However realistic the fodder surrounding a potential future union between Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Warriors might seem, the conversation is there.
Many predict that should Giannis’ Milwaukee Bucks once again come up short in pursuit of a championship, he might be more inclined to take his talents elsewhere.
NBA 2K released their simulation of the 2020 NBA playoffs this week, and surprise surprise, the Bucks and LeBron James’ Los Angeles Lakers were the last two teams standing.
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In familiar fashion for Warriors fans, the Greek Freak and his squad jumped out to a three-games-to-one series lead, before James and Anthony Davis stormed back and won the title in seven games.
The simulation backs up what many predict will be this year’s matchup as the NBA Finals were set to not feature the Warriors for the first time in a over half-decade.
If Antetokounmpo and Milwaukee were to come up short in the Finals, especially in such a crushing fashion, it could intensify the writing on the wall for his time in the Midwest.
Fans have been drawing flimsy connection points between Giannis and Steph Curry for months, whether it was an alley-oop at the All-Star Game or Antetokounmpo’s emphasis on Steph being among his top five players in the NBA.
Antetokounmpo’s brother, Alex, is returning to Europe to play before becoming NBA draft-eligible in 2021. Wherever he gets drafted could become another potential destination. Giannis already has two brothers in the NBA as well, Thanasis is his teammate in Milwaukee while Kostas plays for the Lakers.
L.A. is one of the other Giannis destinations being thrown around in NBA Twitter, as it does in every single NBA free agency decision. Lakers fans always have the utmost confidence that every one of the league’s top players eventually wants to don the uniform so many legends already have. And, already having a brother on the Lakers adds a layer of intrigue, plus every NBA fan is well-aware of James’ ability to recruit top talents to whatever franchise he’s decided to plant his flag with.
Prior to the 2019-20 NBA season, Giannis made four postseason appearances with Milwaukee. Three of them saw the Bucks eliminated in the first round, with the exception being last season’s thrilling Eastern Conference finals. Milwaukee won 10 of its first 11 playoff games before losing four straight to Kawhi Leonard and the eventual champion Toronto Raptors.
The Warriors also came up short in the first few of the Splash Brothers’ playoff appearances before eventually hoisting the Larry O'Brien trophy. But would coming up short for a fifth time cement in his mind the idea that Giannis doesn’t have a championship future in Milwaukee?
Given the reaction to Kevin Durant and his decision to team up with the Warriors after losing to Golden State in a playoff series, it’s unlikely that Antetokounmpo would advance all the way to the NBA Finals, lose to L.A. and then be wearing Laker gold the following year.
In the era of player empowerment, NBA players have become accustomed to making blockbuster trades happen behind the scenes before free agency even comes up. If Giannis is unhappy with the long-term viability of Milwaukee, he could deliver the Bucks front office a list of desirable destinations to be traded to.
It’s hard to imagine the Warriors wouldn’t be among at least Antetokounmpo’s initial list, given all the recent success and potential star power of teaming up with Curry in the Bay Area.
There would have to be an immense amount of work done behind the scenes to make the contracts line up in a hypothetical deal to the Warriors. Andrew Wiggins and some first-rounders likely won’t be enough, so fans might have to be willing to part ways with Klay Thompson in a Giannis trade. Especially with the Warriors' recent luxury tax bills, the finances would be a critical hurdle in the pursuit of Antetokounmpo.
The NBA is set to decide the fate of the 2019-20 season in the coming weeks, as coronavirus has kept the league on an indefinite suspension since March 12. But if we get a 2020 NBA Finals and the Bucks fail to win the series, Giannis likely will have to have a tough conversation and weigh his loyalty to Milwaukee with his desire to “pursue greatness.”