Chicago Bulls: Is GarPax making a two-year plan for Giannis Antetokounmpo?

Every team in the league wants Giannis Antetokounmpo, but are the Chicago Bulls envisioning a campaign to steal away one of the league’s best players?

Taking a disappointing exit from the Eastern Conference Finals, it’s worth wondering if like many other superstars, Giannis Antetokounmpo might consider making his next championship run on another roster… maybe even the Chicago Bulls. With the superstar due to hit free agency in 2021, it’s worth wondering if the Bulls made a salary cap plan with the free agent in mind.

After exiting in a 4-2 series loss to the Toronto Raptors, one that saw the Raptors take the last four in a row, the Milwaukee Bucks head to the offseason in a pickle. While Giannis loves the team who drafted him, dwindling funds will limit the Bucks’ ability to add many more weapons around him in the offseason and future seasons.

Granted, there’s very little in the “Giannis is leaving” department as far as reporting currently stands. Despite this, there seem to be small breadcrumbs hinting at the once-in-a-generation player’s potential exit.

The superstar has vowed in the past never to leave Milwaukee, or at least not until the team builds a championship roster. However, Hoops Hype reported a former GM as saying he’d bet anything that Giannis leaves in free agency. The superstar leaving his press conference early was also a stark departure from his normal behaviour. Most important to this concept of a Giannis exit is ESPN’s Malika Andrews story, which outlines a Bucks run at the 2020 NBA Finals being the potential make-or-break point for the star’s decision to stay or go.

Things change. Heading into this summer, the Bucks have a potentially draining free agency situation. The only Bucks starters under contract for next season are Giannis and Eric Bledsoe. Essentially, the team has to make tough choices on five of its top seven players this offseason.

Khris Middleton is likely to decline his $14 million player option but is still likely to return to the Bucks with a more lucrative deal in tow. Malcolm Brogdon hits restricted free agency, who could apparently be on the move if his deal gets too big for the Bucks to bare, and is currently a target for the Chicago Bulls, as noted by KC Johnson of the Chicago Tribune. Further, Bucks GM John Horst must decide who of Brook Lopez, Nikola Mirotic, and George Hill will return next season, if any; they’re highly unlikely to have the cash for all three.

For Bulls fans, waiting until 2021 to be big players in free agency is frustrating, but it’s the path the front office is utilizing. It’s an important part of the team’s plan to compete for a star in this class.  According to Spotrac, UFAs in 2021 could include LeBron James, Damian Lillard, Paul George, CJ McCollum, Jrue Holiday, Victor Oladipo, Anthony Davis, and perhaps the most notable player of all, Giannis Antetokounmpo.

In that summer, the Bulls finally see some bulky contracts come off the books. Notably, 2021 sees the expiration of the Otto Porter Jr and Cristiano Felicio deals, which take up a combined $35.4 million on the team’s 2020 cap sheet. It will be the summer of Lauri Markkanen’s restricted free agency, which is also crucial. In fact, the only Bulls under contract in 2021 is Zach LaVine, plus club rookie options on Wendell Carter Jr and Chandler Hutchinson. Basically, this team has a ton of cash to spend in 2021 and they’ll undoubtedly plan to pursue a superstar.

Making a move like this puts the Bulls among the league’s top tier.

Giannis would change literally everything about the Bulls heading into the future. With two more years of experience under the belts of LaVine, Markkanen, and Carter, the trio might already be poking around the bottom-to-middle of the Eastern Conference playoffs.

Not to mention, the Bulls have a somewhat-favourable 2019 NBA Draft asset at #7 overall, which they’re interested in turning into a point guard. If things go right with these guys, that’s a very nice package of guys to have in your starting group.

Fitting Antetokounmpo alongside Markkanen is particularly exciting. Giannis driving into the lane and eating up bigger defenders would give Lauri a ton of space to fire wide-open threes. He’ll also naturally clear out space for Carter inside, as defenders often help on the giant, skilled Antetokounmpo.

Another odd issue facing Greek-Freek-to-Chicago pipeline is Antetokounmpo’s lack of desire to play in a flashy city. However, being that Giannis is playing basketball in the midwest and Chicago isn’t the media monoliths that are New York City and Los Angeles, they should be in solid shape. The hard-working heart of the Midwest in perhaps the greatest American sports city would be a perfect place for Giannis to keep cementing his legacy.

I’d like to, first of all, thank you for reading this far. Even as I type this, I have plenty of doubts that there’s much, if any traction in this field. In all likelihood, he’s going to continue crushing the Bulls from his home 92 miles north of the United Center. Scoring 29.3 points, 13.7 rebounds, and was an average of +21 per game against the Bulls last season, it’s terrifying figure to see what The Freak has in store for the next two campaigns. I also have a hard time believing Gar Forman and John Paxson have the plan, skill or finesse it would take to land the star.

Next: Whose film should Zach LaVine be studying?

One of my favourite bands seems to share a similar sentiment about holding on for the future. “2021, will you think about me? I could wait a year, but I couldn’t wait three,” sings Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig on the track “2021” from their new album, Father of the Bride. Ezra, I can’t wait for three years either, but two is an alright middle ground if it means Giannis Antetokounmpo in a Bulls uniform. Hopefully, it’s a part of the GarPax plan.

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