Giannis Antetokounmpo wrote in 2015, “Right now I feel like I want to play for the Milwaukee Bucks forever.”
That quote and the more-complicated context surrounding it drew plenty of attention as the NBA world focused on Antetokounmpo. He developed into Most Improved Player then Most Valuable Player then back-to-back Most Valuable Player then something even bigger – impending unrestricted free agent.
But Antetokounmpo’s loyalty to the Bucks remains intact five years later. He’s signing a super-max contract extension with Milwaukee that locks him in another five years.
The exact value of the extension won’t be determined until next year. It projects to be worth and will be worth at least:
This wasn’t the most opportunistic move for Antetokounmpo. He could have played out the season, further evaluated the Bucks and been eligible for the exact same super-max terms in 2021 free agency while keeping his options open.
Milwaukee handled its roster issues by throwing three unprotected first-round picks and two first-round pick swaps at the Pelicans for Jrue Holiday. That trade looks like it’ll help the Bucks. But if it doesn’t work out as hoped, they’re painfully short on assets.
Still, Antetokounmpo – who spoke about not wanting to play in a bigger city – is clearly happy in Milwaukee. The Bucks have finally shown more commitment to winning by paying the luxury tax this season. This extension was somewhat telegraphed, though doubt had increased recently.
By locking in now, Antetokounmpo removes a potential all-consuming distraction as Milwaukee chases a championship. Both he and the Bucks must perform better in the playoffs than they did the last two years. But they are capable.
This is a blow to the Raptors, Mavericks, Heat, and any other team that dreamed of luring Antetokounmpo next summer. It might also be a blow to the NBA, which has one of its brightest stars staying in a small market.
But it’s a massive victory for the Bucks, their biggest since they won their only championship in 1971.
A few years after that, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar requested a trade and got sent to the Lakers. He was entering a similar stage of his career as Antetokounmpo is now.
The big differences between the two: Abdul-Jabbar already led Milwaukee to a title and left. Antetokounmpo is staying and has unfinished business.
After winning MVP in 2019, Antetokounmpo said, “Please, after this day, don’t call me MVP because until I win it again next year.” After winning MVP in 2020 and obviously in the hunt for 2021 MVP, Antetokounmpo said, “Don’t call me MVP. Don’t call me two-times MVP until I’m a champion.”
Antetokounmpo’s mission is clear.
And now so is his team.