The Milwaukee Bucks have never been among the most enticing free agency landing spots, but is Giannis Antetokounmpo changing that?
All of the talk surrounding the Milwaukee Bucks this offseason has centered around Giannis Antetokounmpo’s future with the franchise. Falling short of their title aspirations for two consecutive seasons now, the big question is what he plans to do next with one year remaining on his current deal.
Giannis has reiterated many times, he wants to build a winning culture in Milwaukee rather than elsewhere, but that has not stopped the speculation. When accepting his second consecutive MVP award last month, Antetokounmpo told the following to TNT’s Ernie Johnson:
“As long as everybody is on the same page and as long as everybody is fighting for the same thing every single day, which is to be a champion, I don’t see why not be in Milwaukee for the next 15 years.”
Instead of all the talk surrounding where Giannis might play next, talks should center around how the Bucks can improve. The Bucks have a generational talent on their hands, and they can use that to try and entice players into Milwaukee.
As mentioned in a previous article, Giannis was a critical piece in the decisions of both Wesley Matthews and Kyle Korver to join the Bucks last offseason:
“After making some phone calls to Matthews and joining Korver for a pair of workouts, Antetokounmpo’s persuasion sealed the deal in their commitment to Milwaukee.
Matthews detailed it as a sign of respect after Antetokounmpo called him, saying that the admiration from the MVP meant the most to him. Despite league-wide interest, both players knew Milwaukee was the place for them to contend for a championship after Giannis contacted them.”
There were also whispers last offseason that then Houston Rockets’ guard Chris Paul was eyeing Giannis and Milwaukee as his next stop. As The Ringer’s Ryen Russillo said on Adrian Wojnarowski’s The Woj Pod podcast, “I had heard he wanted to go to Milwaukee. Of course, you’d want to go play with Giannis.”
Not every day does a surefire future Hall of Famer want to go to a small-market franchise, let alone the Milwaukee Bucks. That has only strengthened this offseason as Antetokounmpo and Paul have reportedly struck up a good relationship that stems from their shared time in the bubble.
The same sentiment applies for veterans such as Matthews and Korver, two players that were equally presented plenty of options to join contenders last offseason. These occurrences resulted from Antetokounmpo’s rising status in this league last offseason when he had just one MVP under his belt.
Now, a year later, not only does he have another MVP, but he also has a Defensive Player of the Year, being only the third player to ever win both in the same season.
Being just the 12th player in NBA history to take home MVP honors in consecutive seasons, will players want to play with Giannis Antetokounmpo?
When it comes to back-to-back MVPs from this century, history is inconsistent as to what follows. LeBron James has achieved this feat twice and it was in between winning his first two MVP awards that the Cavaliers acquired an aging Shaquille O’Neal, who declared his arrival was to “Win a ring for the King.”
The Cavaliers were bounced out in the Eastern Conference Semifinals by the Boston Celtics as O’Neal was hampered by a thumb injury midway through the 2009-10 season. And as we all know, James took his talents to the Miami Heat in the summer of 2010.
Go back further to Steve Nash, who won to consecutive MVP awards with the Phoenix Suns in 2005 and 2006, and a familiar set of circumstances that Bucks fans are well accustomed to in between the Canadian’s MVP honors.
The Suns became embroiled in a dispute with restricted free agent Joe Johnson, who wished for a larger role, and a deal that he felt was below his value. After plenty of back and forth, including Johnson reportedly asking Suns owner Robert Sarver not to match a five-year, $70 million offer sheet from the Atlanta Hawks, which eventually turned into a sign-and-trade deal.
And before Nash, there was San Antonio Spurs Hall of Famer Tim Duncan, who won two straight MVP awards in 2002 and 2003 and capped off winning his second award with the second of his five NBA titles over his historic career.
It was in the summer of 2003 where the history of the Spurs could have completely changed with their pursuit for fellow Hall of Famer Jason Kidd, who ultimately elected to stay with the then-New Jersey Nets. Kidd reflected on how close he came to San Antonio to ESPN’s Ohm Youngmisuk in July of 2016:
“I thought I was going to be a Spur,” Kidd, now the Milwaukee Bucks coach, said while watching his team during the Las Vegas Summer League on Monday. “I committed when I was down there on my visit [to San Antonio].
“On my flight home, I think I got cold feet,” Kidd continued. “And sometimes I have nightmares about that. Maybe I could have won a championship or two there. But I got really lucky with Dallas and won a championship.”
On the opposite side of the spectrum, Stephen Curry won the award in 2015 and 2016, and his Golden State Warriors responded to their heartbreak of blowing a 3-1 lead in the 2016 NBA Finals by adding another superstar in Kevin Durant during that summer’s free agency.
The Bucks would certainly like to go with the latter, but with their limited resources, any hope of landing another star this offseason might be a pipedream. Still, the team has not shied away from their desire to go through a roster retooling this offseason, and Giannis Antetokounmpo’s presence undoubtedly helps in attracting talent.
An intriguing scenario could be Danilo Gallinari, who played out this season with the Oklahoma City Thunder. The 11-year veteran recently stated during Festival Dello Sport in Italy that playing for an NBA title is more crucial to him than a contract at this point in his career.
There is no doubt that a handful of teams across the league would like to get their hands on the 32-year-old. The question is whether he might consider going to a team like Milwaukee to play beside Giannis. Perhaps if Giannis Antetokounmpo gave him a phone call as he did with Matthews and Korver it might be convincing because of his growing reputation and the team’s win-now mindset.
Whether the Milwaukee Bucks are a desirable option for players this offseason or not, the team’s front office needs to get aggressive in trying to bring in some personnel. In doing so, using Giannis Antetokounmpo as a pitch might not be a bad idea.