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USATSI

Giannis Antetokounmpo was once among the most sought-after superstars in basketball. Prior to his 2020 contract extension with the Bucks, teams like the Heat, Mavericks and Lakers all spent years clearing salary cap space hoping to pursue him as a free agent. Instead, he stayed with the Milwaukee Bucks and won the 2021 championship. The rumor mill quieted down... for the time being.

But the past two seasons haven't gone quite as well for the two-time MVP. Milwaukee hasn't returned to the conference finals since 2021, and last season, they were upset by the No. 8 seed Miami Heat in the first round of the postseason. Now Antetokounmpo has a decision to make. Later this offseason, he will become eligible for a contract extension. If he doesn't sign it, the clock leading up to his possible 2025 free agency will only tick louder, and in an interview with Tania Ganguli for The New York Times, he indicated that he does not plan to re-sign with the Bucks this summer.

"The real question's not going to be this year — numbers-wise it doesn't make sense," Antetokounmpo said. "But next year, next summer it would make more sense for both parties. Even then, I don't know."

Financially speaking, Antetokounmpo is correct. If he re-signs this offseason, he will only be able to add four years to the deal. Next offseason, he can add five, and with the way the salary cap is increasing, that extra year will likely prove quite lucrative. Of course, this isn't only a financial decision for Antetokounmpo. It's a basketball decision as well, and after two disappointing seasons, he made it clear to Ganguli that his priority is to get back to winning championships. 

"But at the end of the day, being a winner, it's over that goal," he said. "Winning a championship comes first. I don't want to be 20 years on the same team and don't win another championship."

Antetokounmpo, still only 28, has plenty of time to continue competing for championships. The rest of the Bucks, however, likely do not. Milwaukee has, arguably justifiably, chosen to retain the bulk of its core ever since it won the 2021 title, but in the process, the Bucks have gotten old. Sidekick Khris Middleton, who has dealt with a number of injuries in recent years, is now 32. Jrue Holiday, who is 33, says that he plans to retire at the end of this contract. Brook Lopez is 35 and needed back surgery during the 2021-22 season. Lopez and Middleton were re-signed to multi-year deals this offseason.

Former head coach Mike Budenholzer, however, will not be back. The Bucks fired him after losing to Miami and replaced him with Toronto Raptors assistant Adrian Griffin. Antetokounmpo reportedly endorsed Griffin for the role, but acknowledged the uncertainty of bringing a new coach into such an established locker room.

"You've got to see the dynamics," he said. "How the coach is going to be, how we're going to be together. At the end of the day, I feel like all my teammates know and the organization knows that I want to win a championship. As long as we're on the same page with that and you show me and we go together to win a championship, I'm all for it."

The Bucks should be firmly in the championship mix this season. They likely will be for another year or two after that. But Milwaukee's best players are getting old quickly. The Bucks do not control any of their own first-round picks until 2028, and their emphasis on experience during the Antetokounmpo era has deprived them of youth in the pipeline. If Antetokounmpo's goal is to compete sustainably moving forward, there's a strong argument to be made that he'll need to do so outside of Milwaukee. It is now up to the Bucks to convince him otherwise.