Inside the Botched Sign-and-Trade Clouding Giannis’ Future


For months, Thanasis Antetokounmpo, Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s brother and a Milwaukee Bucks guard, stayed in regular contact with Bogdan Bogdanovic. They spoke numerous times over the phone, sources said, with Thanasis hoping to eventually court the guard’s services this offseason. During a few calls, Giannis communicated his desire in teaming with Bogdanovic.

Aside from the obvious spacing Bogdanovic’s shooting would provide Milwaukee’s offense, Giannis admired his fellow European’s toughness and swagger, sources said. He viewed Bogdanovic as someone you could go to war with in the postseason.

Antetokounmpo grew increasingly focused on teaming with Bogdanovic. The Sacramento guard quickly presented Milwaukee’s greatest option as the Bucks dealt with a hamstrung cap sheet and limited trade assets.

When word arrived last week of the Bucks’ Monday night coup—agreeing in principle to acquire both Jrue Holiday and Bogdanovic in the waning hours of the league’s renewed transaction window—there was an overwhelming sense around the organization, and people with knowledge of Antetokounmpo’s thinking, that he would accept the Bucks’ supermax extension offer—the ultimate objective of the franchise’s 2020 offseason.

A week later, Bogdanovic plays for the Atlanta Hawks, not the Bucks. And there has since been a categorical step back in the Bucks’ confidence in getting a long-term commitment from their superstar, even if Antetokounmpo ultimately accepts the franchise’s offer of a five-year, $228 million supermax extension.

There has long been optimism Giannis Antetokounmpo will re-sign with the only franchise he’s ever known. Any figure around the Bucks, or who has spent time around Antetokounmpo, has always spoken of the superstar’s unwavering loyalty. This is a person who once refused to attend the NBA draft unless his brother could come along with him. By all accounts, he enjoys the decibel levels of Milwaukee’s market. He does not yearn for the lights of New York or Los Angeles.

It’s also said that Antetokounmpo values being not just the face but the bedrock of the franchise. That is not to characterize him as brimming with ego, rather pride in carrying himself like an organizational pillar. He relishes the responsibility of leading Milwaukee to a championship, like the stars he grew up watching before a wave of player empowerment swept the league.

And while he may indeed commit to the Bucks before his Dec. 21 deadline, at this juncture, no news is not good news for Milwaukee. At the moment, Antetokounmpo remains in Greece, where he’s been training ahead of the regular season.

Antetokounmpo was pulling levers to help the Bucks help themselves. He had listed several wing players he hoped the Bucks could land in order to fortify his surrounding cast for a better effort at the 2021 championship. Wizards All-Star Bradley Beal was never a realistic option. Pacers All-Star Victor Oladipo was discussed in numerous trade scenarios, sources said, but Indiana ultimately declined Milwaukee’s advances. At one point, that included a discussion of Donte DiVincenzo, George Hill and the No. 24 pick in the 2020 draft.

After agreeing to the parameters of a deal for All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday, the Bucks made a series of free-agency signings to replenish Anteotkounmpo’s supporting cast. Milwaukee added a premier backup point guard in D.J. Augustin, a dangerous shooter in Bryn Forbes and a defensive specialist in swingman Torrey Craig. Bobby Portis will also join the Bucks on a one-year deal.

The sum of these additions simply doesn’t equal the impact landing Bogdanovic would have made for Milwaukee, both in terms of adding firepower to the Bucks offense and earned goodwill from Antetokounmpo.

Sacramento had every reason to engage Milwaukee in trade discussions. Bogdanovic was set to hit restricted free agency this season, and by all accounts, the 28-year-old was searching for an optimum payday the Kings were not entirely prepared to match. The Bucks, sources said, were hoping to agree to a framework of a sign-and-trade that could effectively take Bogdanovic off the market right when free agency was set to open Friday.

Early conversations centered on sending Eric Bledsoe and the No. 24 pick to Sacramento, sources said. But the Kings insisted on guard DiVincenzo being included in any deal, just as the Pacers did in the talks regarding Oladipo, according to sources.

