Is There Any Way for Lakers to Create a Big 3 with LeBron, AD, and Giannis?
While it will be impossible for the Lakers to clear enough cap space to offer Giannis Antetokounmpo a maximum contract in free agency next offseason, there is a path to make an Anthony Davis style midseason trade for Giannis.
The problem with pursuing Giannis in free agency is the Lakers already have two max contract superstars making 65% of the cap and adding him would mean 95% for three players and the 5% left is not enough to field a legal team. Teams with one max player like Miami could add Antetokounmpo via free agency but not a team like the Lakers with two max players, not without one or more of the max players accepting a 10-20% pay cut to build a Big Three.
The solution for the Lakers to acquire Giannis Antetokounmpo is to trade for him and then use his Bird rights to go over the cap to sign him to a max contract. Frankly, it’s the only way the Lakers can legally create a Big Three. It’s also the only way to acquire Giannis without having to jettison the entire championship roster they’ve spent the last two years assembling. It’s also why Giannis should want to be traded rather than signed as a free agent.
Giannis has one year left on his contract with the Milwaukee Bucks with annual pay of $27,528,088. If he’s not signed a supermax extension with the Bucks before the season starts, he’ll be a major target at the trade deadline. Were Giannis to demand to be traded to the Lakers ala Anthony Davis, L.A. could end up making the best offer considering other contenders might not be willing to bid more for what might end up being a half season rental.
That means an offer from the Lakers of Dennis Schroder and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, whose salaries total $29,850,000 might be the best trade offer the Milwaukee Bucks receive for superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo. The key to making this strategy actually work is the Lakers showing Giannis through their play that they’re the not only best destination for him to win multiple championships but also the team that’s the best fit for him.
Once the Lakers trade for Antetokounmpo, they would then own his Bird rights and would be able, after the end of the season, to go over the salary cap and offer Giannis a new max contract that starts at $39,200,000 per year. The Lakers would be deep in the luxury tax with total salaries approaching $160,000,000 but, unlike free agency scenarios where teams were left with only superstars, they would still have their complete championship roster.
The difference between Giannis joining a fully built out championship team via trade versus signing with a contending team with a stipped down roster via free agency becomes a major selling point why he should demand a trade. Any team that’s pared their roster to create $39 million in cap space to sign Giannis Antetokounmpo is realistically going to be another Milwaukee Bucks team that’s going to be relying heavily upon him to win it all.
Demanding a trade is the answer and the challenge is convincing Giannis joining a Lakers championship team with LeBron and AD via trade is better than joining an unproven Miami Heat team without a superstar via trade. That’s where the question of fit becomes important because there’s no team other than the Lakers who have two championship tested superstars to help Giannis carry the load and a proven deep and talented supporting cast.
Of course, the ‘trade and then use Bird rights to max’ blueprint is not limited to Giannis or the Lakers. It’s a strategy every team with two superstars, like the Clippers, Warriors, and Nets, will also be looking for a chance to deploy. That’s why all of the major contenders looking to acquire Antetokounmpo will be watching closely as Giannis will have until the day before the 2021 season to accept or decline the supermax offer from the Milwaukee Bucks.
If Giannis accepts the Bucks’ supermax offer, the focus will switch to other superstars slated to become free agents next offseason, including Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Jrue Holiday, Rudy Gobert, and Victor Oladipo. Should Giannis decline the offer, the Bucks will need a breakout start to the season or face heavy pressure at the midseason deadline to trade Giannis to prevent losing him for nothing in free agency at the end of the year.
While there’s always the chance the Bucks can work out a sign-and-trade deal for Giannis if they wait until he becomes a free agent next offseason, that’s probably too great a risk to take as losing him for nothing would be a disaster. Bottom line, Milwaukee has to hope adding Jrue Holiday and other pieces was enough to convince Giannis to sign the supermax. Otherwise, the future of their franchise could be on the line come the midseason trade deadline.
Meanwhile, Rob Pelinka has positioned the Los Angeles Lakers with a collection of valuable assets to pull off a mega midseason deal to land a third max contract superstar to complement LeBron James and Anthony Davis. While Giannis is the premier target, the Lakers will be primed and ready to deploy their repertoire of trade assets to land whatever available superstar they think is the best fit to help them win the short and long term.
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