Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Bucks looks on during NBA Playoff game against the Heat
Sep 2, 2020; Lake Buena Vista, Florida, USA; Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) looks on during the first half of game two of the second round of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Miami Heat at The Field House. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The stage was set at Walt Disney World in Orlando Wednesday night. In need of a win to tie their Eastern Conference Semifinals series against the Miami Heat at one game, reigning NBA Defensive Player of the Year Giannis Antetokounmpo was guarding Jimmy Butler.

What followed was beyond explanation. The Greek Freak, also the reigning NBA MVP from a season ago, attempted to close out on Jimmy Buckets as time expired in a tie game late in the fourth quarter. Officials on hand called a pretty weak foul against Antetokounmpo, leading to Butler hitting two free throws to send the Heat to a 2-0 series lead.

Giannis was seen on the bench after the game in a downtrodden mood. What was an exciting game between the two Eastern Conference finals ended in controversy. Minutes earlier, the same officials on hand at Walt Disney World called Heat guard Goran Dragic for a three-shot foul against Khris Middleton with the Heat leading by that very same margin.

Two plays. Two calls. Two seasons of potential playoff failures. Two more losses and the end of the Antetokounmpo era in Milwaukee? It’s possible.

Rumors continue to link Giannis Antetokounmpo to larger-market teams

  • It’s not a secret that Milwaukee isn’t a large market. It pretty much borders Chicago, something we’ve seen come out in full force when the Bucks would host the Bulls in the past.
  • Sure the NBA might not be a market league like Major League Baseball. The financials are much different. That gives a city like Milwaukee an opportunity to keep a larger-than-life star.
  • With this said, Giannis has been linked to larger-market teams in the past. Whether this is coming from the Greek Freak’s camp or some hopeful organization remains to be seen.

The Golden State Warriors continue to be linked to Giannis Antetokounmpo

  • Regardless of whether it’s a pipe dream on the Warriors’ part, they have reportedly shown interest in adding Antetokounmpo to the mix over the past couple years. It’s almost impossible to count this team out after it landed Kevin Durant back in the summer of 2016.
  • For his part, Giannis is a native of Greece. He knows full well the type of environment and scenery that would accompany him to San Francisco and the Warriors’ new Chase Center. He’s also close friends with Warriors star guard Stephen Curry.
  • Despite their struggles with injury this past season, the Warriors are still a hot potential landing spot for superstars around the Association. One bad season after five consecutive NBA Finals appearances doesn’t change this.

Pretty much every NBA team would be interested in Giannis Antetokounmpo in free agency

  • It now doesn’t seem too far off. The Greek Freak is set to hit free agency following the 2020-21 season. In terms of a precise date, that will likely come within 10 months or so.
  • If Antetokounmpo does indeed hit free agency, teams such as the Lakers, Clippers, Knicks, Mavericks, Sixers and Celtics will join the Warriors as large-market teams interested in his services.
  • In particular, first-year Knicks president Leon Rose is going to want to make a major splash in that role. The Knicks have joined Golden State on the rumor mill as the team most linked to Giannis.

Could a franchise-saving Giannis Antetokounmpo trade be in the cards for the Bucks?

  • This is also a major backdrop as the Bucks find themselves up against the wall. Simply put, Milwaukee can’t afford to let Giannis walk for nothing next summer. That would make the franchise irrelevant on the broader NBA stage, once again.
  • If, for some reason, another disappointing playoff performance comes to fruition, there’s a chance Antetokounmpo’s camp puts a feeler out regarding a potential trade. To a lesser extent, it would be akin to what we saw with Anthony Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans following the 2018-19 season.
  • Faced with the possibility of losing Giannis for nothing or acquiring what might be the biggest trade haul in Association history, it’s not a foregone conclusion that the Bucks would roll the dice and let him play out the 2020-21 season.

Bottom line

It must be noted that this is all hypothetical. Milwaukee is down 2-0 in a series without any home-court advantage. It has more than enough talent to take four of the next five against Miami and ultimately come out of the Eastern Conference.

That’s not entirely the point here. Down 2-0 in the conference semifinals after posting the best record in the NBA during the regular season has Milwaukee on edge. Another substandard playoff performance would only create more rumors surrounding the potential that Antetokounmpo will seek greener pastures elsewhere.

Today’s NBA is not only about on-court fit. If that were the case, Giannis would stick it out and attempt to win titles with the Bucks. Rather, it’s a global brand with a marketability factor that star players must take into account. As a global brand himself, wasting away in Milwaukee without winning a title wouldn’t do the Greek Freak justice.

This can all be quieted should the Bucks come back from a 2-0 series deficit and advance deeper into the playoffs. But for now, there has to be some nervous individuals within Milwaukee’s front office.

There’s also other teams such as the Warriors, Knicks and Mavericks keeping a keen eye on this series while licking their chops. That’s for sure.