Giannis Antetokounmpo’s record-shattering five-year contract extension with the Milwaukee Bucks comes with lucrative terms, conditions and clauses, along with one burning question – can he win a championship ring in that time?
The reigning back-to-back league MVP and 2019-20 Defensive Player of the Year personally quashed the prospect of him headlining a loaded 2021 free agency class by putting signing $228m supermax extension in December.
In doing so he shut the door on a likely league-long list of interested parties in view of delivering silverware to the organisation he credits for aiding his emergence as the NBA’s most dominant player.
Antetokounmpo inspired the Bucks to a 56-17 record that had at one point teased the potential for a 70-win campaign last season, before seeing the season end in a demoralising 4-1 series defeat to the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference semi-finals.
While unconvinced a ring will come his way in Milwaukee, BJ Armstrong, a three-time NBA champion with the Chicago Bulls, believes the foundation has been built for the team to contend.
“If you’re looking at this roster now with how it’s currently constructed, the answer in my opinion would be no,” said Armstrong on Heatcheck.
“But if you’re saying the following, if I have four years of this five-year extension that he signed guaranteed, with a fifth year with a player option, now we have the stability, we have the leadership and most importantly we have the most important piece we know is going to be here and now it is up to us and it is our job to put the best possible players around him and make a true run at this for the next five years.”
The 26-year-old somewhat defied a modern norm in the NBA by staying put in a small market as opposed to pursuing the kind of move to a ‘superteam’ or certified contender that would near-guarantee him a championship in the coming years.
Milwaukee strived to offer him greater support this past offseason by trading for New Orleans Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday, who is viewed as a necessary third piece alongside Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton.
In Holiday they acquired one of the most talented two-way guards in the NBA, capable of contributing in shooting and on defense having averaged 19.1 points, 4.8 rebounds and 6.7 assists last season amid a significant rise in production since the beginning of 2016.
“It is very difficult to win an NBA championship,” added Armstrong. “We have seen the formula here recently of players joining other players to win in a short condensed amount of time.
“But the thing I admire most about Giannis is that this young man took on the responsibility and he bucked the trend. He said ‘you know what, I’m going to do this, I’m going to take on the responsibility, I’m going to hold myself, the organisation accountable but more importantly I’m going to display leadership’.”
LeBron James was famously part of the supposed first player-formed ‘superteam’ when he opted to sign with the Miami Heat in free agency in 2010 following back-to-back MVP awards with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
He teamed up with close friend Dwayne Wade, before also being joined by former Toronto Raptor Chris Bosh, with the three having all been top-five Draft picks in 2003. By the end of their time together in Miami the ‘Big Three’ had visited the NBA Finals four times, winning on two occasions.
James returned to the Cavaliers in 2014 before winning the 2016 Finals alongside Kyrie Irving, and later signed for the Los Angeles Lakers in 2018 before clinching his fourth ring in 2020 following the arrival of Anthony Davis.
Kevin Durant holds a similar place in history in regards to his free agency switch from Oklahoma City Thunder to the Golden State Warriors in 2016, from which he went on to win back-to-back titles in 2017 and 2018 alongside Steph Curry and Klay Thompson.
“The easiest thing for him would have been to go and join another player because that’s the quickest way but he took on the responsibility so I applaud him, I applaud what they are doing and it should be fun for the next four to five years to see how this turns out,” continued Armstrong.
“Either way, I give him credit for doing this. He’s ready to fight, he’s putting on his shoes, he’s putting on his work hat and taking on a workman’s mentality and he’s giving the leadership that’s necessary, so you know what, salute to my good friend Giannis.”
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