Any deal that brought Bledsoe—and the three years, roughly $54.4 million remaining on his contract—back to Sacramento would have cleared the necessary room under the $139 million apron for the Bucks to offer a competitive salary to Bogdanovic. Sacramento brass had known from conversations with Bogdanovic’s representatives that the guard was seeking an average annual salary around $18 million.

Yet all the while, Milwaukee remained in aggressive pursuit of Holiday. And by all accounts, New Orleans management successfully engineered a bidding war for Holiday’s services. The Boston Celtics offered Gordon Hayward plus their three first-round picks in last week’s draft, it is said. Atlanta is known to have discussed the No. 6 pick, Dewayne Dedmon and sharpshooting youngster Kevin Huerter. Denver and Dallas were also rumored as significant suitors.

The clock was ticking. Only 48 hours remained before the draft. And despite Bledsoe’s salary number being an apparent necessity to match Bogdanovic’s preferred number in free agency, Milwaukee moved forward with its Holiday acquisition.

Bledsoe was also always a centerpiece in any trade for Holiday, one source said.

Milwaukee went forward in swapping Bledsoe, Hill and three first-round picks, plus two pick swaps, for Holiday. And with limited remaining draft capital to play with, the Bucks returned to talks with Sacramento by reluctantly bringing DiVincenzo onto the table. Milwaukee officials remain bullish on the Villanova product, sources said, but they viewed Bogdanovic as a necessary target in line with Antetokounmpo’s wishes.

Adding Holiday was an obvious upgrade, but Bogdanovic was communicated as Antetokoumpo’s preferred addition all offseason. The Antetokounmpo brothers had tried to lure him with the promise of forming a Big Three with Giannis and Khris Middleton. Holiday was an added bonus.

So with DiVincenzo made available, sources said, the Bucks and Kings agreed in principle early last week. Along with DiVincenzo, Milwaukee would send Ersan Ilyasova and D.J. Wilson to Sacramento in exchange for Bogdanovic and Justin James. Come that Friday, the Bucks would have been able to negotiate contract terms with Bogdanovic’s representatives once the free-agent market opened at 6 p.m. ET.

All players included within the trade framework were notified, sources said. Over the next two days, one Bucks player and his girlfriend were already searching for new homes in Northern California. A real-estate agent even visited one of the properties and sent pictures of the interior.

Late that Monday evening, just minutes after the agreement was struck, word reached the news media of Milwaukee and Sacramento’s intended sign-and-trade. And during the board of governors’ call on Tuesday, several league sources indicated that Bucks governor Marc Lasry stopped just short of bragging about Milwaukee’s impressive Monday evening of transactions. However, multiple league personnel participating on the call said they did not remember any Bucks official gloating or any noted behavior or conversation out of the ordinary.

Either way, at least one rival team filed a formal complaint to the league office Wednesday, sources said. And by that afternoon, the league informed both Milwaukee and Sacramento that it would open an investigation into an alleged sign-and-trade already being agreed to four days before free agency had begun. The league also sent a memo to all 30 teams that afternoon reminding franchises of the NBA’s anti-tampering policies, encouraging teams not to “jump the gun” in contacting players under contract with other teams and warning punishments of up to $10 million and draft-pick forfeiture.

At that juncture, it became clear Milwaukee was no longer a possible landing spot for Bogdanovic. He could have engaged with Bucks leadership Friday, but moving forward with Milwaukee instantly became untenable for the 28-year-old. It would be far too precarious to move forward with the Bucks at the risk of the NBA ultimately determining foul play and blocking the transaction.

Bogdanovic’s camp insisted they never discussed the particulars of an agreement with Bucks officials and that they were only made aware of the negotiations. Bogdanovic even phoned the Antetokounmpos and reiterated he had never agreed to any contract with Milwaukee.

No matter the intent, no matter the news of Milwaukee and Sacramento’s agreement, all indications are the league office would have investigated such a transaction. Commissioner Adam Silver has been as stringent on eliminating evidenced tampering as Giannis has been in wanting Milwaukee to improve its roster.

And all indications suggest the scale is still tipping in the Bucks’ favor. Yet the collapse of this Bogdanovic sign-and-trade leaves the door far too open for a possible Antetokounmpo departure than Bucks officials would like.