Milwaukee Bucks: Giannis Antetokounmpo outlines path to long-term stay

SANTA MONICA, CALIFORNIA - JUNE 24: Giannis Antetokounmpo attends the 2019 NBA Awards presented by Kia on TNT at Barker Hangar on June 24, 2019 in Santa Monica, California. (Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images for Turner Sports)
SANTA MONICA, CALIFORNIA - JUNE 24: Giannis Antetokounmpo attends the 2019 NBA Awards presented by Kia on TNT at Barker Hangar on June 24, 2019 in Santa Monica, California. (Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images for Turner Sports) /

Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s future with the Milwaukee Bucks is a frequent source of speculation, but now the MVP has spoken out on his path to a long-term stay in the Cream City.

On the same day that Giannis Antetokounmpo is scheduled to head back to Wisconsin to celebrate his MVP win in front of a large gathering of Milwaukee Bucks fans at Fiserv Forum, the 24-year-old has spoken out on a topic that will be of major interest to those who’ll pack out the Deer District to greet him.

Following a run of NBA superstars changing teams in recent seasons, and doing so at a moment’s notice and according to their own whims, the prospect of Antetokounmpo’s next contract and potential free agency has increasingly moved toward the forefront of NBA conversation, and undoubtedly the strategic plotting of front offices around the league.

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Antetokounmpo will be eligible to sign an extension to his current contract with Milwaukee next summer, in the form of a five-year, supermax deal that would make him one of the highest paid players in the history of the league.

If, for any reason, Antetokounmpo was to opt not to sign that deal, he would be slated to hit the open market as an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2021, and the Bucks may be forced into making some incredibly uncomfortable decisions before that date comes around.

Fresh off the back of the best season of his career to date, both on an individual and team level, there’s little reason for the Bucks to panic at present, though. A 60-win season and a trip to the Conference Finals laid out the franchise’s credentials in terms of a path to success, while winning MVP and launching his first signature sneaker also debunk many of the myths that surround the brand damage that can come from superstar players playing in smaller markets.

Still, as the final buzzer sounded on the Bucks’ Game 6 defeat to the Toronto Raptors back in May, ESPN’s Malika Andrews published a report emphasizing the importance of winning to Antetokounmpo, and how a trip to the Finals in 2020 could be crucial in securing his signature on a new deal with the Bucks.

Now, speaking to ESPN’s Ohm Youngmisuk from Los Angeles on Saturday, Antetokounmpo laid out the importance of winning to him in his own words, but also did so while re-affirming the fact that goal could still see him take up a truly long-term stay in Milwaukee.

"“My goal is going to stay the same: It’s get better, take it day by day, step by step, and the ultimate goal is to win a championship,” Antetokounmpo said. “As long as that we are all on the same page and we are all focused on that goal, why not play for the Bucks 20 years, why not play 25 years? Why not, after playing, be a member of the coaching staff or a member of the front office? But we got to have the same goal. We got to have the same principles. … We got to focus on winning a championship.“I want to be a part of a winning team,” Antetokounmpo continued. “As long as we have the same mindset and same approach to the game, there’s no reason for me to move and not be like Steph [Curry], not like be like Dirk [Nowitzki] or Kobe [Bryant] or Tim Duncan.”"

As much as the caveat of needing to be on the same page with the organization, and believing in a shared focus of winning will catch the attention of fans elsewhere who dream of the prospect of luring Antetokounmpo away from Milwaukee, these comments include some new wrinkles which should also be very encouraging for the Bucks.

Antetokounmpo has long stated his loyalty and gratitude to the Bucks for helping him to reach his current level. He has also made no secret of his admiration for superstars such as Kobe Bryant, Dirk Nowitzki and Tim Duncan who achieved their success while acting as the focal point of a single franchise throughout their careers. Larger trends in the NBA can’t necessarily be applied directly to Antetokounmpo either, as he’s already made it clear that he doesn’t necessarily think of life in the NBA in the same way as many of his peers. As he told The Athletic’s Eric Nehm about the prospect of working out with other superstars in the offseason:

"“I can’t work out with you in the summer and then play you in a few months. It feels weird. It doesn’t feel right with me. Like other players, it’s cool for other players, but I don’t. I don’t want to. Other guys do it.”"

Still, Antetokounmpo even thinking aloud about the prospect spending 20-25 years playing in Milwaukee, as he did in conversation with Youngmisuk, before then transitioning to coaching or working within the Bucks’ front office is major evidence of his current comfort within both the organization and the city.

That doesn’t mean there still isn’t potential for all of that to change if the Bucks prove not to be sustainable, top-end contenders, but it does show that the template is very much there, and that from Antetokounmpo’s perspective, nothing has really changed on that front.

Also of note, and cause for excitement for Bucks fans, will be Antetokounmpo’s assertion in the same interview that he believes he’s only at 60 percent of his full potential:

"“A lot of people say, ‘You are the MVP, you are one of the best players in the league, you are so dominant,'” he continued. “But I think I can get better. I think I am at 60 percent of my potential, as good as I can be. I just want to be better. If I am in the same situation again [in the conference finals], react better, play the game better, play better, execute better.”"

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There’s a good chance that Antetokounmpo may have more to say along those lines at the MVP Celebration event hosted in his honor by the Bucks and Nike at Fiserv Forum at 2pm CT on Sunday, but for those heading to that event, the young star’s recent comments should only provide further reason to offer him a hero’s reception.