The NBA is a star-driven league, both in terms of general interest and in how teams win championships. Every basketball fan's favorite offseason activity is trying to predict what these superstars will do next. In summer 2019, all the buzz was about Anthony Davis and if he really would end up being a Los Angeles Laker. Now, it's Giannis Antetokounmpo's turn.
The rumblings began when the Milwaukee Bucks suffered yet another early playoff exit in the NBA bubble in Orlando. Giannis is in the final year of his contract, a two-time MVP, and has yet to make it to basketball's biggest stage. The past decade has seen two generational superstars leave the team that drafted them in pursuit of a ring in LeBron James and Kevin Durant. Davis joined them last year. Now we're all left to wonder if Giannis is next.
There are two avenues for a team to pursue if they have a star player they fear will leave them. One is to go all-in to try and convince said star player that they're both willing and able to put together a championship-caliber team. That is what the Cleveland Cavaliers and Oklahoma City Thunder did. The other is to get ahead of everything and trade this player before they depart for other pastures in free agency to try and recoup some value. This is what the New Orleans Pelicans did.
The Bucks, from all reports, will be choosing the first option. While Giannis, like any great player, is undoubtedly frustrated that he and his squad have not been able to take the final step and get to the NBA Finals, he has said all the right things about wanting to stay and win in Milwaukee. The team around him is very good, too. They've rolled to the best record in the NBA two consecutive years in a row. This isn't the 2009-10 Cavaliers, who won 17 games the year after LeBron left. Giannis doesn't have one foot out the door already like Davis did, so Milwaukee isn't going to play around with trying to "get ahead" of a potential move if it's not a sure thing Giannis does leave.
However, until Giannis signs the supermax extension that only Milwaukee can offer, it remains a realistic scenario that he does end up going elsewhere and the Bucks are left in the dust. Until that happens, rumors of potential trades will not die. Zach Lowe published a column today for ESPN detailing Milwaukee's thoughts, along with a note that the organization feels confident he'll sign the extension eventually:
Many within the Bucks remain confident Giannis Antetokounmpo will sign a five-year supermax extension valued at between $220 million and $250 million (depending on the cap level) before the start of the 2020-21 regular season. Unless something drastic changes, Milwaukee is not trading him. If Antetokounmpo doesn't sign, the Bucks are prepared to play it out, sources have said.
In summary, if Giannis signs an extension, he isn't going anywhere for two years at least. If he does not, the Bucks are going to ride it out and prove why he should next offseason. He is one of the few players in NBA history to win both MVP and Defensive Player of the Year. The "smart" move, on the surface, is to trade him if there's any doubt at all he might leave. Giannis would fetch a massive trade haul and getting something for him is better than getting nothing, which is what would happen if he left once his contract is up.
But this is not football and Bill Belichick isn't in charge of the Milwaukee Bucks. They can't cobble together his productivity with replacement players and hope to win at the same rate. Truly transcendent superstars like Giannis do not come along very often. The Bucks are not a free-agent destination and would never be able to land a player of similar caliber on the open market. Hell, they're lucky to even have Giannis considering he was the No. 15 pick in the draft.
Trading Giannis would launch a rebuild. The whole point of a rebuild is to land a player like Giannis. The Bucks are not going to kick-start the process, even if every sign points to an inevitable departure. For everyone in that building, this may as well be a once-in-a-lifetime chance to work with a player of his caliber. They're going to take advantage of that opportunity to the fullest extent possible. Giannis may not be a member of the Bucks a few years down the road, but it won't have come via trade, and it's definitely not happening this season.