So You're Saying There's a Chance
The league's MVP had a meeting with his owner, so obviously fake trade season has begun.
News & Notes
There will be multiple Knicks in the same building doing basketball related things up in Westchester today and all this week, as individual workouts for the Delete Eight teams officially begin. Team stuff starts next week.
As for next season, according to Shams, the NBA is thinking of “in-market competition with an amount of fans and reduced travel” and no bubble. What this means, at this point, is anyone’s guess.
The NBA is planning to have a scaled back “Draft Combine process” that will include in person interviews but no workouts sometime in mid-October.
Mike D’Antoni is officially a coaching free agent and will not be going back to the Rockets.
The Lakers and Celtics both advanced over the weekend, while the Nuggets forced a game seven against the Clippers.
Giannis met with the owner of the Bucks on the same day that he unfollowed the Bucks’ team account and his teammates’ accounts on Twitter and Instagram. More on this in a bit.
Tweet of the Day
This is normally the space where I’d be promoting today’s new KFS podcast, but the company who hosts us had us switch over to a new platform and we’re still working out some technical kinks. The pod should be up shortly though (and it’s a really good one, featuring Jeremy and special guest Prez from The Strickland).
I’m going to be very careful about how I phrase this, because this is obviously going to be the most closely watched situation in the entire league for the next several months.
Actually, let me start with what I haven’t heard: I have not heard that the Bucks are trading Giannis, or that Giannis even wants to be traded, or that Giannis is planning on leaving Milwaukee after next season. I have not heard any of the above, so take the following with with the appropriate amount of restraint, but:
According to someone familiar with how teams have reacted to the meeting between Giannis and Bucks owner Marc Lasry, there is a feeling among some in the league that Milwaukee is getting nervous, and some teams are beginning to contemplate offers for Antetokounmpo. I’m told the Knicks - like I’m sure will be the case for every team in the NBA, to some extent at least - will throw their hat in the ring if and when the time comes where the Bucks actually start taking calls.
So You’re Saying There’s a Chance…
Ok, so now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about it.
If I had to guess - and again, this is just a guess - the soon-to-be-two-time-MVP won’t be traded this summer. For reasons I’ll get into below, with the possible exception of one team that I think almost makes too much sense, there’s too much risk all around for either Milwaukee to make a move or for another team to pay what is sure to be a heavy asking price.
All that being said, I went through the entire league to figure out who would and wouldn’t be a potential suitor. Why? Three reasons:
I love fake trades like a fat kid loves cake.
I wanted to see where the Knicks best offer (or at least, what my guess as to what the Knicks best offer would be) would rank.
History tells us to never count out a trade, even for someone as good as Giannis.
That’s probably a good place to start. You can argue that the last time a player this good and this young was put on the market was nearly a half century ago, when the Bucks traded away another multi-time MVP award winner named Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Who’d they get back? That would be Junior Bridgeman, Dave Meyers, Elmore Smithand and Brian Winters. Those names only had slightly more meaning at the time than they do right now, at least when put up against the league’s all time leading scorer.
There have been other major stars traded at or near their primes since - Moses, Barkley, Shaq, and Kawhi being the most notable - and like the players Milwaukee got for Kareem, they all have one thing in common: the return their original teams ended up receiving wasn’t all that great, and never as much as anyone figured it would be when the notion of a trade was first floated:
Moses Malone, 1982 - the two-time MVP signed an offer sheet with Philly, which Houston then matched, and thereafter received 31-year-old role player Caldwell Jones along with Cleveland’s 1983 first rounder (which Philly had previously acquired). That pick ended up being Rodney McCray, who made a few All-Defense teams but was otherwise a middling NBA player. Moses won his third MVP in his first year in Philly, along with the NBA title.
Charles Barkley, 1992 - the leading scorer on the Dream Team and 1990 MVP runner up was moved from Philly to Phoenix for Jeff Hornacek, Andrew Lang and Tim Perry. Lang was a nothingburger. Perry was the 7th pick in the draft four years prior who averaged four points per game for three seasons before putting up 12 & 7 in ‘91-92. He was out of the league by 1996. Hornacek had made his lone All-Star game in 1992 while averaging 20, but was already 29 and no one’s idea of a building block. Barkley went on to win the ‘93 MVP and took Phoenix to the Finals.
