NBA small-market owners and executives privately are celebrating Giannis Antetokounmpo’s decision to remain with the Milwaukee Bucks on a five-year max extension.
They were rooting for the Bucks because they know if Antetokounmpo had not decided to stay, chances were zero he would sign with, say, Memphis or Cleveland or Oklahoma City or New Orleans.
Understanding the magnitude of Antetokounmpo’s decision, team president Peter Feign on Tuesday told the Milwaukee Press Club, "This is one of the great days in Bucks history."
This is a win not only for the Bucks, who extend their championship window, and Antetokounmpo, who extends his bank account on a $228 million deal. It is a win for small-market teams who want to keep their home-grown stars for more than one or two contracts.
Seeing their star flee for one of the larger – and significant revenue-generating – teams has rankled small-market owners and execs.
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Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo has become one of the NBA's best players. (Photo: Kim Klement, USA TODAY Sports)
(Program interruption: the NBA will see this and reach out to let me know it doesn’t view teams as small market or large market but rather it differentiates by the revenue a team produces. For example, Detroit might be in a large TV market but it is not creating the same kind of revenue the Los Angeles Lakers do. But for the sake of this story, I trust you, the knowledgeable reader, understand the difference between the L.A. and Detroit markets).
Bottom line: Milwaukee can’t spend like the Golden State Warriors. The Bucks may be willing to pay some luxury tax, but they’re not in financial position to pay what the Warriors do. To exacerbate the problem this season, luxury tax bills will be lower because actual basketball-related income (BRI) will be less than pre-pandemic projected BRI. Golden State could pay $30 million less in luxury taxes as non-taxpaying teams also see a decrease in revenue sharing.
Had Antetokounmpo, 26, not signed the extension and left for another team in free agency – which certainly would have been within his right as a free agent under the collective bargaining agreement – it would have been a massive setback for the Bucks.
There’s no question the Bucks have fallen short of their goal of winning an NBA title – or even reaching the Finals. They lost to Toronto in the Eastern Conference finals in 2019 and were eliminated by Miami in the second round in September.
The disappointing finishes shade the overall success. No team has won more regular-season games than the Bucks in the past two seasons. They have made the playoffs in five of the past six seasons. Despite no title, that is the envy of several teams.
They drafted Antetokounmpo, helped make Milwaukee home for him and his family and invested in him as a player and person.
Loyalty is a weird thing in today’s workplace, even in the NBA. A team can do all the right things, and a player can still leave or force his way out. Likewise, a player can do all the right things, profess his commitment to a team and city and still get traded.
Now, the work isn’t over for the Bucks and their two-time MVP. A championship remains the goal. General manager Jon Horst has time for a small celebration. He has tinkered with the roster to find a championship combination.
An important aside, the extension also allows the Bucks and Antetokounmpo to focus on this season and the following seasons without his future being a constant topic of discussion.
At least now, Horst and his staff can continue to search for the right players without the specter of a big-market team hovering over Antetokounmpo’s future. The Bucks have until the 2024-25 season to worry about that.
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