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Giannis Joining Luka with Mavs: Did It Almost Happen?

The Dallas Mavericks sought to land Giannis Antetokounmpo in 2021 NBA Free Agency but instead he signed an extension with the Milwaukee Bucks.

DALLAS - The summer of 2021 was supposed to be an opportunity for teams like the Dallas Mavericks and Miami Heat to make the most of the salary cap space they kept open. The main target in mind was Giannis Antetokounmpo, but instead, he signed a supermax extension to remain long-term with the Milwaukee Bucks. 

Apparently, there was a general sense that Antetokounmpo could have chosen to sign with the Mavericks had he not agreed to a supermax extension that he ended up signing with the Bucks. 

When identifying the Bucks' struggles on offense during the NBA playoffs, ESPN's Zach Lowe noted how rival executives 'lived in abject terror' of the idea that Giannis Antetokounmpo would team up with Luka Doncic with the Mavericks.

“Perhaps the follow-on issue is that version of Antetokounmpo — as much finisher as initiator — requires an elite creator closer to his level,” Lowe wrote. “(This is why rival executives lived in abject terror before Antetokounmpo signed his supermax over the spectre of Antetokounmpo joining Luka Doncic with the Dallas Mavericks.)”

Choosing to sign a supermax deal is never a non-defensible decision for a player to make. Antetokounmpo will earn an incredible $255.7 million over five-years by staying the Bucks, which amounts to a staggering 35% of the team's salary cap. 

Had Antetokounmpo chosen to depart from the Bucks as a free agent, the most he would have commanded was a four-year, $145 million contract. He would have received one fewer year of major guaranteed money while earning substantially less on average per season.

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If chasing a championship was the desired outcome for Antetokounmpo, the state of affairs surrounding the Bucks rapidly changed after he put ink to paper, at least in the short-term. 

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Teaming up with Luka Doncic would have provided the Mavericks with an extremely potent pick-and-roll combination that can take full advantage of the weaknesses of the opposition. A deep drop is the ideal outcome for Doncic while a switch would result in mismatches to exploit with either talent.  

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A defense going small against the Mavs as the Clippers would not be a viable option with Antetokounpo manning the small ball five role. Antetokounpo would be incredible in short-roll situations after Doncic gets blitzed by two defenders without a rim protector on the floor. That ends in either a simple finish or a spray out to a wide open teammate.

Forcing a rim protector to come on the floor would mean that Doncic gets to pick on a slower footed big like Ivica Zubac over and over again. That's why it's so vital to have game-wrecking talents, it keeps the opposition honest while providing vulnerabilities to exploit. 

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In speaking of rim protection, the Mavericks had seemingly none of that against the Clippers. Antetokounmpo is a legitimately imposing defender standing at 6-foot-11 with a 7-foot-3 wingspan with strength and explosiveness. Those are the attributes of an ideal small ball five that can rotate over as a weak-side defender to pressure finishes. 

The improvement in speed would be quite helpful for the Mavericks in the open floor, too. Imagine, Doncic throws a lead pass to Antetokounpo in transition, who then euro-steps his way into an and-one off a one-hand slam. 

Coming off a Game 7 loss to the LA Clippers in the first round of the NBA playoffs, the Mavericks will need to find a genuine solution to surround Doncic with greater talent.