Milwaukee Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo made headlines recently by issuing a warning to management: either completely commit to winning a championship for years to come or don’t expect another extension to be signed. It’s nothing new from Antetokounmpo, who has stated similar messages a few times in the past going all the way back to his first extension.
Is this time different though? Based on the franchise’s current state, Milwaukee should absolutely fear Antetokounmpo’s ultimatum.
Milwaukee Bucks Roster Woes
The Bucks are built on four players: Antetokounmpo, Jrue Holiday, Khris Middleton, and Brook Lopez. With those four on the court during the regular season, Milwaukee outscored opponents by 14.9 points per 100 possessions – an absolutely dominant mark.
However, the cliff is rapidly approaching at terrifying speeds. Holiday (33-years-old) and Middleton (32) are no longer in their prime, while Lopez (35) sits squarely in his mid thirties. Factor in significant recent injuries for Middleton and Lopez, and the picture becomes scarier. At most, this core four has one or two years left before Father Time saps their powers to the point of no return. Holiday also intends to retire after the 2024-25 season, which caps this run at two remaining years.
The Bucks can’t brace their fall either because the depth is extremely lacking. Grayson Allen and Bobby Portis represent the only legitimate playoff options that Milwaukee can utilize, which brings the total count to six players. They would then rely on easily-exploitable veterans (Pat Connaughton, Malik Beasley, Jae Crowder, Robin Lopez) or extremely young players still honing their skills (MarJon Beauchamp, Andre Jackson Jr, Chris Livingston).
Essentially, the Bucks can trot out six players before entering shaky ground. That’s far from a confidence boost, especially considering how deep and talented the league is now. Unfortunately for Milwaukee, they completely lack any flexibility to improve the supporting cast.
Milwaukee Bucks Bench Net Rating since Giannis became MVP
2019 – 2nd
2020 – 4th
2021 – 8th 💍
2022 – 22nd
2023 – 15th
They have dealt with injuries the past two years, but their depth is definitely a step down from previous years. It’s a concerning trend that likely continues
— Braxton Reynolds (@BReynolds200) August 25, 2023
Milwaukee Bucks Salary Issues & Depleted War Chest
Antetokounmpo, Holiday, Middleton, Lopez, and Portis combine for $148,533,597 this season and $155,436,522 in the 2024-25 season. Both figures are already over the respective salary caps and approaching the tax thresholds, so signing notable free agents is out of the question. It’s worth noting that Holiday technically owns a player option for the 2024-25 season, although he’s stated that he will pick it up, play the year out, and then retire.
Therefore, the Bucks must explore the trade market to supplement the roster. They could use Allen’s expiring $9M contract, Connaughton’s $9.4M deal, and a young piece like MaJon Beauchamp to bring back around a $20M player, but where does that leave them? Extremely top-heavy with even less depth. And would a team accept a package built around those salaries? Milwaukee lacks both tantalizing prospects and draft picks to add as sweeteners because the Jrue Holiday trade has finally caught up to them.
New Orleans owns Milwaukee’s 2024 and 2026 unprotected first rounders while also having swap rights in 2025 and 2027. As a result, the Bucks can only trade their 2028 and 2030 firsts and offer swap rights in 2029. To make matters worse, Milwaukee only has one second round pick (2024 via Blazers) until 2031! Two firsts and a swap is decent, but it won’t get them the talent they need to seriously fill out the roster. Trading picks that far into the future is exceptionally risky too, so Milwaukee may even abstain from doing so.
Can the Bucks keep Giannis Antetokounmpo
In summation, the circumstances around his ultimatum are vastly different compared to his 2020 extension: the Bucks now have an aging core, zero salary cap flexibility, and an utterly depleted war chest. Milwaukee’s title window is at best open for the next two seasons before the bill for years of championship roster building finally arrives.
Unfortunately for the Bucks, that cataclysmic reset aligns perfectly with Antetokounmpo’s player option. Milwaukee won’t have the means to surround Antetokounmpo with a championship roster, which will be his first priority. He doesn’t have the time to wait around either because he’s 30-years-old when the 2025-26 season begins.
The Bucks must learn to live in the present, as the future holds potential horrors.