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LOS ANGELES — The Golden State Warriors are greedy.
And that’s not a bad thing. That mentality led them to sign Kevin Durant in 2016, even after two straight trips to the NBA Finals. It’s why they acquired D’Angelo Russell this offseason, even if they didn’t necessarily covet the guard for his skills. It’s why they dealt Russell to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Andrew Wiggins, and it’s why that trade could be the key to the Warriors’ landing Milwaukee Bucks All-Star Giannis Antetokounmpo.
The Bucks (44-7) have the best record in the league and no intention of trading the Most Valuable Player, but Antetokounmpo’s contract expires after the 2020-21 season. If Milwaukee wins the title, there’s a strong chance Antetokounmpo will continue his career there.
But if the Bucks don’t win? Several teams are making sure they have cap room in 2021—such as the Miami Heat, Los Angeles Lakers and Toronto Raptors—just in case.
The Warriors aren’t one of those teams, as they have heavy investments in stars Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green—and now Wiggins. Instead, they’re taking a different approach. Wiggins’ contract could prove to be a crucial piece in making a trade for Antetokounmpo cap-worthy.
Wiggins is a 22.4-points-per-game scorer on a sizable contract ($94.7 million for the next three seasons), and while he’s widely viewed as overpaid, the Warriors will spend the next few months working to make the 24-year-old forward a more well-rounded player.
Additionally, the 30th-place Warriors (12-40) will have their own lottery pick in the June draft, and it’s almost certain to be a top-four selection. In the Wiggins trade, they added the Timberwolves’ 2021 first-round pick with top-three protection; it’s unprotected in 2022. Golden State also acquired a bunch of seconds from other deadline deals, and that collection could amount to six picks over the next three drafts.
“The Warriors just rebuilt their dynasty for like six years,” one former team executive said. “No one can beat Golden State’s lottery picks, a solid starter [in Wiggins] and all of their picks for the next [several] years.”
That’s assuming Antetokounmpo wants to leave Milwaukee. He may not, given his team’s success and its means to pay him more than any other franchise.
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Still, doubt remains. As reported by Rick Romell of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Antetokounmpo in the spring told Anita Elberse, a Harvard Business School professor: “So far, we have been doing great, and, if this lasts, there’s no other place I want to be. But if we’re underperforming in the NBA next year, deciding whether to sign becomes a lot more difficult.”
Obviously, the team is not underperforming, but Antetokounmpo may not base his decision on the regular season but on how well the Bucks do in the playoffs. They fell short in the Eastern Conference Finals last year to the Toronto Raptors. A similar result, or worse, could lead to his exit.
Milwaukee would eagerly pay Antetokounmpo a supermax contract. The NBA’s last salary-cap projection for the 2021-22 season was $125 million. If that holds, the Bucks would be able to outspend any other team with roughly a $253.8 million contract offer over five years. The Warriors and other suitors would be limited to four years and $161.3 million.
But the chance to earn supermax money wasn’t enough to keep Durant in Oklahoma City, Anthony Davis in New Orleans, Paul George in Indiana or Kawhi Leonard in San Antonio.
There’s a reason why teams are preparing for the “Summer of Giannis” even if it never comes. The Warriors will be well-positioned to make a lucrative trade offer should the Bucks face the same reality the Pelicans did when Davis made it clear last year he wasn’t going to stay long-term.
The Thunder watched Durant walk, to the Warriors, for no compensation. Can the Bucks afford to do the same?
They’ll do everything they can to prevent that scenario, but beyond the front office, it’s really up to the players to get it done on the court this postseason.
Meanwhile, the Warriors have been greedily preparing for what could be. They may not have all their own picks to send to the Bucks, but in trading for Russell in July, they had the foresight to protect their 2020 first-round pick (top-20). Now, the Brooklyn Nets will instead get Golden State’s 2025 second-round pick.
The Warriors also owe the Memphis Grizzlies a protected 2024 first-rounder from the Andre Iguodala salary dump that helped make the Durant-Russell trade possible, which will limit their ability to trade their own firsts in 2025 and 2026.
The pick Golden State acquired from Minnesota could be a gold mine, especially if coupled with the Warriors’ own lottery pick.
And if it’s not Antetokounmpo, the Warriors will be well-positioned to go after the next superstar who becomes available via trade.
Email Eric Pincus at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter, @EricPincus.