Giannis Antetokounmpo made the obvious choice when he extended his contract with the Bucks
All is well in Bucks Forest! The uneven play in the bubble; the blown Bogdonavic trade; the team’s disjointed look through two preseason games… all are forgotten. Giannis re-signed. In a star-driven league, the Bucks have one of the youngest and brightest.
Judging by Bucks Twitter (a dangerous way to begin a paragraph, to be sure), Bucks fans were sweating this one. The Worldwide Reader, a longtime fan and season ticket holder, was not. Signing a “supermax” extension with the Bucks always made sense for the Greek Freak.
Two recent developments contributed to the obviousness of Giannis’s extension: the ongoing marketing apocalypse and the public’s perception of trade requests.
About a decade ago, the NBA world was obsessed at various times with the Dwightmare and Melodrama. Dwight Howard and Carmelo Anthony, both perceived at the time to be Championship level superstars, wanted out of Orlando and Denver, respectively. Both got traded to their preferred destination, but both acquired a lingering stain in the eyes of hoops fans.
Carmelo went from being perceived as one of the most gifted offensive weapons in the NBA to a shot-happy ballstopper. Dwight went from the defensive heir to Bill Russell to a locker room cancer. Both men recovered their reputations to a degree last season, but neither remains on his star trajectory of a decade ago. Statues will not be built. Legacies will be more Sprewell-in-Minnesota than Wade-in-Miami.
Recent superstar trade demands have not garnered such backlash. Sure, there is a sad bubble of Boston fans with lots of Spotify stock who hate Kyrie Irving. Angry Spurs fans — at least, those who can fit into a 21-inch wide seat — may boo Kawhi Leonard. The NBA fanbase at large, however, has become forgiving to the players’ perspective. (You can thank LeBron for that development.)
So, Giannis will play the 2021 season in Milwaukee, and definitely 2022. After that? Time will tell. If the Bucks are a middling team with a bare shelf of draft picks, the a trade will be possible. Given the MBA-ization of NBA fans — obsessed with “value”, “assets”, “outcomes” and the like — there will be joy if the Bucks are still great in the summer of 2023, and minimal anger at Giannis if a mutual decision is made to orient his travels elsewhere.
The other factor is money. The Bucks want to sell tickets and, quite probably within the next year or so, direct-to-consumer (DTC) streaming subscriptions to local cord-cutting fans. Giannis wants to make a lot of money. Both of those interests are served with a supermax extension.
Prior to the pandemic, an NBA superstar could flee Milwaukee for a higher profile market and recoup any lost salary in endorsement deals. Those days are gone (at least for now). Giannis — and his agent — are acutely aware, the Reader is sure, of the dollar damage Anthony Davis inflicted on himself by poo-pooing the P-Cans. Not only did Davis recently sign a contract for about $45 million less than he could’ve gotten in NOLA, but his next contract calculation starts at that lower number. Giannis will be 29 years-old when the time comes to negotiate his next deal. A second supermax is a distinct possibility which would not have been possible had he fled to New York or San Francisco as a free agent.
The decimation of the sponsorship market and NBA fans’ player-friendly views effectively made a supermax extension with the Bucks a no-brainer. It may have taken a pandemic for it to happen, but Adam Silver’s construction of the collective bargaining agreement has finally had the desired effect of making free agency less attractive to the league’s top stars.