Giannis Antetokounmpo laid out in no uncertain terms that he has no plans on requesting a trade from the Bucks after their latest early playoff exit at the hands of the Miami Heat on Wednesday.
The Bucks have become one of the league’s most dominant regular season teams, but have yet to get over the hump come playoff time in the East, losing a year ago to the Raptors in the conference finals after taking a 2-0 series lead on the eventual champs. This year, they fell in rather stunning fashion in five games to the Heat. Antetokounmpo, who was injured in Game 4 and was unable to play in Game 5 of Milwaukee’s series with Miami, is the focal point of the offseason discourse already in the NBA, as the reigning MVP and DPOY has just one year left on his contract.
It’s possible Antetokounmpo could re-sign with the Bucks this offseason on a supermax extension, putting to rest any notion of his impending departure. However, it’s possible that he lets things play out in Milwaukee for one more year before determining his future with the club, applying pressure on the Bucks front office and ownership to build a championship team around him.
There are a number of decisions to make this offseason to try and build the best possible team around Antetokounmpo for next year, starting with whether Mike Budenholzer — whose playoff rotations continued to be the talk of the series as he limited Giannis and Khris Middleton’s minutes in the first three games, while playing a full 10-man rotation when most teams extend star minutes and tighten their rotation — should stick around. The Bud decision will come down to whether Giannis gives him a thumbs up or thumbs down, and until that is known, it wouldn’t be stunning if the top coaches on the market, namely Ty Lue, hold off on accepting other jobs because the Bucks gig is immediately the most coveted in the league should it open up.
From there, it’s clear that roster changes are necessary. The Bucks desperately need another playmaker and someone capable of creating for themselves alongside Giannis and Middleton. Eric Bledsoe was supposed to be that player, but we now have three years of data saying he’s simply not capable of doing so in the playoffs. The Bucks surely have some regrets about picking Bledsoe over Malcolm Brogdon as their point guard going forward, but now must move on and find a way to address that issue.
The name at the top of everyone’s list of Bucks targets this offseason is Chris Paul, who just led the Oklahoma City Thunder to a stunning playoff berth in the West and pushed Houston to seven games in the first round. It appears, given the departure of Billy Donovan, that the Thunder are now ready to fully embrace a rebuild with their draft assets acquired from the Paul George and Russell Westbrook trade, and that likely means trading Paul and letting Danilo Gallinari walk in free agency.
The fit in Milwaukee would be snug and Paul makes so much sense on and off the court for a Bucks team that could desperately use someone with his skill set, mentality, and leadership at the point guard position. However, a player making a ton of sense for a team doesn’t mean a trade can happen, and it doesn’t take long to find the difficulty in getting CP3 to Wisconsin.
Paul is set to make $41.3 million next season, meaning the Bucks have to cobble together some serious money to make a trade legal. If we (correctly) assume they are not willing to part ways with Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez, the latter of whom also would make no sense for the Thunder to want to acquire, things get very difficult. Here is my best effort at a two-team deal that works financially.
Bucks get: Chris Paul
Thunder get: Eric Bledsoe, George Hill, Ersan Ilyasova, D.J. Wilson, 2020 Indiana first-round pick
I’ll be honest, I have no idea if that’s worth it for the Thunder, who already have a ton of first round picks and don’t need to be adding Bledsoe to a roster when they want to turn things over to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Dennis Schroder. As such, a third team likely needs to be in the mix here to take on Bledsoe and send OKC a younger player with upside for their frontcourt.
Enter, the Orlando Magic.
Bucks get: Chris Paul
Thunder get: Aaron Gordon, George Hill, Khem Birch, D.J. Wilson, 2020 Indiana first-round pick
Magic get: Eric Bledsoe, Ersan Ilyasova, 2021 Milwaukee second-round pick
I’m not totally sure what Aaron Gordon is as a player, which isn’t great six years into a guy’s career, but getting him out of Orlando where I’m pretty confident they have never once maximized his talents is a good start. He’s closer to the timeline OKC is looking to play on and maybe finally playing consistently at the 4-spot in a new place with actual backcourt pieces that can get him the ball he can take a leap. Worst case, he’s only on a deal for two more years and is half as expensive as Paul.
George Hill is a nice, steady hand at backup point guard and also is on a deal that would be pretty easy to move once again when a contender is inevitably looking for backcourt help. Khem Birch is an intriguing young center with some defensive upside who Orlando likely isn’t going to want to invest in once he becomes a free agent, and I’m still a believer in D.J. Wilson as a valuable rotation player given his abilities as a shooter. They add another first round pick for this year, but I really don’t think Presti is too worried about adding picks given they have 24(!!!) draft picks compiled through 2026.
The party here that I’m most worried about is the Magic, but you can make a case that this helps them too. Orlando gets more backcourt help, and for Bledsoe’s postseason problems, he’s been very good in the regular season and is an excellent defender, so he fits right in with what the Magic are doing. He’d be an upgrade from the departing D.J. Augustin at just a tick over the same price tag. He’s also a nice mentor on the floor for Markelle Fultz as a non-shooter who impacts the game in other ways from the point guard position, and the Magic have been rumored to want to deal Gordon for years. Ilyasova is a non-guaranteed contract, so that lets them waive him to save a little money. You take out some of the frontcourt clutter they’ve been dealing with for years and can go forward looking for some wing help that can shoot this offseason.
The list of teams that would make sense to add Bledsoe this offseason is pretty short — Orlando, Detroit, New York, and Chicago, maybe — and aside from the Magic, the other three don’t have a lot to offer in return to make anything work. Paul to Milwaukee makes all the basketball sense in the world, but it is a nightmare to make happen with trying to make a deal that works financially that OKC (and a possible third team) would be interested in. Still, it could happen and the Bucks should do everything in their power to do so, because they still have to sell Giannis on staying and there’d be no doubt Paul would make a huge impact on that and their championship aspirations.