we’re trying to rebuild —”
Whether or not that’s just author speculation, or that Giannis is legitimately concerned that the Bucks made a coaching change—one which many fans think he signed off on, maybe even wholeheartedly (at least among the anti-Bud crowd)—and how it bodes for franchise stability is now possibly a question. He does go on to make it clear that he would bear no ill will for whatever is to come and by all indications, Giannis still wants to be like Dirk and Kobe by both playing twenty seasons and playing them with the same team, though he’s making it clear he’s not beholden to those bits of trivia:
“There will never be hard feelings with the Milwaukee Bucks,” he said. “I believe that we’ve had 10 unbelievable years, and there’s no doubt I gave everything for the city of Milwaukee. Everything. Every single night, even when I’m hurt. I am a Milwaukee Buck. I bleed green. I know this.
“This is my team, and it’s going to forever be my team. I don’t forget people that were there for me and allowed me to be great and to showcase who I am to the world and gave me the platform. But we have to win another one... at the end of the day, being a winner, it’s over that goal. Winning a championship comes first. I don’t want to be 20 years on the same team and don’t win another championship.”
I think the biggest piece to this is less about Giannis wanting to stay and more about the roster that could be around him by the next time he could be a free agent. Jrue Holiday and Brook Lopez will be unrestricted free agents at ages 35 and 37 respectively, Khris Middleton, Bobby Portis, and Pat Connaughton all have player options for that season as well, so the only players under contract for that season could be MarJon Beauchamp, Andre Jackson, A.J. Green, and Chris Livingston (depending on what team options are exercised). That’s not to say any of the “core” guys can’t continue to play well into those ages, but considering that all three of Middleton, Holiday, and Lopez have had injury issues throughout their careers, it’s hard to see them staying healthy throughout.
It also depends on what the Bucks are able to do on the court in the next two years. Milwaukee has failed to make the conference finals since winning the title in 2021, with a second-round loss to Boston in 2022 and the first round that shall not be named in 2023. If the Bucks can’t put together another deep postseason run in the next two years, it could mean major changes to the Bucks roster. Changes that honestly the Bucks front office are ignoring right now in hopes of rekindling that 2021 season. Giannis already is certainly putting pressure on the front office to keep the Bucks as a championship contender.
Whether Giannis comes back or not, it seems that the championship window for this core might be approaching. Next summer could be the first time since Horst came onto the scene that major changes are needed to this Milwaukee core. Outside of swapping Holiday in for Eric Bledsoe, the core of Giannis and Khris has always been around and there’s never been this much potential for roster turnover in one offseason. This will be the true test of Horst’s mettle as a general manager. If he can re-tool this roster and convince Antetokounmpo that he can build this roster beyond Jrue, Khris, and Lopez, then Horst will have accomplished his biggest task outside of winning a title in Milwaukee.
Inherently, it is hard to predict what will happen with Giannis in 2025, or even before. It’s hard to predict anything that will happen two years from now. After the 2018–19 season, no one could have predicted that both Kahwi Leonard and Paul George would be traded to the Los Angeles Clippers in one night or that Russell Westbrook would be traded to the Houston Rockets for Chris Paul. Things change rapidly in the NBA and things that once seemed like a slam dunk to happen end up completely falling apart. While I would place a greater probability that Giannis remains with the Bucks for his entire career, nothing is ever set in stone and we could be living in a timeline where Giannis is suiting up for a different team. We could also be living in a timeline where he wins another ring and remains the franchise’s icon for another decade of playing, and longer as an icon in retirement. We could be living in any number of other timelines, so all there is to do now is speculate.