Admit it: You didn’t think it would happen.
You didn’t think Giannis Antetokounmpo, the two-time MVP, the NBA’s best player, would commit to Milwaukee. Why would you? Players like Giannis don’t commit to Milwaukee. They play in Milwaukee, at least until they have the freedom to sign elsewhere. That, for Antetokounmpo, would have come next summer, when he could have hit unrestricted free agency.
About that …
Antetokounmpo will become a free agent … in 2025, when can opt out of the five-year, $228 million extension he signed with the Bucks on Tuesday. The new deal guarantees Antetokounmpo $256 million over the next six seasons, the richest contract in NBA history.
It’s a great deal for Antetokounmpo
It’s a better one for Milwaukee.
That Giannis signed an extension really isn’t that surprising. There have been no signals from Antetokounmpo that he was unhappy. No whispers that he wanted out. Last season ended badly, when the Bucks were drop-kicked out of the playoffs in the second round, with a hobbled Antetokounmpo getting outplayed by Jimmy Butler. But Milwaukee responded by getting better, flipping Eric Bledsoe and a cache of draft picks for Jrue Holiday.
That Giannis committed to the longest possible contract is surprising. Plenty of attention was paid to the Dec. 21st deadline for Antetokounmpo to sign the max-level extension. But that wasn’t the deadline for Giannis to sign any extension, and there were plenty of reasons for the Greek Freak to angle for a shorter deal. A two-year contract—with a player option for a third season, in case of injury—would have provided the 26-year-old Antetokounmpo with financial security while allowing him to keep pressure on Milwaukee to improve.
Instead, Giannis will have a Milwaukee address into his early 30s.
This is an endorsement of the Bucks, of the organization that drafted him in 2013 when Giannis was a stringy Greek teenager tearing up a lesser European league. The Bucks drafted him, developed him and over the last two years have surrounded him with enough talent to win more than 70% of their games. With Holiday—a sturdy, two-way combo guard—on board, Giannis will have his strongest supporting cast to date.
This is an endorsement of Jon Horst, the Bucks' 37-year-old general manager who, since taking over basketball operations in 2017, has been brilliant. Horst hired Mike Budenholzer (more on him below), signed Brook Lopez and acquired George Hill and Pat Connaughton, while drafting Donte DiVincenzo, a valuable role player. In agreeing to a deal now—Giannis could have signed the exact same contract next summer—Antetokounmpo is showing faith in Horst’s ability to continue to build a winner.
It’s an endorsement—or at least a show of support—for Budenholzer, who came under fire in the aftermath of the Bucks' early playoff exit. While Jason Kidd groomed Giannis into an All-Star, Budenholzer’s floor-spacing system helped Antetokounmpo become an MVP. There will be pressure on Budenholzer to deliver a Finals appearance this season, but he will do it knowing Antetokounmpo is behind him.
It’s an endorsement of Milwaukee, and this is important. Small markets have taken a beating in recent years. Kawhi Leonard bailed out of San Antonio. LeBron James left Cleveland. Anthony Davis forced his way out of New Orleans. Oklahoma City, one of the NBA’s best teams for most of the last decade, has been completely deconstructed. Giannis isn’t some faded star signing with a small-market team toward the end of his career. He’s a superstar saying Milwaukee is where he wants to spend the prime years of it.
“This is a big moment for me and my family and I want to thank the Bucks organization for believing in us,” Antetokounmpo said in a statement. “You took a chance on us eight years ago and now putting my signature on a contract like this is unreal – but it’s all because of hard work. This is my home and I’m going to continue working hard and do my best to make the Bucks, our fans and the city proud. Let’s have fun, win and make these years count.”
There are forlorn faces in Miami, where the Heat were hoping to make a run at Giannis next summer. Same thing with Toronto, which had carefully cleared cap space hoping Pascal Siakam, Nick Nurse and Masai Ujiri would be enough to lure Antetokounmpo deeper into the north. Dallas and the Lakers are bummed out, too. Giannis wasn’t just the crown jewel of the 2021 free agent class—he was the free agent class.
Oh well. Milwaukee gets its man, small markets get a win and now the Bucks can focus on a championship. In meetings with Antetokounmpo, the Bucks have been clear: We’ll do whatever it takes. The Eastern Conference is as strong as its been in years, with a Kevin Durant–fortified Brooklyn team joining Miami, Boston and Philadelphia among the likely conference elite. Milwaukee depleted its draft capital in acquiring Holiday but the Bucks' message to Giannis in recent weeks has been that if there is an opportunity to improve the roster, they will do it, regardless of cost.
The Giannis sweepstakes is over.
James Harden, you’re next.