Giannis Antetokounmpo's future will be the talk of the NBA until he signs a super-max extension with the Milwaukee Bucks, or perhaps declares his intentions to enter free agency next summer.
The Bucks are and should be the presumed heavy favorite to keep the Greek Freak throughout his prime. But the Warriors are in the conversation and they will continue to lurk in the shadows until Antetokounmpo decides his fate.
The Warriors did, after all, lure Kevin Durant to the Bay when everyone assumed he would return to Oklahoma City. They certainly could pull off the improbable and tempt Giannis to leave Milwaukee. But it won't be as simple as putting a Giannis-sized peg in a Durant-sized hole.
When discussing Giannis-to-the-Warriors, one of the biggest issues often is glossed over: The cost. Antetokounmpo's contract will be huge and the Warriors won't be able to just slide him in and shuffle Andrew Wiggins and his $31.6 million contract out to pair Antetokounmpo with Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. But in order to secure Antetokounmpo and field a competitive team, the Warriors likely have to part with Thompson, barring a huge spike in the cap or some other cap gymnastics that includes players taking pay cuts.
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As Anthony Slater of The Athletic pointed out, the Warriors will face a lot of difficult decisions should they land Antentokounmpo. Any sign-and-trade would trigger the hard cap, which would leave the Dubs in a bind with four players earning $24 million or more.
During the 2021-22 season, Curry is set to make $45.8 million, Thompson $37.9 million and Green $24 million. With Antetokounmpo's contract beginning at $37.5 million, the Warriors would need to trade Wiggins to make the salaries match and then cut another big salary to get under the hard cap. While the Green is the obvious answer -- Steph, Klay and Giannis is a trio that would win multiple titles -- cutting Green's $24 million might not be enough. With Curry, Thompson and Antetokounmpo on the roster, the Warriors would have three players making $122.2 million of a projected $125 million salary cap. There wouldn't be enough money left over to fill out the roster.
With Thompson making $14 million more than Green, shedding Thompson would give the Warriors more financial room to build a team.
But is that a price worth paying?
Thompson is a homegrown, fan-favorite who helped bring three titles to the Bay Area. He's one of the best shooters in NBA history and has come through in the clutch more times than can be counted.
When the lights shine brightest and other stars go missing, Thompson always can be counted on to raise his game to the next level. In his career, Thompson is averaging 19.1 points per game on 44.2 percent shooting in 123 career playoff games. He's been even more clutch in elimination games. In the last eight playoff games in which the Warriors faced elimination, Thompson is averaging 27.3 points per game while shooting 50.7 percent from the field and 50 percent from 3-point land.
Thompson is an integral part of what makes the Warriors the Warriors, and removing one half of the Splash Brothers -- even for Giannis -- is a proposition the Warriors won't enjoy discussing.
On the flipside, Giannis will be 26 when his contract would start. Thompson would be 31. Getting rid of Thompson to pair Antetokounmpo with Curry at age 33 would feel more like a rebuild around Antetokounmpo rather than a retooling after the exodus of Durant.
There's no doubt that thoughts of Curry and Antetokounmpo sharing the court together will dance through Warriors fans' heads until the fantasy either becomes reality or is eradicated from existence.
But if that dream costs them Thompson, is it worth it? Is it a price they the Warriors are and should be willing to pay? I'm not so sure they should. And it's not a question with an easy answer.
They'll have to measure the cost of extending the window of the dynasty against their loyalty to a player who helped build it from the ground up. Status versus loyalty. Being relevant versus being honorable.
Giannis' talent is undeniable and he would make sure the Warriors stayed atop the NBA as Curry's prime ends. But sometimes there should be poetry in sports.
Curry and Thompson built the NBA"s goliath together, along with Green. It only feels right they remain Warriors as long as they choose. Giannis or not.