Keeping Giannis

Anthony L. Cuaycong-125

Reaction to news of the impending deal that will send Jrue Holiday to the Bucks was far from universal. Even as the Pelicans guard is a proven defensive commodity (and arguably the best of the best at clamping down on perimeter threats), pundits and fans alike couldn’t help but wonder if he and a throwaway second-round pick are worth the trove of assets for whom they’re being dealt. Apart from three first-round picks and two first-round swap rights through 2027, the franchise anchored by reigning Most Valuable Player Giannis Antetokounmpo will likewise be forking over starter Eric Bledsoe and dependable sub George Hill.

For the Bucks, though, the trade signifies their commitment to keep Antetokounmpo in the fold. They’re determined to show him their intent to surround him with a capable supporting cast. Which was why they also agreed in principle to acquire scorer Bogdan Bogdanovic vice rotation mainstays Donte DiVincenzo and Ersan Ilyasova, as well as fourth-year forward D.J. Wilson. The move was scuttled following the decision of the Kings guard to nix a sign-and-trade offer and instead explore the restricted market. Nonetheless, they’re clearly going all in for his last season before he becomes an unrestricted free agent.

Parenthetically, the Bucks will continue to be active in negotiations for perceived roster improvements. Meanwhile, they’ll be dangling Antetokounmpo with a supermax extension worth a whopping $230 million over five years. And if he’s not keen on affixing his Hancock on the deal because of a desire to take stock of his prospects as an unrestricted free agent next year, so be it. They’re willing to roll the dice; they’ve already told any and all potential trade partners that they will not entertain any inquiries on his availability in the intervening period. Which is to say they’re confident of flipping their lame duck status to one of perennial contenders with him at the helm.

No doubt, the Bucks’ optimism stems from Antetokounmpo’s evident desire to stay. And they’re keen on proving to him that doing so will ultimately redound to his benefit. In this regard, however, Holiday cannot but be the first piece. There needs to be others. At the same time, they would do well not to sacrifice their future for immediate benefits. Meanwhile, he cannot be blamed for assessing his options and checking where he can be best situated. After all, he’ll be the focal point no matter the circumstance.

Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and Human Resources management, corporate communications, and business development.

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