Shaquille O’Neal, 2004 - the Diesel was dealt to Miami for Caron Butler, Brian Grant, Lamar Odom, a future 1st that became Jordan Farmar and a future second that turned into Renaldas Seibutis. This was probably the best return of any of these deals. Odom never made an All-Star team but was the third best player on two Laker title teams, and Bulter ended up as a two-time All Star (although with the Wizards, thanks to LA’s disastrous Kwame Brown gamble). Shaq finished runner up to Steve Nash for the ‘05 MVP and won a chip in Miami.
Kawhi Leonard, 2018 - the 2014 Finals MVP was sent to Toronto for DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Pöltl and a top-20 protected 2019 1st round draft pick which turned into Keldon Johnson. We know how the 2018-19 season ended for the Raptors.
The Leonard trade is instructive for the situation the Bucks now find themselves in. No, Kawhi had never won MVP, but he finished in third place two years before this trade and was still considered the best two-way player in the sport when healthy. Also like Giannis, Leonard was a) a year away from free agency and b) kept his future desires close to the vest.
The big difference, obviously, is health. Leonard had played just nine games the season before the trade, and no one was 100 percent sure he was back to normal (although there was a sense that he would be fine). At the same time, San Antonio had one and only one concern when it dealt their young star: getting the best return possible.
The Bucks, meanwhile, play in a small market and have many, many millions of dollars committed to supporting pieces who they might not want to pay if the don’t have the engine that makes the car go vroom. Whether unloading some of that money is a priority in a potential trade is anyone’s guess, as is whether Giannis has already started to back-channel possible preferred landing spots.
Either way, we can be pretty sure of two things ahead of a market that doesn’t yet exist:
Unlike when LA still had prime Kobe and San Antonio allowed Pop’s playoff-streak-driven vanity to dictate the return on that deal, the goal for the Bucks should be young players and/or draft assets. Swapping Giannis for a lesser star, like the Spurs did with Kawhi/DeMar, will get them nowhere.
It makes the most sense for a team already in contention (like Toronto two years ago) to make a move, unless there’s a bad team who thinks it can deal for Giannis and still have the resources to build a roster that can win a playoff series or two this year.
With that as the backdrop, here are my rankings for where every team in the league stands in a potential Giannis sweepstakes, starting with the teams I’m eliminating off the bat, and continuing with a ranking of how likely I think it is that a deal would get made.
No way he’s staying / we stink:
Detroit, Cleveland, Charlotte
The best centerpiece we can offer / are comfortable offering isn’t good enough
Sacramento (Marvin Bagley & Buddy Hield), Dallas (Kristaps Porzingis), Utah (Rudy Gobert), Houston (Russell Westbrook), San Antonio (pick your young Spur of choice), Los Angeles Lakers (Kyle Kuzma, Danny Green & KCP), Orlando (Aaron Gordon & Jonathan Isaac), Chicago (Zach LaVine & Lauri Markkanen), Miami (Herro; they’re not offering Bam).
What we’d have to give up is too good for a guy who can bolt in a year
Memphis (Jaren Jackson Jr.), Phoenix (Deandre Ayton), Philly (Simmons/Embiid), Bradley Beal (Washington)
We never had this conversation
Los Angeles Clippers (Paul George)
Portland - CJ McCollum, Zach Collins, Anfernee Simons & multiple future 1sts: I bet Portland would do this and wager that Dame sells Giannis on the culture, and if that happened, there just wouldn’t be enough coming back Milwaukee’s way in terms of future assets.
Oklahoma City - Steven Adams and alllllllll the picks: Oklahoma City has oodles of future draft assets coming from the Clippers, the Heat and the Rockets. If they sent all or most of that Milwaukee’s way, along with Adams expiring deal for salary-matching purposes, it would give the Bucks a pretty damn big reset button to reach for. But would Sam Presti bet everything on a one-year run at the title? It doesn’t seem like an OKC thing to do.
10. Brooklyn - Caris LeVert, Spencer Dinwiddie, Jarrett Allen, and two future 1sts
The picks would have to come so far down the line to potentially be valuable that it doesn’t provide enough certainty / present day return on Milwaukee’s end.
9. Denver - Gary Harris, Michael Porter Jr, 22nd pick, and two future 1sts
Getting Antetokounmpo would arguably make the Nuggets title favorites next season, and we know from the meeting they tried to get with LeBron a few summers ago that they think big. I just don’t think MPJ, with his health and attitude concerns, is the type of crown jewel the Bucks would be comfortable with.
