Winners and Losers of the Giannis Antetokounmpo super-max extension

A little over three years ago, Giannis Antetokounmpo tweeted the following out:

He wasn’t kidding.

This week, the reigning back-to-back NBA MVP announced that he had signed a five-year super-max extension to remain a Milwaukee Buck.

The deal will kick in beginning in the 2021-22 season and will take him through 2025-26, though he has an opt-out after the fourth year (2024-25).

It’s a decision that has league-spanning ramifications, so let’s break down the winners and the losers below:

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WINNER: Giannis Antetokounmpo
WINNER: Milwaukee Bucks

Call it a match made in heaven.

The Bucks rolled the dice on Giannis back in 2013, drafting the virtual unknown with the 15th overall selection. Maybe they knew he was a star in the making. Maybe they didn’t. But the franchise invested in him and his development, and the decision paid off.

In the years since, the Greek Freak has blossomed into a two-time MVP, a DPoY, a four-time First Team All-NBA member, and a marquee player in the Association. Understandably, other franchises lined up to try to entice him to play in a bigger market, but Giannis rewarded the Bucks by putting pen to paper, and sticking around in Milwaukee.

Make no mistake, Giannis’ bank account will be bulging in the wake of this signing. He’s earning the most per-year on average with this deal ($45.6 million) and is the proud owner of the NBA’s biggest contract ($228.2 million). Not bad for someone who, as a kid, was selling watches and sunglasses in the streets of Greece. But this isn’t all about money. It’s about giving thanks to an organization that has gone the extra mile for Antetokounmpo, both on and off the court. It’s well-deserved for both the superstar, and the team that plucked him from relative obscurity.

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LOSER: Mike Budenholzer

Since taking over as head coach of the Milwaukee Bucks, Mike Budenholzer has gone 2-for-2 in piloting his team to the top of the NBA standings by the end of the regular season. However, that success hasn’t translated as well to the Playoffs.

In 2019, Milwaukee was up 2-0 on the Toronto Raptors, only to lose the next four games to the eventual champs in the Eastern Conference Finals. A couple of months back, the team lost 1-4 to eventual East champions the Miami Heat in round two (though an injured Giannis didn’t help matters).

The criticisms of Budenholzer’s postseason stints are well-known. He’s quite conservative minutes-wise, being shy to play Giannis for extended 40+ minute stints. His defensive tactics have also not translated well in the Playoffs, and he’s been slow to adjust to this.

Odds are good that Milwaukee will have another great regular season. But come the Playoffs, if this team fails to reach the East Finals for whatever reason, it should be safe to assume that it’ll be the coach that shoulders the blame, whether that’s deserved or not.

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WINNER: Bucks GM Jon Horst

The Bucks’ 2020 offseason began with a bang, as they reportedly landed both Jrue Holiday and Bogdan Bogdanovic. Then things took a turn for the weird. Tampering charges were levied against the Bucks and the Kings, and Bogdanovic wound up signing with the Atlanta Hawks, presumably to avoid any possible sanctions had he pushed through with the Milwaukee signing.

It was a major dampener for the Bucks, especially since Giannis had reportedly pushed hard to add Bogdanovic. Instead, Milwaukee’s front office was forced to pivot to plan B, which certainly lacked star wattage: Bobby Portis, Bryn Forbes, Torey Craig, and DJ Augustin. Combined with a salary cap snafu involving role player Pat Connaughton, and it would have seemed like GM Jon Horst and company shot themselves in the foot had Giannis opted not to sign his extension.

Luckily for them, he did.

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LOSERS: The Dallas Mavericks, Miami Heat, Toronto Raptors, Golden State Warriors, and the LA Lakers
LOSERS: Fans expecting a 2021 offseason free agent frenzy

The free agency class of 2020 didn’t exactly set the world on fire (though there were still plenty of big transactions that made headlines), but it was assumed that 2021 would more than make up for it, with Giannis Antetokounmpo being the headliner.

Well, about that…

Several teams, the Mavs, Heat, and Raptors, made sure this offseason to keep cap flexibility heading into 2021, while the Warriors and the Lakers maintained assets in order to swing a possible trade. All that planning is out the window now though, with Antetokounmpo opting to stay in Milwaukee.

In fact, following a wave of extensions, 2021 actually looks quite similar to 2020. Sure there’s one big domino left to fall: Kawhi Leonard, who holds a player option for 2021, but the rest is headlined by the likes of John Collins (RFA), Lauri Markkanen (RFA), Andre Drummond, Blake Griffin (PO), Victor Oladipo, Lonzo Ball (RFA), and Rudy Gobert. That’s a good batch, but save for Leonard, it’s unlikely that we’ll see fans tracking free agents’ planes again like in the past.

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WINNERS: James Harden and the Houston Rockets

While free agency-wise, Kawhi Leonard might be the last “gettable” player on the market, there’s one more name available via trade still floating around out there: James Harden.

With Antetokounmpo off the board, it’s possible that the above mentioned teams will try to pry the Beard away from Houston as a pivot. Given how Harden has asked out already, teams are probably on the phone right now with new Rockets GM Rafael Stone.

For the Rockets, they should be able to get teams to throw in more assets in a possible trade because of the lack of available franchise-level guys. A truly desperate Heat team, for example, might be more willing now to part ways with Tyler Herro, now that Giannis is locked up. That extra amount of leverage in negotiations might just be the thing that can get the Rockets the kind of trade package they’ve been seeking, and land Harden in a place where he can better compete for a championship.