This discussion won’t seriously heat up until 2020, but Giannis Antetokounmpo is already getting free agency advice.
Last summer after inking a four year $100 million deal in 2016, the Greek Freek sent out a tweet to end any speculation of his intent once his shiny new contract was up:
I got loyalty inside my DNA 🦌
— Giannis Antetokounmpo (@Giannis_An34) July 7, 2017
While this provided temporary reassurance to the Milwaukee Bucks fan base, the reality of long NBA seasons that fall short of expectations eventually come to haunt stars, especially in their prime. Giannis seems to be enjoying his time for now even if he can’t get a seat at his first restaurant choice after a big win, but if the Bucks continue to be good but not great will he feel the same in 2020 at age 25? For now, per ESPN’s Nick Friedell, he seems to believe so.
“Definitely. That’s one of my goals,” Antetokounmpo told ESPN recently. “Kobe [Bryant] did it. Tim Duncan did it. Dirk Nowitzki did it. I just want to be one of those guys … that stays for the city, play for the city for 20 years.”
Luckily for Giannis, he won’t be the first star who has ever had to make a contract decision during their prime that could affect their legacy. Defending Finals MVP Kevin Durant knows a little something about being the face of a franchise for a small market with big expectations on his shoulders. During his time in Oklahoma City, he and Russell Westbrook made waves in the Western Conference for several years before KD decided to join Golden State in search of a championship. Naturally, he received a lot of criticism for it but he has maintained that he did it for the betterment of his career and winning his first NBA championship perfectly vindicated his vision. Recently, he shared his thoughts on Giannis’s situation with ESPN:
“What I would say to him, I would tell him to play for himself,” Durant said. “Because he’s the one out there putting in the work, he’s the one out there getting up in the morning staying committed to the game. Obviously [the comments about staying put] sounds good to the fans in Milwaukee and to the ownership, because he cares so much about wanting to please them and play well for them, and I get it. But his career is about him; it’s about whatever he wants to do and however he feels is right for him. And what type of basketball does he want to play? He’s not going to stay in Milwaukee if he’s not having fun playing the game.”
The issue of player loyalty vs. what is best for their career has been going on forever. Kevin Garnett did not see significant career success until after finally leaving the Minnesota Timberwolves teams that he so famously led early in his career. Conversely, we watch today as players like Kemba Walker and Damian Lillard toil away season after season and either miss the playoffs or exit early. Sports are the only profession where we blame the people who work for moving to better situations. I find it hard to imagine myself turning down a better job out of loyalty to my current company, and you should too.
GIANNIS WHAT DID YOU JUST DO TO THAT MAN?!?!?!?!!!!!!
— Basketball Society (@BBallSociety_) April 22, 2018
The Milwaukee Bucks have yet to see the true progression they have hoped for from their supporting cast of 2017 Rookie of the Year Malcolm Brogdon, Tony Snell, Eric Bledsoe, and others. Giannis said the right thing to appease the fans, but I can’t imagine him signing a multi-year extension in his prime to stay with a team that continues to underachieve.
The Milwaukee Bucks just lost a tight series to a shorthanded (and young) Boston Celtics team. Kevin Durant will no doubt take a beating for telling Giannis to look out for himself, but he is right. The pressure is on the Bucks’s front office to keep their unicorn from walking away.