Bulls

Giannis' unfollow-spree begs question: Could he leave Bucks?

Bulls
USA Today

Before you ask: No, Giannis Antetokounmpo will not be requesting a trade this offseason.

At least, that's what he told Yahoo! Sports' Chris Haynes after his league-best Milwaukee Bucks fell in a gentleman's sweep to the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference semifinals, a legendary upset given Milwaukee's regular-season dominance.

"It’s not happening. That’s not happening,” he told Haynes. "Some see a wall and go in [another direction]. I plow through it. We just have to get better as a team, individually and get right back at it next season."'

An inspiring sentiment, especially for the Milwaukee faithful. But if that refrain sounds familiar, it's because a number of past superstars have echoed it before promptly fleeing for greener pastures.

Antetokounmpo repeated another disgruntled star trope the weekend after the Bucks' elimination, when he allegedly unfollowed all of his teammates (except for his brother Thanasis) on Instagram, including the Bucks' team account.

Upon further examination, it's true. Giannis now follows just eight accounts from his Instagram: His brothers Thanasis, Kostas, Ofili and Alex; his mother Vero-Charles; an account for his dog Mila; his and his brothers' YouTube channel, AntetokounBros TV; and his girlfriend Mariah's lifestyle blog.

This probably means nothing. Giannis deciding to limit his Instagram circle to his immediate family is something he's well within his rights to do. And in fact, most of us could stand to be more economical with our social media use. 

 

But the optics are inescapable, and that's something he had to have known before embarking on the unfollowing spree. If the rumor mill around his upcoming free agency in the 2021 offseason (or a possible trade before then) wasn't whirring at warp speed already, it certainly is now.

Again, all we can reasonably do is take Giannis at his public word: He doesn't intend to ask out of Milwaukee for the time being. And the Bucks would be foolish to willingly part with a generational talent — for whom receiving a proportional return via trade would be impossible — without exhausting every avenue to push the team further toward title contention in his contract year.

But Antetokounmpo's faith will soon be tested. Whenever the NBA offseason begins, the Bucks will be able to offer Giannis a designated veteran player extension — colloquially termed the "supermax" — which would kick in for the 2021-22 season, and far exceed what any other suitors on the market can match.

Precise projections of what that supermax will look like aren't really possible to make until the league negotiates and modifies the current CBA in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. But the designated veteran player extension starts at 35 percent of the league's salary cap, with eight percent annual increases. The most any other team will be able to offer Giannis is a contract starting at 30 percent of the league's salary cap, also with eight percent annual increases.

For reference, the disparity between Kemba Walker's supermax offer from the Charlotte Hornets and what any other team could offer in the 2019 offseason was roughly $80 million:

To be eligible for a supermax, a player must have completed eight years of NBA service and satisfy at least one of the following criteria...

  • Have made an All-NBA team in their most recent season (or both seasons before their most recent season)
  • Have been named Defensive Player of the Year in their most recent season (or both seasons before their most recent season)
  • Have been named MVP in any of their previous three seasons

And for a team to be able to offer the supermax, they must have either drafted the player they intend to proposition, or have acquired them on their rookie contract.

As a soon-to-be back-to-back MVP, All-NBA first-teamer, and the 2019-20 Defensive Player of the Year, Antetokounmpo, 25 years old and with his eighth NBA season coming up, more than qualifies. The Bucks plan to extend him the supermax as soon as they're able, according to a report from The Athletic's Shams Charania, and rightfully so.

Should Antetokounmpo ink that deal when it's offered, he would become the sixth player to sign the designated veteran player extension since it was introduced, along with Steph Curry, James Harden, Damian Lillard, John Wall and Russell Westbrook.

It's not unprecedented for a star to turn down the supermax. Walker spurning Charlotte — and, in turn, an extra $80 million — for the Boston Celtics in 2019 was evidence of that. Those Celtics just qualified for the Eastern Conference finals, while the Hornets were left uninvited to the league's restart, proving his gamble worthwhile thus far.

 

But does a proportional upgrade exist for Antetokounmpo?

That depends on if and how the Bucks look to upgrade their roster this offseason, and how other suitors position themselves. Even with Giannis getting out in front of trade rumors, the Golden State Warriors, Miami Heat, Dallas Mavericks, Toronto Raptors and Los Angeles Clippers have all been reported as teams priming for potential pursuits by The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor.

The Bulls' books, as of this writing, are set to be clean enough to accommodate a push of their own for Giannis. But the above competition blows them out of the water from a desirability standpoint. Again, if Antetokounmpo were to leave Milwaukee — and leave tens of millions of dollars on the table — it stands to reason it would have to be for a considerable upgrade from his current situation. Though the current momentum around the franchise is positive, and the Bucks' last two playoff runs have underwhelmed, the Bulls are a long way from being that. They're a long way from competing with the above teams' trade assets, too.

So, for the time being, prying fans can refresh the young star's Instagram profile to their heart's content. Nothing concrete on the Giannis front is like to come until the league hurdles the remainder of the NBA Playoffs, CBA negotiations and the unprecedented offseason ahead.

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