It’s no secret that the Golden State Warriors see Giannis Antetokounmpo as the piece de resistance to their reboot. Returning to dynasty form requires a top-5 two-way player who was drafted during the Obama years. Like all of us, age has snuck up on the Warriors. Next season, Steph Curry will be 33 years old, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green will be 31 years old. The acquisition of a 26-year-old Giannis would infuse the Warriors with the Strength In Numbers swag they strangled the league with during a five-year span, 2014-19. It would make the rest of us want to vomit.
Because life isn’t a sci-fi flick, the Warriors last title in 2018 didn’t stall time. The league moved on without them. Players thought of as young and experienced but with potential have gotten older and better. At the guard spot in the West, Donovan Mitchell and Jamal Murray have to be reckoned with. Brandon Ingram is an All-Star and Zion Williamson has arrived, not to mention the Lakers added Anthony Davis. Devin Booker is a walking and talking dropping 40 here and 50 there, and James Harden is still lethal. Because the league has changed in the two years the Warriors have been ring-less, Giannis in SF would be a return to normal. The Warriors would once again be untouchable.
So much of being lucky is a perfect storm. First, Giannis would have to lose to the Heat in a humiliating way. A lot of that depends on Eric Bledsoe’s hamstring. If Bledsoe is still hamstring troubled and can’t go, or plays and has lost athleticism, the chances of a Heat win grows exponentially higher with each Jimmy Butler deadly jumper, and each time an old George Hill tries to play the point. Another Giannis playoff loss, the Warriors are hoping, would make Giannis reassess. He’d think twice about signing a max extension with a team that is not built for the playoffs. Giannis is a Batman without a Robin. (The Bucks gambled when they paid Khris Middleton and let Jonathan Brogdon walk.)
Giannis is due to become an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2021. That does nothing for the Warriors given that their payroll that summer will be $158 million. The Warriors can only acquire Giannis in a trade and that would mean Giannis would have to unearth his inner Paul George and ask to be traded. So far, Giannis doesn’t seem like that kind of dude. Particularly because if he asked to be traded to the Warriors he’d have the same baggage as Kevin Durant had, someone trying to ease his way into championship rings instead of blood, sweat, and tears-ing it in the city that drafted him.
Don’t count out the social unrest in Milwaukee as not being a factor for Giannis to flee. Home should be a place that respects you. But when the Bucks staged a boycott in protest of Jacob Blake’s shooting, the Wisconsin legislature was so empathic they responded by reconvening for one minute. 60 seconds is what they thought of the Bucks protest. I’m not saying the Bay has moral ground to stand on, Oscar Grant was murdered in Oakland, but the vibe in California isn’t as overtly hostile, just microaggressions behind your back, like calling the police on you when you paint BLM on your own house.
And riddle me this: why would the Bucks want Andrew Wiggins when they have his brother from another mother in Khris Middleton, an overpaid, overhyped wing who takes playoff games off for no apparent reason, and who can’t stop Jimmy Butler?
The Warriors aren’t alone in hoping Miami is the team in the ECF. The Heat want to bury the Bucks and then they want to sign Giannis next summer. The Heat have a better set of cards (than the Warriors) to play because they don’t have to trade anyone to get Giannis. After next season, the only Heat on the payroll is well nobody except Jimmy Butler. Andre Iguodala is a team option, so is Tyler Herro and Chris Silva. The Heat have $63 million and a whole lot of money to spend.
If Antetokounmpo changed addresses to Miami, the Heat would still have money to bring in a point guard. The South Beach culture would be a lure and so would Pat Riley. I’m not buying the alternative, that nice as he is Mike Budenholzer is the right coach to take a gifted talent like Antetokounmpo to the promised land. But I do know Erik Spoelstra can coach talent, scheme defensively, and have his players ready to ride or die. Plus he has a couple of rings.
The Celtics want to be buyers too. They will have money at the end of next season because Gordon Hayward’s contract is off the books. And even so, they can trade Hayward to the Bucks who is a more attractive get than Andrew Wiggins. Don’t count the Lakers out either. Next summer LeBron James has a player option. Would he renegotiate at a lower rate to bring in Giannis? Of course, he would. In fact, half the league, add a Luka-Giannis pairing too- will try to position themselves if Giannis does indeed say no thank you to the Bucks, which waters down the Warriors position. They can’t compete in free agency and half of the league can. After KD, that seems only fair.
But it still comes back to the same thing with Giannis. Does he want to leave yet? Does he want to be an NBA vagabond?
Will he turn down the supermax deaL? Does Giannis want Kevin Durant treatment? Does he want rings? Does he want to establish his legacy with the team that drafted him? Has he already chosen the player he wants to play with and the city he wants to play in? Or, does he want a lot of agony before ecstasy?
What happens in Bucks v Heat will go a long way in determining what happens to the 2-time NBA MVP next summer. Is he a LeBron James? Or is he a Michael Jordan?
Neither had a title at the age of 25.