When the Milwaukee Bucks won the 2021 NBA Finals, they looked to be the league's next best team that would be contending for a championship every single year. Even though Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton are fantastic secondary stars, the reason the Bucks found themselves in a championship position was because of Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Arguably the greatest player in the world right now, Antetokounmpo has accomplished almost everything any player ever sets out to accomplish in the NBA. Now through 10 seasons in the league, the two-time MVP is still just 28 years old and is about to hit the prime years of his career. The Bucks are a contending team as long as he is around and healthy, but Giannis' future is very much a question mark right now.
Why would Antetokounmpo want to leave the Bucks after all the success they have had over the years? Well, Milwaukee failed to advance past the Eastern Conference Semifinals in their championship defense season and this past year did not end well whatsoever.
The Bucks breezed through the 2022-23 regular season with a 58-24 record, seizing home-court advantage throughout the playoffs. With many picking them to win their second title in a three-year span, the Bucks were embarrassed by the Miami Heat, who claimed the 8-seed in the conference after losing to the Atlanta Hawks and beating the Chicago Bulls in the play-in tournament.
Middleton not being 100 percent and Giannis dealing with a back injury he suffered early on in this series obviously played a role in the team's demise, but a shocking series loss like this one to Miami was unacceptable. As a result, change immediately ensued in the offseason, as the Bucks parted ways with head coach Mike Budenholzer after five seasons.
Even though he won close to 70 percent of his games as the coach of the team, Budenholzer's eventual departure from Milwaukee had been buried a little bit following the team's championship in 2021. He never appeared to be their long-term option and it seemed the right time to move on presented itself through this first-round loss.
Instead of going out and claiming a proven head coach like Monty Williams or Frank Vogel, the Bucks picked former Toronto Raptors assistant Adrian Griffin to be their new head coach. At 49 years old, Griffin now gets his first chance to run things on the sideline for a franchise in the NBA and he's made it very clear that this organization will win another title.
“The foundation has already been laid. This is a strong culture,” Griffin stated when introduced as the team's head coach this offseason. “We have special talent on this team, so this wasn't something where I was coming in to uproot everything, it's to build. I think with my 25 years of experience in the NBA, I can add great value to the team just bringing my experiences as a player and a coach… We have high expectations, but we are going to embrace them and it starts with getting to work and never losing site of the work involved.”
Figuring out what to do at the head coach position, addressing Giannis' future, and retaining their championship core were the three main goals this franchise had this offseason. The Bucks accomplished their coach goals, Antetokounmpo's situation is still being worked through with training camp about to begin, and they made sure to keep themselves in a position to win a title right away with what they did during free agency.
Bucks offseason additions and departures
Additions: G Malik Beasley (free agency – LAL), C Robin Lopez (free agency – CLE), G/F Andre Jackson Jr. (draft), F Chris Livingston (draft)
Departures: G/F Joe Ingles (free agency – ORL), G Jevon Carter (free agency – CHI), G Wesley Matthews (free agency – ATL)
While they may not be listed above as “additions,” the two biggest signings for the Bucks this offseason were Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez, as both players returned after receiving interest from rival teams.
Middleton was never expected to leave after opting out of his $40.4 million player option, as he was looking for more long-term security and wanted to help the team from a cap standpoint. The All-Star wing ended up accepting a three-year, $93 million contract that could rise to $102 million based on incentives.
Lopez's situation was a little different seeing as he was coming off of a career season at 35 years old. With this being his last chance to capitalize on his value late in his career, Lopez was open to the idea of leaving Milwaukee based on the amount of interest he received. The Bucks could not afford to let their center go, which is why they gave the veteran a two-year, $48 million deal.
This is quite extraordinary for Lopez not because he's a bad player, but because of where he found himself just a few years back. Prior to joining the team in 2018, Lopez had a really poor season with the Los Angeles Lakers. After years of being the face of the New Jersey/Brooklyn Nets, it seemed like decline had come early on in his career.
With the Bucks, Lopez has turned his career around. The 7-footer is now a real shooting threat from three-point range after not making his first three-pointer until his seventh season in the league. Milwaukee's big man has also quickly turned himself into a Defensive Player of the Year candidate, leading the NBA in total blocks this past season.
As good as Antetokounmpo is, he alone cannot carry the Bucks to a championship. Middleton and Lopez have both been huge assets in this team's title pursuit, which is why the front office and ownership felt it was necessary to spend the money they did on Middleton and Lopez.
It's also worth mentioning that the team also brought back veteran forward Jae Crowder and Thanasis Antetokounmpo, Giannis' brother, on one-year contracts. Whether or not Crowder can prove to still be a key 3-and-D contributor has yet to be seen, but his experience is what makes him a valuable asset at the forward positions in Milwaukee.
Looking at new faces coming into the organization, Malik Beasley stands out as a key contributor coming off the bench. Beasley began the 2022-23 season with the Utah Jazz and he ended up being traded to the Los Angeles Lakers ahead of the trade deadline. Beasley's numbers in Utah were slightly better than those in Los Angeles due to his opportunities and minutes.
Missing just one game this past year, the 26-year-old swingman averaged 12.7 points and 3.5 rebounds per game while shooting 35.7 percent from three-point range. Beasley was just one of seven players to make at least 235 threes this past season.
