It took general manager Jon Horst all of one night to try to show Giannis Antetokounmpo how badly the Milwaukee Bucks want to keep him.
First, Horst traded for New Orleans Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday, sending back point guards Eric Bledsoe and George Hill and three first-round draft options, including this year’s No. 24 overall pick.
Shortly after that, Horst and the Bucks agreed to a sign-and-trade deal with the Sacramento Kings for shooting guard Bogdan Bogdanovic. Horst completed the deal by sending guard Donte DiVincenzo, center D.J. Wilson and forward Ersan Ilyasova to Sacramento.
Basically, the Bucks traded depth and assets for more of a win-now approach. And win now is precisely what they need to do. Antetokounmpo himself has made that clear.
“There are a lot of rumors,” Antetokounmpo said in an interview with Swedish website Aftonbladet. “Everyone has opinions. But at the end of the day, I will do what is best for my family. I do not see why I could not be in Milwaukee for several years. As long as Milwaukee and I are on the same page when it comes to being one of the best teams in the league and winning championships, that’s fine.”
Given that the man known as the Greek Freak is eligible for free agency at the end of the season … well, the Bucks needed to act quickly to show Antetokokounmpo they are serious about winning big and winning now.
Remember, the Bucks finished with the league’s best regular-season record in each of the past two seasons, and then fell flat in the playoffs.
That means that the Bucks played their best basketball when it meant the least — at the start.
Now, there is something to be said for fantastic play before the playoffs. Pro basketball is big business and winning at any time for year is good for that business. It gets fans engaged, full of hope, entering the gates of the arena and buying merchandise.
But it doesn’t do much to keep star players happy.
In today’s NBA, teams need to contend for a title if they want to keep big name players on their rosters. Such players want to be more than just a regular-season power that no one takes seriously. Most also worry about their legacy.
That’s not to say Antetokounmpo is that guy for the Bucks. It’s just evident that he doesn’t want to spin his wheels.
“It’s easy, I want to be a winner,” he told Aftonbladet. “I do not care about the money. … I do not know what the plan is. It depends on what decisions they make. If they make the right decision, I’ll be there for many years. If they do not, we’ll see. The NBA is business, and we take it day by day. Hopefully we can succeed together.”
Today, the Bucks’ starting lineup looks like this:
Center: Robin Lopez
Forward: Khris Middleton
Shooting guard: Bogdanovic
Point guard: Holiday
Antetokounmpo and Middleton are All-Stars. Holiday may not have made the All-Star Game, but as one of the best backcourt defenders in the league, he often plays like an All-Star. And Bogdanovic is an up-and-comer who offers more promise than anyone the Bucks surrendered in the deal.
All a GM or a franchise can do is upgrade the roster as best as possible. It doesn’t always have to be a big, splashy move with eyes on a “Big Three” or Super Team.
Sometimes a shakeup and a couple of upgrades do the trick.
On paper, the Bucks are better than the team that dominated the regular season behind its back-to-back league MVP. That is a very good start, and Antetokounmpo knows it.