In what should be the final major domino before the NBA season tips off next week, Giannis Antetokounmpo agreed to a $228.2 million, five-year supermax extension with the Bucks. The deal keeps the 26-year-old defending two-time MVP and Defensive Player of the Year with Milwaukee through at least 2025. His contract reportedly includes a player option for the 2025–26 season, giving Antetokounmpo the opportunity to sign another megadeal as he enters his 30s.
Of course, this is a hefty price to pay—it’s the largest contract in NBA history—but there was ultimately no number the Bucks would ever hesitate to meet. It’s the price of relevance, as Antetokounmpo continues to approach new heights, expand his all-around game, and push for his first championship. He agreed to the deal six days before Monday’s deadline, eliminating all speculation as Milwaukee enters the season. In theory, Antetokounmpo could have played out the season and tested free agency, or he could have asked the Bucks for a trade. Instead, he established his intent to continue building, rewarding Milwaukee for unearthing him in the 2013 draft, and helping him develop into arguably the NBA’s best player.
Antetokounmpo’s decision to re-sign is an obvious, massive win for mid-market and small-market organizations around the NBA, setting a new precedent for superstar talent by staying put for a third contract. He prioritized long-term financial security and belief in the franchise ahead of short-term flexibility and leverage over the team’s personnel decisions. There are hundreds of millions of reasons for qualified stars to sign the supermax contract, but doing so also requires a degree of mutual trust. Of course, Giannis can always be traded later. But his willingness to remain in Milwaukee and fight for a championship sends a message, and fulfills the hopes many held that his competitive nature would limit his interest in ring-chasing amid greener pastures.
The Bucks have done their part to keep Antetokounmpo happy, acting with varying degrees of preemptive urgency over the past several years to ensure their homegrown star would stay put. General manager Jon Horst mortgaged the team’s long-term draft assets in November to acquire Jrue Holiday from New Orleans, in an attempt to send a message to his star player that Milwaukee would not be content to stay put. The Bucks attempted to up the ante by trading for Sacramento’s Bogdan Bogdanović, but that deal notably fell through. It’s worth noting that Milwaukee currently carries Giannis’s older brother, Thanasis, a little-used bench piece, on its roster. The Bucks also rostered Antetokounmpo’s childhood friend, little-known Greek guard Kanellos Garbis, with their G League affiliate Wisconsin Herd for the duration of the 2018–19 season. Garbis logged just 64 minutes in 13 games.
With Antetokounmpo’s deal done and Paul George recently having signed an extension with the Clippers, 2021 free agency now looks to be significantly less star-driven. Kawhi Leonard, Chris Paul, and the Bucks’ own Holiday all hold player options. Rudy Gobert and the Jazz have yet to agree to a new deal. Productive veterans like Kyle Lowry, LaMarcus Aldridge, DeMar DeRozan, Mike Conley, Victor Oladipo and Andre Drummond will be unrestricted free agents. But teams hoping to attract star talent in the short term may have to get more creative. There’s still the possibility of a James Harden trade, and he’s among a host of big-name free agents who could hit the market in 2022, (albeit most will be in their 30s).
Milwaukee moves into the season with a star trio of Antetokounmpo, Holiday, and Khris Middleton, hoping to build on last season, when the Bucks were on a 60-win pace before the pandemic hit and they fell to the Heat in a five-game conference semifinals in the bubble. There will be pressure on the Bucks to get over the hump and make the Finals this time around, but reduced fear of their star player pressing eject if they fail. The next step for Antetokounmpo will be improving his streaky jump shot, a skill that could immensely help him close games in the playoffs. Antetokounmpo averaged 29 points and 13 rebounds last season—both career highs, and numbers that have improved in each of his seven years—in addition to 5.6 assists.