Three-point shooting has always been a big part of Milwaukee's success on the offensive side of the floor, especially since Giannis demands so much attention when he drives to the rim. However, they ranked just tenth in the league in three-point shooting percentage over the course of the regular season, which is why someone like Beasley could really help make a difference coming off the bench. Understanding his role and being able to play to his strengths as a catch-and-shoot perimeter threat, Beasley may be in line to have his best shooting season yet.
Over the last few offseasons, the Bucks have focused more on free agency than they have the NBA Draft. While they did select MarJon Beauchamp in the first round last year, Milwaukee has not really spent much time developing young talents in the midst of their championship pursuit. That may begin to change, especially after the team brought in two intriguing rookies this offseason.
Andre Jackson Jr. was selected 36th overall by the Orlando Magic and was dealt on draft night to the Bucks. A well-rounded shooting guard who can run the floor in transition, Jackson can be an absolute menace defensively. He has really strong instincts off the ball and at Las Vegas Summer League, Jackson displayed his confidence as an all-around defender. This is what could earn him minutes over the course of his rookie year.
As for their second draft pick, the Bucks went with Chris Livingston 58th overall, the final pick in this year's draft. Once thought to be a first-round pick, Livingston fell due to his ineffectiveness at Kentucky this past year. Still a gifted athlete who presents a strong physique, Livingston will be an interesting name to keep tabs on in Milwaukee.
Even though he's been a steady contributor in his secondary role through the years, Joe Ingles' departure from the Bucks should not have that great of an impact. Ingles was limited movement-wise due to the fact that he was still working his way back from an ACL injury and his three-point shooting production will be made up by Beasley.
What will be interesting to see is where the Bucks allocate Jevon Carter's lost minutes. Carter stepped up and emerged as a key backcourt talent for this team during the 2022-23 season, which means players like Grayson Allen, Pat Connaughton, and MarJon Beauchamp will be in line to see their production increase, that is unless the Bucks bring in another veteran guard behind Holiday.
Giannis Antetokounmpo's future in Milwaukee
The Bucks have no intentions of trading Giannis Antetokounmpo and they have no reason not to offer him a contract extension every chance they get. He is the face of this franchise, one of the best players of this generation, and it is not hard to believe that he would be a first-ballot Hall of Famer if he was to retire at this very moment.
From Giannis' point of view, there is no rush to make a decision on what the future holds. Given how good he is and the fact that he knows the Bucks need him in order to be successful, Antetokounmpo owns all the leverage. One injury could drastically change all of this, but for the time being, Milwaukee's superstar is the one who decides if his career will continue with the Bucks or with another organization.
The good news for the team is that he is still under contract through the 2024-25 season, 2025-26 season if you count his $51.9 million player option.
Whether or not Giannis remains with Milwaukee depends on several factors. Can this team put their first-round series loss to the Heat behind them? Will his secondary stars in Middleton and Holiday still be productive, championship-like players? How will Adrian Griffin handle being a first-time head coach for a team that owned the best record in the league a season ago?
These are all questions in Antetokounmpo's mind right now.
At the end of the day, the only question that matters to Giannis is whether or not the Bucks can win another title. He's made it clear that getting to the NBA Finals is a priority, which is why there is a tone of uncertainty in his voice this offseason.
It's certainly possible that Antetokounmpo has had real thoughts about leaving the Bucks. It is also very plausible to assume that he's thought about the idea of signing an extension right now. Playing the waiting game just increases Giannis' overall value, especially since he can make more money as the salary cap continues to increase under the league's new CBA.
Outside of Milwaukee, rival front offices have already begun to theorize what could be in store next offseason. Of course, their focus is on the 2023-24 season at hand, but every organization looks ahead. It's not a secret to anyone that Antetokounmpo wants to win and if the Bucks happen to take a step back, he may be more inclined to leave. This is why other organizations have not shown a willingness to part with all of their assets in trade talks this past summer.
There are several teams out there who are going to look to trade for Giannis next offseason and there are even more monitoring if he will sign an extension with the Bucks. At this time, we should be inclined to believe that Antetokounmpo is not going anywhere. He's stated multiple times how he wants to remain with one franchise and how much he loves the city of Milwaukee.
Then again, failing to meet expectations takes its toll on players. The fatigue of coming up short and consistently failing when it matters most in the postseason could eventually lead to what would become the most anticipated free agency we have seen in NBA history.
2023-24 season outlook
Regardless of who is coaching on the sideline or who is on the court, the Bucks will always enter the season with championship expectations as long as Antetokounmpo is available. Anything short of a title is viewed as a failure and the 2023-24 season is a big one for Milwaukee.
They must find a way to come back from their first-round loss not only to prove they can still win a title to the rest of the league but to prove this to Giannis.
The clock is now ticking and the Bucks do not necessarily have a lot of options. Giannis, Middleton, Lopez, Portis, and Connaughton could all become free agents in 2025, plus Holiday could become a free agent next offseason.
Now is the time for the Bucks to prove who they are to the rest of the NBA. If they don't, then they will be heading down a path in which they will not be able to return from.