8. Minnesota - James Johnson, Jarrett Culver, 1st pick, an a future 1st
The Wolves would be borderline insane to bet so much on what would almost certainly be a rental, but there’s the variable here of new incoming ownership. Who knows…maybe Giannis actually does like that part of the country. First time for everything.
7. Indiana - Domantas Sabonis, Doug McDermott, Aaron Holiday and a future 1st
I bet the Pacers would make this trade. They have Oladipo under contract for another year, and can always flip him for another piece, and Brogdon and Turner make for wonderful supporting pieces around the Freak. Sabonis is really freaking good and under contract for four more seasons.
6. New York - Julius Randle, RJ Barrett, Kevin Knox, 8th pick, and a future unprotected 1st
Eric Bledsoe would also be coming back. More on this in a minute.
5. New Orleans - Brandon Ingram (sign & trade) and two future Lakers 1sts
Ingram would need to agree to make this happen, but even if he was cool with spending his prime in sunny Wisconsin, this would be quite the gutsy move for David Griffin. Also, for as insanely unique as both guys are, I’m not sure the Zion / Giannis pairing is a match made in heaven.
4. Boston - Jaylen Brown and a future 1st
Never count out Danny Ainge.
3. Atlanta - John Collins, Cam Reddish, and the 6th pick
If we assume that the Hawks don’t want to pay John Collins’ next contract (possible) and that the market on him is not exactly blazing (also possible), this would be one way Atlanta could still put him to good use. Cam represents a nice upside play, the 6th pick is a nice get.
2. Toronto - Pascal Siakam
Who says no?
1. Golden State - Andrew Wiggins, 2nd pick, 2021 Minnesota 1st (Top 3 protected), 2022 1st
It makes so much more sense than any other trade on the board, it’s not even close.
The Bucks would get the benefit of a building block to begin their rebuild, a piece in Wiggins who could help keep them competitive (assuming he continues his better play from Golden State), and the best 2021 pick in the marketplace. Think about it: any other team who offers them a ‘21 selection is giving Milwaukee a pick that either isn’t that great (the Dallas pick New York owns; the Miami pick Oklahoma City owns) or their own pick, and with the two-time MVP on the roster, that selection will only have so much value. The Minny pick is the closest thing to a golden ticket in a great draft.
From a Golden State perspective, they would get to head into next season as overwhelming title favorites and get a year to sell Giannis on a place he may want to go to anyway. It’s a win/win all around.
As for the Knicks, I’m like 40/60 that they’d actually put RJ on the table. I know they love him, but there’s a part of me that wonders if the new front office is convinced they’ll be able to a) sell a star on New York if given the chance and b) cobble together a competitive roster in a pinch.
Because the Knicks can get so far under the cap, sending off Randle, Barrett and Knox would allow New York to take Eric Bledsoe - arguably a negative asset with three years and $55 million left on his contract - off Milwaukee’s hands and still have around $30 million in cap room for this summer. I think this could make their offer look even more appealing, as among the other likely suitors I listed, only Atlanta could accomodate this as well.
Here’s why I think New York would ultimately be foolish to take the risk:
Mitch and Giannis don’t make a ton of sense together, so there would probably be another deal to be had where Robinson went out for some who could provide more spacing, preferably on a dirt-cheap contract. That wouldn’t be easy.
Calling Giannis, Bledsoe, Bullock, Ntilikina and whoever they got for Mitch a “core” is kind of like saying that all the members of the Jackson Five were equal contributors. This would be a team short a second and third best player. Could New York find those guys in free agency this November?
Even if you assume Fred VanVleet signs, he’s barely a third banana. And he’s the best banana of the bunch. Unless Anthony Davis shocks the world and leaves LA, they’d be setting themselves up for failure, especially since the cap is likely to stay flat again next summer and they wouldn’t have any meaningful space opening up.
Without really being a contender next season and no real reason to think that would change before the following season, is there really any reason to think Antetokounmpo would re-sign this offseason, other than Tom Thibodeau’s boyish charm? I’m dubious.
So there you go. I’m betting there will be rumors popping up over the summer about the Knicks interest, but I wouldn’t get too stressed about it. Leon Rose has given no indication thus far that he’s going to rush things to the detriment of sound decision making.
A player of Giannis’ caliber would test that resolve, but I still think he plays this one smart. And even if he didn’t, I don’t think they can would make the best offer anyway.
On to the next one.
That’s it for today! See everyone tomorrow with the beginning of my two-part free agency special, barring any other news or rumors that need examining. #BlackLivesMatter