There has been speculation about the future of Giannis Antetokounmpo for years now, so it’s not a surprise that now that he’s about to enter the final year of his contract with the Bucks we are seeing more and more reports about teams that are eager to pry him away from Milwaukee.
If a move were to happen, the Spurs could be in a position to put themselves in the running to land the reining MVP thanks to their cap management and asset accumulation. It’s extremely unlikely Antetokounmpo actually lands in San Antonio, but here’s why they could at least be in the conversation.
If Giannis asks for a trade, the Spurs could be a dark horse landing spot
It’s unlikely Antetokounmpo asks out of Milwaukee after winning the MVP and bowing out earlier than expected in the playoffs in part because of his own performance, but if he does, the Bucks could find themselves in a tough position.
The obvious landing spots for disgruntled stars in recent years have been big market teams with the ability to contend. Unfortunately for the Bucks, teams like the Lakers, Clippers, Heat, Mavericks, Rockets and Knicks don’t have a lot to trade. Some because they have already used their assets to make an addition, others because they’ve simply failed to rebuild their war chests at all. There are teams like the Bulls, Celtics and especially the Raptors that could put together good packages for Giannis, but those three franchises have struggled landing and retaining superstars in the past few years. At this point, there is no clear-cut best trade partner for the Bucks if the worst happens and they are forced to move Antetokounmpo.
This is why the Spurs could become a dark horse landing spot under those circumstances, just like the Raptors were when Kawhi Leonard asked out.
If Milwaukee wants to start over, the Spurs could not only take Antetokounmpo but also Brook Lopez while sending out Patty Mills, Rudy Gay, Trey Lyles and a two or three of their young players, plus a first rounder or two to help the Bucks load up on young talent while shedding future salary. In that scenario San Antonio would be keeping DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge and hoping that Antetokounmpo decides to stay after making a deep playoff run. It would be risky to lose, say, Derrick White, Keldon Johnson and picks for a potential rental, but if the Spurs feel there’s any chance Antetokounmpo stays, they’d be foolish not to go for it.
A more like scenario involves the Bucks trying to stay relevant while dealing with the loss of their superstar, not unlike what the Spurs did when they lost Leonard. In that case, San Antonio would have to part with at least two but possibly three of DeRozan (if he opts in), Aldridge, White or Dejounte Murray, along with at least one draft pick. It would again be risky for the Spurs to do such a trade, since afterwards they wouldn’t have the talent to compete in the West, but as long as they don’t take on too much long term salary, they could have enough cap space in 2021 to re-sign Antetokoumpo and add another star.
The Spurs don’t have the assets to be the front runners to land Giannis and would have to take serious risks in acquiring him if, as expected, he doesn’t commit past this upcoming season. But as a dark horse they’d have a chance.
If Giannis enters free agency in 2021, the Spurs have a good pitch to make
The much more likely scenario than Antetokounmpo asking out now is him playing next season out and then entering free agency. If the Bucks do poorly in the playoffs again, there’s a good chance he walks, and if he does, the Spurs could be one of the teams with the cap space to not only sign him but build a team around him.
Whether done on purpose with Giannis’ free agency in mind or simply preparing themselves to hit a reset button once Aldridge aged out of his prime, the Spurs have purposely created a gigantic amount of potential cap room for the 2021 offseason. The contracts of DeRozan (if he opts in), Aldridge, Gay, Mills and Lyles (if his contract is guaranteed this offseason) would all be coming off the books at the same time. Right now, the only players slated to be on the roster after next season are Murray and a bunch of young players on rookie deals. Depending on what they do this offseason, San Antonio could easily have two max salary slots to not only sign Antetokounmpo, but also any other star that wants to play with the Greek Freak.
It’s likely not all that potential room remains untouched. Jakob Poeltl should probably be re-signed, and if the Spurs can get White on a reported extension worth $15 million a year they should go for it. But even with those two joining Murray in the books, San Antonio could probably fit two max deals, depending on where the cap is set. If push comes to shove, they could likely easily move one of the three, provided their value doesn’t unexpectedly tanks this season. Beyond their own free agents, there’s no risk the Spurs make a costly long term addition this offseason unless DeRozan leaves and they let Poeltl go to use cap space instead of the mid-level exception, which seems unlikely.
As long as nothing strange and completely unexpected happens, the Spurs will have the cap space to reinvent themselves in 2021 while still keeping their best young pieces, which could be intriguing to Antetokounmpo and other stars.
Why it’s extremely unlikely the Spurs actually land Giannis
It’s one thing to have assets and flexibility and another to be able to use them to land someone as good and in demand as Antetokounmpo.
By all accounts, the Bucks are ready to ride the season out with Giannis around, unless he demands a trade, so having expiring contracts, picks and young players likely means little. Milwaukee could simply win a title if they keep Antetokounmpo for the year, which would mean keeping him, assuming it’s only a matter of time before Giannis move feels rushed.
If he does leave, it will likely happen in free agency, and other teams could have better pitches. The Mavericks, for example, could carve out max room to slot Giannis alongside Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis. The Raptors will likely have room after next season. The Clippers and Heat could carve out space, depending on what they do this offseason. But teams that already have stars are not the only threat. The Knicks could also have two max slots to offer, but with the added allure of being the franchise’s savior and playing in the biggest media market in the country. Who knows which other franchise will make moves to position themselves as a landing spot for Giannis.
It’s extremely unlikely Giannis will force his way out of Milwaukee now, opening up the door for the Spurs to scoop him up if the market isn’t great. It seems even more far-fetched to assume he’d choose San Antonio over franchises that can offer superstar partners, big markets or both. Counting on the Greek Freak to be the one to take the Spurs back to contention is overly optimistic, at best.
It is, however, important to remember that despite some questionable decisions, the Spurs have put themselves in a position to potentially be in the running to land a superstar in the near future, which is exciting. While not much will likely happen during this break, the 2021 offseason could be one of the most interesting ones in recent franchise history.