May 6, 2020

How NBA shutdown helps Warriors’ chances of landing Giannis Antetokounmpo


The trade scenario came more than halfway through a 7,000-word Bleacher Report story outlining potential deals for all 30 NBA teams’ top players: Andrew Wiggins and three of the Warriors’ future first-round picks to the Bucks for Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Within hours of the article’s publication last week, that hypothetical move rippled through the blogosphere, delighting Golden State fans who view Antetokounmpo as the ideal prize after a league-worst season. Never mind that the trade in question was wholly unrealistic. As they near their second month without sports because of the coronavirus pandemic, many readers are desperate for something — anything — to command their attention.

But even though Milwaukee would require a much better haul than Wiggins and a trio of draft picks to part with Antetokounmpo, it might have to start considering offers for him in coming months. Trading Antetokounmpo for a package of assets would be far more palatable than letting him leave as an unrestricted free agent in 2021 if he declines the Bucks’ supermax extension this summer — a five-year deal that could be worth $254 million .

Though all indications are that he’s on good terms with team management, league sources believe that Antetokounmpo would want out of Milwaukee if he loses confidence in the franchise’s ability to win championships. This is why the NBA shutdown could buoy the Warriors’ chances of landing their long-coveted Greek.

When play was suspended March 11, the Bucks were a league-best 53-12. A canceled postseason — a distinct possibility given the slew of obstacles the NBA must overcome to resume play — would rob Milwaukee of a shot at its first title since 1971. There are no guarantees that the Bucks will again avoid major injury next season.

If the NBA is able to have the playoffs, it almost certainly would need to shorten each series to a maximum of three or five games. That ups the odds of an upset. Should Milwaukee — fresh off a long hiatus — get ousted in an abbreviated first or second round, Antetokounmpo might be be less likely to ink his extension this year.

The Bucks will do whatever they can to keep the face of their franchise long-term, but they recognize that the Warriors could probably offer the best package if Antetokounmpo decides he wants to leave. As last week’s Bleacher Report story suggested, Golden State can dangle Wiggins, a 2020 first-round pick expected to fall no lower than No. 5, Minnesota’s top-3-protected 2021 first-rounder and the Warriors’ 2022 first-rounder.

What would separate Golden State from other suitors, however, is that it could include Klay Thompson or Draymond Green in any potential trade. That would be a steep price, especially if the Bucks make Antetokounmpo available this offseason. Parting with multiple lottery picks, a starting small forward (Wiggins) and a cornerstone of an NBA dynasty (Thompson or Green) is quite a risk to acquire someone entering the final year of his contract.

But according to a league source, the Warriors have been preparing for years to make a bid for Antetokounmpo. General manager Bob Myers knows that to chart a course for long-term greatness, a team must maintain flexibility — both in terms of its roster and future assets.

By orchestrating a complex sign-and-trade last summer with Brooklyn for guard D’Angelo Russell, the Warriors got younger while obtaining a key trade chip. In February, when negotiating the blockbuster deal that sent Russell to the Timberwolves, Myers made sure that Minnesota included a lightly protected pick in what’s expected to be a loaded 2021 draft.

This is the same type of advanced planning that helped the Warriors land Kevin Durant in free agency in July 2016.

To add Durant, the Warriors needed to clear enough space to accommodate his two-year, $54.3 million contract. Now, as it waits to see whether Antetokounmpo signs his extension with Milwaukee, Golden State reckons it has stockpiled enough assets to get it on the phone with Bucks general manager Jon Horst should Antetokounmpo become available.

And the asking price would be staggering. Last summer, to acquire Anthony Davis after he publicly demanded a trade from New Orleans, the Lakers gave up Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, the No. 4 overall pick in the 2019 draft (De’Andre Hunter) and first-round picks in 2021, 2023 and 2024.

As special as Davis is, Antetokounmpo is better. This is someone who, at just 25, is well-positioned for his second straight MVP award. With Thompson, Green and Stephen Curry each in their early 30s, Antetokounmpo represents a chance for the Warriors to follow the Spurs’ model for sustained success.

It’s easy for Golden State to envision the mild-mannered Antetokounmpo forming the league’s most daunting tandem alongside Curry, whom he already considers a friend. The two share an agency and in March, when asked to name his five favorite players in NBA history, Antetokounmpo twice named Curry. Three weeks later, Antetokounmpo chose the Warriors for a game of NBA 2K20 and touted Curry as “the OG.”

Such praise amplified the chatter surrounding Antetokounmpo and Golden State. What makes this Giannis-to-Warriors speculation intriguing, however, is that it’s not merely fantasy.

As ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne said on “The Jump” in September, Golden State has “always been the big threat” to the Bucks in the Antetokounmpo sweepstakes. Last week, when he tweeted that “chasing greatness is a life mission,” Antetokounmpo left little room for interpretation.

He will do whatever he must do to win at the highest level, even if that means leaving the team that drafted him for one fresh off a dynasty.

Connor Letourneau is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: cletourneau@sfchronicle.com. Twitter: @Con_Chron





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