Do the Bucks have to win a title for Giannis Antetokounmpo to remain in Milwaukee?

Upon next month’s return to play for the NBA in Orlando, there will be a handful of interesting storylines to keep an eye on.

But arguably none is more important than the Milwaukee Bucks pursuit of a championship and what it means for their franchise cornerstone, Giannis Antetokounmpo.

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As the reigning league MVP and frontrunner to repeat as MVP this season, Antetokounmpo has risen the ranks of the NBA’s elite in recent seasons, going from a young player with a world of potential to legitimately having an argument to being the best player in the world.

And with that comes the expectations of a championship being delivered to Milwaukee.

According to FOX Bet, the Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers have the best odds to win the NBA title at +250, followed by the Los Angeles Clippers at +300.

When analyzing Antetokounmpo’s resume compared to the two other healthy superstars regarded as the best of the best – LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard – he’s the only one who doesn’t have a championship yet, which is why ESPN’s Max Kellerman believes all of the pressure is squarely on his shoulders once play resumes in Orlando.

“Giannis, I thought, had established himself as the best player in the league last year, particularly once LeBron got hurt and early in the playoffs with the way he was playing. But then he ran into Kawhi Leonard… I think the title for best in the world was up for grabs at that point and Kawhi took it from Giannis. LeBron’s got multiple championships and he’ll have his hardcore followers always say he’s the best, practically no matter what. Kawhi’s got multiple championships. Giannis doesn’t have one and that’s the knock against him, if he can win one he not only enters the conversation as “best player in the league,” I think he establishes himself as the best player in the NBA.”

But there is an added layer of pressure for the Bucks to win a title this season due to Antetokounmpo’s impending free agency next summer.

Ben Rohrbach of Yahoo! Sports explained how the Milwaukee Bucks can offer Antetokounmpo the largest contract of any possible suitor, but questions if it will be enough to keep him in town.

“Antetokounmpo will be eligible for a five-year extension in the neighborhood of $250 million once the NBA calendar turns to the 2020-21 season, and Bucks GM Jon Horst confirmed the obvious: an offer will be on the table as soon as that bell rings. Whether or not it is July 1 could play a significant role in whether or not Antetokounmpo signs the deal, which will determine whether or not we spend the next 14 months discussing his possible exit from Milwaukee, so we might as well start now.”

NBA free agency has, of course, been pushed back to October 18 from July 1 with the season having been postponed due to COVID-19, but the premise remains the same, with the heat now on the Bucks to do all they can to retain their franchise pillar.

ESPN’s Jay Williams broke down the potential fallout for the Bucks and Antetokounmpo if they come up short this season, likening the situation to James’ first stint with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

“He’s in his seventh season with the Milwaukee Bucks and just to give context to fans, after LeBron James spent seven seasons in Cleveland without winning a championship, that’s when he decided to leave for Miami. I do not see Giannis leaving Milwaukee, even if they were to lose. Obviously a lot of things can change. He seems more like a small-town market individual, doesn’t seem to be loomed away by the big cities and the lights.”

And there has already been discussions about potential suitors for Antetokounmpo if he did choose to bounce out of the Midwest.

Trade rumors have already begun to swirl, with NBA Sports Insider Tom Haberstroh believing the Golden State Warriors have what it takes to pull off a deal to lure the Bucks superstar to Northern California.

“Back in 2014, I was saying they should trade Klay for Kevin Love. I thought they should have made that deal. I was dead wrong about that. Giannis Antetokounmpo is way better than Kevin Love back then. If Klay Thompson is the base of a deal to get Giannis Antetokounmpo, who could be the MVP for the next five seasons in the NBA, yes, you make that deal. When you look at Giannis Antetokounmpo and what he is doing at this age when he hasn’t really figured out a jump shot yet, we are talking an all-time great player. So yes, if we are talking Klay Thompson with Andrew Wiggins in a package with the No. 1 pick, or whatever the top pick would be for the Warriors this year, I think that package you’d put on the table for Giannis Antetokounmpo because he is that good, he is that transformative and you put him with Steph Curry … It has vibes of 2016 and Kevin Durant coming to the Warriors then.”

To add more fuel to the fire, in October 2019, before the Bucks season opener against the Houston Rockets, there was an interaction between Antetokounmpo and Harvard Business School professor Anita Elberse and student Melcolm Ruffin, who co-authored a case study on the franchise.

Antetokounmpo was quoted as saying that “deciding whether to sign becomes a lot more difficult” if the Bucks were to underachieve again in the playoffs.

Matt Velasquez of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that Giannis said that the comments were taken out of context.

“As I’ve said, there’s going to be a lot of stories that are going to come out,” Antetokounmpo said. “Everybody knows how sensitive this timing is and they’re going to come out with a bunch of stories and all that.'”

If he hopes to quiet the conversation, the simple solution for Antetokounmpo would be to win, which Nick Wright believes will not only cement his place in the league’s hierarchy but also ensure he stays in Milwaukee.

“Giannis, if they win the title, not only is he the unanimous best player in the world after winning two straight MVPs and winning a championship, he also would have won a title earlier than LeBron, earlier than Michael [Jordan], earlier than Steph [Curry], earlier than KD. And he’ll stay in Milwaukee forever on a quarter of a billion dollar deal.”

Heavy is the head that wears the crown, and if Antetokounmpo wants the crown, he will have to earn it in Orlando.

If not, it could be the beginning of the end of his time as a Milwaukee Buck.