Giannis Antetokounmpo’s looming free agency decision has been the most sought-after storyline of this NBA offseason, spawning an almost-religious fervor among fans that could rival that of LeBron’s “The Decision.”
Yet a cursory glance at the team’s premature playoff exit shows that the Milwaukee Bucks didn’t make the best case to keep their young superstar in Wisconsin, and the general consensus for much of the offseason was that the reigning MVP already had one foot out there.
It would have made sense, too. That Mike Budenholzer had nary a trick up his sleeve outside of an unimaginative five-out spread offense and a tired drop-coverage scheme on defense, or that Bucks general manager John Horst couldn’t manage to keep his mouth shut about a potentially monumental sign-and-trade would have been enough reason to up and leave for a player of Antetokounmpo’s caliber looking to win.
So when Antetokounmpo, who posted norms of 29.5 points, 13.6 boards, and 5.6 dimes per game en route to his second MVP trophy in a row, signed his supermax extension after weeks of sitting on his contract, the NBA world was up in arms.
Mavericks’ other options
Enter the Dallas Mavericks, who were among the teams widely considered to have the best odds of landing the Greek Freak once he entered free-agency in 2021, and who now have to re-examine their options moving forward.
On paper, Dallas would surely have been an intriguing scenario for the two-time MVP and reigning Defensive Player of the Year. Adding a dominant force like Antetokounmpo into the Mavericks’ league-leading perimeter-oriented offense should spell only good things for a basketball team. The organization has long made known its belief that adding a third star next to phenom Luka Doncic and a premiere stretch-four Kristaps Porzingis is the missing link for a young Mavericks team that vastly overperformed in the postseason.
However, the extension of Antetokounmpo doesn’t necessarily signal bad news for Dallas.
They have the money to make decent signings in the near future, entering the 2021 offseason—which sports names like Kawhi Leonard, Victor Oladipo, Rudy Gobert, Jrue Holiday, DeMar DeRozan, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, Mike Conley, Andre Drummond and Kyle Lowry—with some $42 million in cap space.
If they decide to win now, they could just as easily join the long list of teams trying to land James Harden or Bradley Beal. Compared to smaller market teams, the Mavericks have never had much trouble attracting talent in the past, and the presence of Doncic and Porzingis should make for a great drawing card to do so.
And if they so decide, the Mavericks organization could also sign a number of high-level, under-the-radar players to complement their two stars in lieu of a third one: players like Bryn Forbes, Wesley Matthews, among others, could provide the team some much-needed firepower on the perimeter with the departure of Seth Curry. Derrick Jones Jr. and Justin Holiday are also versatile wings who can contribute to the Mavs on both ends of the floor.
In terms of trade assets, Dallas is one of the trickier teams to gauge moving forward in terms of the immediate future, having no picks on hand for the 2021 NBA draft. As of this post, their only guaranteed assets include a first and second-round pick in 2022, and second-rounders from 2023 through 2025.
Even so, all is not lost when it comes to their Giannis dreams, either. In theory, a move to Dallas could still happen in the event that Giannis finds the Bucks unsatisfactory this year and forces his way out of Wisconsin. But to hope for such a scenario would be grasping at straws, considering Giannis’ loyalty to the Bucks organization. And for now, it definitely helps the Mavs’ case for Antetokounmpo to remain in the East.
With Doncic and Porzingis in tow and Dorian Finny-Smith, Trey Burke, Maxi Kleber, Josh Green, and Tyrell Terry under contract, and still with bird rights over Timothy Hardaway and Josh Richardson, the Mavericks do not look like they have many holes coming into next season.
The fact of the matter is that for a team developing as fast as they are, losing out Giannis isn’t the end of the world. Moving on from their pursuit of Giannis should be no problem for a team coached by Rick Carlisle that already has the pieces to contend and has only worked on its weaknesses in the offseason. For this Dallas Mavericks team, there truly is nowhere to go but up.
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