When the Milwaukee Bucks confirmed up for coaching camp on Sunday, Khris Middleton introduced his teammate Giannis Antetokounmpo with a present for his twenty sixth birthday: a pen. Antetokounmpo didn’t perceive its significance at first.
“Then I used to be interested by it, and I spotted he was wanting me to signal the contract,” he stated.
Antetokounmpo acquired the joke. He thought it was humorous. However as extra teammates arrived they usually continued to bestow him with pens, he apparently stopped laughing.
“It acquired a little bit bit previous,” he stated. “I’ve acquired 20 pens right here in my locker.”
The issue is that Antetokounmpo has not used any of them for his or her meant goal. He has till Dec. 21 to signal a so-called supermax contract extension that may be value about $227 million and would run by way of the 2025-26 season. Barring that, or a extra modest extension, he would grow to be an unrestricted free agent subsequent summer time.
Ready is the toughest half in Milwaukee, which has gone 49 years for the reason that Bucks gained their solely N.B.A. championship and now has no scarcity of Greek Freak agita. Followers have watched Antetokounmpo blossom from a spindly-limbed teenager into one of the league’s most dynamic forces, a back-to-back winner of the N.B.A.’s Most Priceless Participant Award.
Now, as the times go and the deadline to resolve his contract state of affairs comes into sharper focus, Antetokounmpo is holding the town in a state of suspense.
Frank Madden, a administration guide and longtime Bucks fan who has written and co-hosted podcasts about the team, famous how a cloud had been hanging over the franchise in current months due to the uncertainty surrounding Antetokounmpo, a cloud that had darkened within the wake of one other early exit from the playoffs.
“However now we’ve reached this inflection level the place it’s not simply in regards to the nationwide media saying, ‘Does he wish to go away?’” Madden stated in a phone interview. “It’s additionally Giannis opening the door to that — or a minimum of not slamming it shut by signing the extension.”
A lot of that feeling stems from feedback that Antetokounmpo made — or selected to not make — on Wednesday at a virtual news conference. Along with revealing that he had a brand new assortment of unused pens, Antetokounmpo was noncommittal about his extension. He stated he was leaving it as much as his brokers.
“I’m simply specializing in basketball,” he stated. “I do what I really like. What I really like is enjoying basketball. What I really like is enhancing. What I really like helps my teammates. What I really like is profitable video games. And off the courtroom, about brokers and contracts, I’m not specializing in that. Not that I don’t care about it. Clearly I care about it. It’s a really huge determination in my life, and possibly one of many largest choices I’m going to make. However I simply let my agent deal with that.”
Antetokounmpo has choices. He might signal the supermax deal by Dec. 21. He might signal a shorter-term contract — there isn’t any deadline for that model extension — for much less cash. Or he might decide to not signal something in any respect, which might not essentially preclude him from signing a supermax extension subsequent summer time.
However it could additionally result in a number of extra months of questions and communal hand-wringing — for followers and for the Bucks’ entrance workplace, which would wish to weigh whether or not the crew could be prepared to danger letting him stroll away subsequent summer time with out looking for any compensation for him in a commerce.
“For a man who says he simply desires to deal with basketball, it could be such a distraction,” Bart Winkler, the host of a morning sports-talk radio show in Milwaukee, stated in a phone interview. “I feel we’d all been assuming, whether or not it was going to be a brief contract or an excellent max, that by some means, someway, he would signal his subsequent contract to remain in Milwaukee. And now, for the primary time, there’s some actual concern that he won’t.”
Different cities have gone by way of related ordeals with marquee gamers. Think about Oklahoma Metropolis’s fractured relationship with Kevin Durant after he decided to jump to the Golden State Warriors as a free agent in 2016, or Cleveland’s extra nuanced ties to LeBron James, who paralyzed that city more than once as he weighed his future.
“I feel it type of comes with the territory of being a fan of a crew that has an elite participant,” Madden, the administration guide, stated, “and doubly so for those who’re following a small-market crew. Sadly, when your crew has a famous person, there’s this double-edged sword of expectations and rumors about the place they might go subsequent on the N.B.A. roulette wheel, particularly given how transaction-centric the league has grow to be. However as Bucks followers, we haven’t needed to undergo this pre-Giannis.”
Or a minimum of not since 1975, when the Bucks fulfilled Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s request to be traded. Abdul-Jabbar had led Milwaukee to a championship in 1970-71 however grew annoyed by the small market.
Antetokounmpo is beloved in Milwaukee and throughout Wisconsin. The sports activities panorama there’s nonetheless dominated by the N.F.L.’s Inexperienced Bay Packers, however Antetokounmpo has helped raise the Bucks to new ranges of recognition for the reason that crew drafted him with the fifteenth total choose in 2013.
Past his expertise, Antetokounmpo immediately endeared himself to followers together with his allure, his humor, his group outreach and his seeming innocence. As a rookie, he delighted in tasting his first fruit smoothie. “MAN GOD BLESS AMERICA,” he wrote on Twitter, full with a smiley face emoticon.
Now, he has his personal signature sneaker line with Nike. His rags-to-riches story is being made into a motion picture for Disney. And by extending his contract negotiations and deflecting questions on them, he’s lastly treating basketball like one thing apart from a recreation: He’s, in his personal approach, acknowledging that it’s a enterprise.
The stakes couldn’t be greater. The Bucks have completed every of the previous two seasons with the league’s greatest regular-season document whereas falling brief within the playoffs. In September, they had been dominated by the Miami Warmth of their Jap Convention semifinal sequence. That was the second when the city’s collective concern went from a simmer to a boil.
Throughout an abridged low season, the Bucks improved their backcourt by acquiring Jrue Holiday, one of many league’s greatest two-way guards, from the New Orleans Pelicans. As part of the deal, the Bucks despatched the Pelicans three future first-round picks. Vacation is a terrific participant however the Bucks overpaid to get him, mortgaging a giant chunk of their future as a result of they had been decided to construct out their roster round Antetokounmpo and, by extension, make him happier.
“The underside line for Bucks followers is we all know if we don’t win a title with Giannis, we gained’t have one right here for a protracted, very long time,” Winkler stated. “That’s why everyone seems to be so tense.”
Complicating issues, the Bucks appeared to bungle a deal to land Bogdan Bogdanovic, a ahead who wound up with the Atlanta Hawks.
“No one desires to win a championship greater than me,” Antetokounmpo stated. “I can assure you that.”
Now, as he mulls his contract, some followers face choices of their very own. Matt Aleithe, a small-business proprietor from simply outdoors Milwaukee, stated he was nearing a deadline to resume his season tickets for 2021-22, when arenas would presumably welcome followers again. Aleithe stated he was happy with the Bucks’ low season strikes — “The crew’s higher than they had been on the finish of final season,” he stated — however he couldn’t assist however wonder if Antetokounmpo would nonetheless be enjoying for them in a 12 months.
“It’s type of a giant dedication, being a season-ticket holder,” Aleithe stated. “There’s just a bit extra angst amongst followers as of late.”