When Milwaukee Bucks superstar forward Giannis Antetokounmpo hits unrestricted free agency in 2021, every team with sufficient salary cap space will be looking to sign the reigning NBA MVP. This includes the New York Knicks, who have been trying to land a top-tier star in free agency for what feels like eons. While the Knicks would certainly love to add Antetokounmpo, is it possible they may have already hurt their chances of doing so?
The Knicks could have done exactly that by not giving Giannis’ younger brother, Thanasis, more of an opportunity when he was a member of the organization, according to Marc Berman of the New York Post. New York drafted Thanasis in the second round (51st overall) of the 2014 NBA Draft, and he played in summer league for the Knicks in both 2014 and 2015. He also spent some substantial time with the team’s G League affiliate in Westchester. Ultimately, Thanasis signed a 10-day contract with the Knicks, but he played in a total of just two games with the team in 2016 before being released.
He went on to sign with the Bucks in free agency last offseason, and his lack of opportunity in New York rubbed Giannis the wrong way. From Berman:
The season’s potential cancellation will most hurt Milwaukee, which had a league-best 53-12 unit that many experts felt had the momentum to win the championship. Antetokounmpo seems to want to stay in Milwaukee when he becomes a 2021 free agent, but only if the Bucks stand as a title contender. Sources indicate the pandemic has changed things so drastically, it’s hard to pinpoint Antetokounmpo’s future plans… Who knows what could happen with next season’s rosters — potentially Antetokounmpo’s last season in Brew City.
The Knicks’ lure is the bigger stage but they probably won’t be a winner in 2020-21. And we know Antetokounmpo was disappointed with the franchise when it didn’t give his brother, Thanasis, a 2013 second-round pick, a chance. Thanasis, who played just two games with the Knicks, is now with the Bucks.
Before the Knicks faced Milwaukee in London in 2015, Giannis told The Post, “I thought he [would] get called up before the game. I’m a little disappointed he’s not going to play tomorrow against me.”
While the Knicks may have hurt their chances, they didn’t necessarily completely decimate them, according to Berman. Another of Giannis’ younger brothers, Alex, is on track to be eligible for the 2021 draft, which will occur prior to free agency (unless the league calendar is changed dramatically by then). By drafting Alex, the Knicks could potentially get back on Giannis’ good side, and entice him to come play with his younger brother in New York.
While speculation will run rampant regardless, Antetokounmpo has previouslyfor the entirety of his career as long as both sides remain focused on winning titles.
“My goal is going to stay the same: It’s get better, take it day by day, step by step, and the ultimate goal is to win a championship,” Antetokounmpo said last offseason. “As long as that we are all on the same page and we are all focused on that goal, why not play for the Bucks 20 years? Why not play 25 years? Why not, after playing, be a member of the coaching staff or a member of the front office? But we got to have the same goal. We got to have the same principles. … We got to focus on winning a championship.
“I want to be a part of a winning team. As long as we have the same mindset and same approach to the game, there’s no reason for me to move and not be like Steph [Curry], not be like Dirk [Nowitzki] or Kobe [Bryant] or Tim Duncan.”
The Bucks have done everything right when it comes to trying to keep their superstar happy as they have built their entire team around Antetokounmpo. Getting Antetokounmpo to walk away from a perennial contender in Milwaukee to join a Knicks team that has spent the better part of two decades struggling to remain relevant would be a difficult sell — one made less likely given the history between the Knicks and the Antetokounmpo family.