As a child, Giannis Antetokounmpo “[peddled] sunglasses and souvenir trinkets” on the streets of Greece to help his family put food on the table. At 18 years old, he was shrouded in mystery — a 6-foot-10 forward with guard skills who had only recently caught the eye of league executives — but tempting enough for the Milwaukee Bucks to take a chance on him with the 15th pick in the 2013 draft. Three years later, Antetokounmpo is every bit the tantalizing player he was then, and his development has proved the Bucks’ instincts true. On Monday, he was rewarded with a four-year, $100 million contract extension.
Antetokounmpo’s extension solidifies his commitment to the team that took a gamble on him; he said he hopes to stay in Milwaukee for “20 years” and get a day named after him like Kobe Bryant. The extension, which does not include a team or player option, takes Giannis out of the restricted-free-agent market next summer. Milwaukee could’ve selected Antetokounmpo as its “designated player,” allowing the Bucks to extend his deal for the full max (five years and 25 percent of the cap). While the fifth year would’ve allowed the Bucks to retain their best player for an extra season, signing him at 25 percent of the team’s total salary allotment would have been its own gamble in the face of a fluctuating cap. The four-year extension is the best value for the Bucks, because they no longer have to worry about the possibility of negotiating a deal under the 2017–18 salary cap, which could see a sharp increase. There was incentive for Antetokounmpo and his agent to ink a deal now, too: A rising cap isn’t a given; the figure for next season could also drop below its current projection of $102 million.
For both sides of the negotiation table, a deal made sense: Signing Antetokounmpo for a set amount rather than the true 25 percent max assures that changes to the cap that result from upcoming labor negotiations won’t have any impact on guaranteed money. There’s tremendous uncertainty surrounding the NBA’s 2017 collective bargaining agreement, which will almost assuredly be discussed following the completion of this coming season. The Bucks eliminated the chance of spending more later, since changes to the CBA could enable players coming off rookie-scale contracts, like Antetokounmpo, to sign for more than 25 percent of the cap. At a more extreme level, there’s been talk of eliminating max contracts. National Basketball Players Association executive director Michele Roberts has said that the premise of a max contract “offends” her, and the union’s executive committee is led by stars, like LeBron James, Chris Paul, and Carmelo Anthony, all of whom would benefit from the elimination of these salary constraints. Antetokounmpo’s $100 million deal could end up looking like even more of a bargain if the league’s stars get their way.
Multiple front-office sources indicated that an NFL-style franchise tag could also be a possibility. The tag allows teams to retain and control their pending free agents without long-term commitment. In the NFL, one player on each team can be slapped with the franchise tag, worth 120 percent of the player’s previous year’s salary or an average of the top five salaries of players at his position, whichever is higher. The tag lasts one year and the process can be repeated annually until a long-term deal is negotiated (but it’s no longer beneficial to the team’s finances after the first few times).
If the NBA used the same approach, it theoretically would have enabled the Bucks to use the tag next summer on Antetokounmpo, and it would have been worth roughly $25 million for just a single season. But if you’re Antetokounmpo, or another player coming off a rookie deal, you likely prefer the long-term security to a one-year deal worth only slightly more than what you would make in the first year of a new contract. It’s unlikely the NBPA would agree to the NFL-style language, which heavily favors teams, so the NBA’s version could simply allow teams to designate a player to negotiate a contract for higher than the maximum salary and length.
Rather than dealing with the unknowable changes in the new CBA, the Bucks opted to make a deal now. The uncertainty of labor negotiations created an atmosphere ripe for early extensions, as we’ve seen from Antetokounmpo and C.J. McCollum, who was locked up on a similar four-year deal with Portland. So far, no other players from the 2013 draft class have signed early extensions, but after assessing Antetokounmpo’s and McCollum’s decisions, we see that there are a few other players and agents who could look to cash in.
Rudy Gobert, Jazz
Gobert is the best rim protector in basketball: He’s long, mobile, and unafraid of being posterized. The Stifle Tower usually makes the stop anyway; last season he was in the top six in block percentage and allowed the league’s lowest field goal percentage near the rim among centers who played at least half a season, according to SportVU. Gordon Hayward (who will likely turn down his player option) and George Hill are set to be unrestricted free agents next summer, so it’d be advantageous for Utah to get Gobert out of the way now. Gobert has expressed interest in returning to the Jazz, so this appears to be a situation worth monitoring closely.
Dennis Schröder, Hawks
Schröder will run the point for Atlanta now that Jeff Teague is out of the picture, so the ever-confident German could be willing to bet on himself unless the Hawks are willing to pay up. But Atlanta might prefer to hold off before committing financially because the 23-year-old guard has a lot to prove. Schröder has gotten incrementally better each season, but he’s still an inefficient scorer with an affinity for ill-timed midrange jumpers. Schröder runs a tight pick-and-roll, but the Hawks lost Al Horford, who can score from all levels in the screen game, and added Dwight Howard, who has always been reluctant to accept a heavier responsibility rolling to the rim. How they mesh will determine their effectiveness as a team, as well as Schröder’s value.
Victor Oladipo and Steven Adams, Thunder
The Russell Westbrook–Oladipo backcourt pairing could be devastating, but the Thunder need to be cautious of the possibility that it doesn’t work. Westbrook’s free agency, in either 2018 or 2019, looms over every decision OKC will make for as long as he’s in town, and it might not want to commit to a deal that could have negative implications by the end of the year. Oladipo’s offensive fit will depend on the evolution of Billy Donovan’s system as much as his own progress as an off-ball shooter. Westbrook is at his best when the floor is spaced, but Oladipo is a career 33.9 percent 3-point shooter, just below the league average. However, Oladipo shot nearly 40 percent from 3-point range over the last four months last season, as The Ringer’s Danny Chau has outlined, an optimal percentage for the backcourt pairing.
Adams is the easier fit, and arguably the more important piece. As a rookie he was a mere clean-shaven, energetic big off the bench. Now he’s a Khal Drogo look-alike and the second-biggest star on the roster. Adams’s emergence as a defensive presence enabled the Thunder to trade Serge Ibaka for a package including Oladipo. Adams has also developed into an efficient pick-and-roll finisher, scoring 1.12 points per possession, per Synergy. However, if Sam Presti thinks the Thunder actually have a realistic shot at luring Blake Griffin away from Los Angeles to Oklahoma City, then they should wait and retain their salary cap space.