We all watched Tuesday night. It was stunning, yet predictable at the same time.
After falling down 3-0 to the Miami Heat, it was inevitable that the Milwaukee Bucks would be eliminated from the NBA Playoffs. During just the second round of the Eastern side, things had taken a turn for the worst in game four. Not only was the #1 ranked team all year about to be booted, their star player and league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo fell down in a pile. He was injured, in an elimination game, just one year away from being a free agent. An absolute disaster of a scene for Wisconsin sports fans. That was Sunday night, where miraculously the Bucks held on for victory and forced a game five of the series.
That brings us back to Tuesday where reality came crashing down.
Giannis was officially ruled out, the Miami Heat (fifth ranked team so not bad but not near the top) had the Milwaukee Bucks’ numbers, and it was over. Done. Finished. A lot of emotions came over us (yes, I am from Wisconsin, surprise!), and suddenly, the team that could have, SHOULD have, made the NBA Finals the past two years had an uncertain future. Giannis was hurt, the Bucks fell short of a championship AGAIN, and the roster just crashed and burned in dramatic fashion. First off, let’s start with the obvious question everything in the sports will be talking about for the next year.
Is Giannis going to sign an extension to stay with the Milwaukee Bucks?
He seemed to hint at that in his post-game press conference. However, all star players say that. I don’t really fault them. If he said any different, it was be a tip of his hand, and the fanbase was go nuts on him. Stay or leave, his words would forever be remembered. Thus, the standard ‘I love it here, I don’t play on going anywhere’ answer was given. I have no issues with that. I just hope every single person reading this knows better than to believe him. I know that sounds harsh, but history has shown us time and time again that star athletes have loyalty to the contract (money) and not necessarily to a specific city.
To make matters even more complicated, as mentioned above, Giannis isn’t exactly healthy right now. The only game the Bucks managed to squeak by versus the Heat was when he was OUT! Ironic in a way but also maybe a hint to the future…a future for the Bucks without him? Assuming his ankle is back at full strength going into next season, the franchise will need to know his plans moving forward. With one year left on his deal, is he planning to stay or is he planning to ride it out a little bit longer?
Fair or unfair, the team may not want to wait. if Giannis tells them he wants to hit free agency and test the market before deciding, the Bucks risk losing him for nothing. Just 100% free and clear to walk away. The Bucks get nothing in return. Obviously a devastating move and a massive blow to any kind of hopes and dreams of competing for a title in 2021 and beyond. if Giannis doesn’t want to give the owners/executives a straight answer, they could make a decision for him – by trading him!
Yep, trading away their star MVP. Their franchise player. Unbelievable in certain aspects but easy to understand in others. Can you imagine the haul you would get for Giannis during the off season? A couple first round draft picks AND a couple mid-level star players on top of that? Heck, I have no idea how far a desperate team would go to land a player like Giannis. There is no limit to a kind of trade offer. The Golden State Warriors will probably offer their whole team (except Steph Curry of course) and future first round picks for Giannis. The Clippers have a ton of talent on the court to trade away. I mean, if you are in the Bucks’ shoes, don’t you have to at least CONSIDER the offers?
Remember, if Giannis and his representatives tell the Bucks staff they are undecided on his future, he could walk away for NOTHING! That is worth repeating. This entire saga could easily be wrapped up if Giannis signs a long-term extension and commits to staying in Milwaukee, through thick and thin. Hold a press conference, pledge your allegiance to the squad and go win that championship. He gets paid the most money (only your current team can offer the super max), earns loyalty points from fans and can continue his legacy by being ‘his own man’ and not just chasing rings jumping from team to team.
In order to get there though, there has to be changes made. There has to be. Two straight disappointing finishes in the NBA Playoffs. You what that means…
Is their head coach on the hot seat? Mike Budenholzer has done a fine job as the Milwaukee Bucks coach. You can’t really deny that. He took over, led them to the playoffs, increased their win totals and has earned respect from both the media and the players. People know he can coach. The problem is you can’t just boot all the players on your roster. More often than not, it is the coach that becomes the scapegoat. Right or wrong, Playoff Bud has not proven to be a success. For a team that has championship aspirations, you need to do better. Be Like Bud may not be enough. My gut says he is shown the door. If Giannis has a say in this and wants him though, he stays. Right now, it is all about whatever Giannis wants.
That brings us to the last major question: What about this roster? The first move a lot of fans would make is dumping Eric Bledsoe. I would do just that. He has made far too much money and given us far too little in the NBA Playoffs these past two seasons. Kinda like the Bud situation – we need MORE! We need better. As a mid-level player and somebody who fills their role, he is good. No issues. For somebody that is collecting big money and is ‘supposedly’ another scoring option for the team, yeah right. So long. The bench is the bench, so it is difficult to make many moves there.
I know a major gripe has been letting Malcolm Brogdon walk, but you are seeing why the team had to do that. The luxury tax is a big deal to some owners. For the Milwaukee Bucks, being able to pay Giannis next summer (or this summer even) is priority number one. If money is even close to being an issue, you take care of it. The Milwaukee Bucks saw that coming and did it. Letting Malcolm walk was a mistake from the point of view of winning a championship. He’s great. From the side of getting Giannis to stay and having money left over to do it in 2021, letting Malcolm walk was a necessary evil. Unfortunately.
In the end, I expect Giannis questions to linger throughout the off season, as the Bucks try to make a few moves to keep him happy. This is THE MVP Of the freakin’ league. Make no mistake, this is the star of the future. Every single team in the league would be after this guy the second he hits the open market. You MUST keep him and do whatever it takes. For instance, Bledsoe getting shown the exit door and Bud being sent packing would be a nice start. Maybe it convinces him to stick around and have faith in the team competing for a championship? Maybe it doesn’t. Until he signs on the dotted line, the speculation will run rampant. Ready or not, The Decision Part 2 is coming…
By Justin Watry (Follow on Twitter at @JustinWatry)