SAN FRANCISCO -- Giannis Antetokounmpo arrived in the Bay Area on Tuesday with his Milwaukee Bucks teammates, and he’ll be at Chase Center on Wednesday night. That’s not long enough for the Warriors.
They’d like to take his massive hand and never let go. Keep him in the area for a while. Not for a few days, but for many years.
The Warriors, in their hearts and minds, see Giannis slipping out of his Milwaukee Bucks jersey and into one of theirs. No. 34, accepting the franchise torch from Steph Curry and winning MVP awards and championships as their centerpiece for a decade.
And then, sometime in the late 2030s, they’d unveil a 15-foot statue of Antetokounmpo to take its place alongside those of Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala, Klay Thompson and Curry.
As the NBA learned in July 2016, when Kevin Durant was persuaded to come to the Bay, this latest version of Warriors ownership -- unlike those before it -- visualizes greatness and then commits to a strategy to achieve it. And Giannis is greatness. If he’s not the league’s best player regardless of age/experience, he certainly is No. 1 among the 25-and-under category that includes 20-year-old wunderkind Luka Doncic of the Dallas Mavericks.
In Year 3 of a four-year, $100 million contract extension signed in September 2016, Giannis will face a choice next summer. The Bucks will present a five-year supermax extension worth roughly $250 million, AKA a quarter billion. If he accepts it, hearts across the country will ache. If he declines it, he becomes an unrestricted free agent in July 2021.
He will find a dozen or so teams willing to extend an offer. The Warriors will be among them.
Asked Tuesday if he has ever seen a player comparable to Giannis, Draymond Green, a high-level student of players, took about six seconds to scan his mind before concluding he had not.
“No, not really,” the Warriors forward said. “A guy who is that size, who handles the ball the way he does and dominates the floor, the game, the way he has. He’s that athletic. It’s kind of rare. Probably has never been seen before.”
Giannis, who turned 25 on Dec. 6, really is someone unlike anything we’ve seen. At 6-foot-11, 245 pounds, freakishly athletic and possessing a voracious hunger to excel, Giannis is a practically perfect amalgam featuring the best of LeBron James and Durant.
Which is why the Warriors and so many other teams are fantasizing. And speaking in broad generalities. That’s about as much anyone representing another team can do or say without facing tampering allegations.
“He’s a great player and great for our league,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said, biting through his tongue. “People pay good money to see him play.
“One of the things I really admire about him is that he’s there every night. He brings it. He wants to compete, wants to be out on the floor, wants to give the fans a good show. I’ve seen the interactions he has with fans in Milwaukee. He’s a great ambassador for the game. He’s really important for our league and he’s an amazing player.”
A Greece native of Nigerian ancestry, Antetotkounmpo was drafted No. 15 overall in 2013 as a 6-9, 200-pound 18-year-old. He has gotten better by the year, winning the MVP award last season. Through the first half of this season, he has been even better, which is a testament to his desire.
“He wants it. He works his a-- off,” Green said. “You can just look at his body. There are a lot of guys who came into the league like that and can never gain weight. He figured it out. He’s probably added 40 or 50 pounds since he’s been in the league. And he probably moves better than he did then. It’s just crazy to see.
“But you can definitely see he works on his game. He’s serious about it. He wants to be great.”
The Warriors have and will continue to be visible in their support of their stars, who consistently serve as ambassadors for the franchise. Unlike say, the New York Knicks, the Warriors understand the value of positive word of mouth. It’s why they don’t blink at making a max offer to Thompson despite his ACL surgery, why they show up at Michigan State for the ceremony to retire Green’s jersey, why they so actively re-recruited Durant last season and continue to speak glowingly of him.
It’s why they re-hire Ralph Walker, the longtime bodyguard for Curry.
The Warriors want the world to know they have an ear for their players.
With unrestricted free agency arriving no sooner than July 2021, the Warriors have 17 months to clear enough cap space and prepare their pitch to Giannis and his agent, Alex Saratsis.
That Saratsis is the agent is significant because he also represents Damion Lee. Notice how lately the Warriors have been so vocal in their desire to keep Lee, still technically operating under a two-way contract, as a part of their future? Expect Lee to upgraded to a standard NBA contract in a matter of days.
It’s reasonable to speculate whether this is coincidental or by design. It must be understood, however, that most everything the Warriors do is part of a plan.