Most NBA enthusiasts recognize that there are three main contenders this season: the Milwaukee Bucks, Los Angeles Lakers, and Los Angeles Clippers. But while these teams and fanbases are enjoying their current circumstances, the question remains of how long these teams will be positioned to contend.
One team that will be hit especially hard this offseason because of the salary cap situation will be the Milwaukee Bucks. They will be allowed to give Giannis Antetokoumnpo a supermax extension this offseason, which would grant Giannis 35% of the 2021-22 salary cap. Usually, like with Damian Lillard a year ago, the deal is 5-years for about $250M. Because of the cap undoubtedly being lowered, it makes sense for Giannis to wait until he hits free agency to sign the contract, when (hopefully) the salary cap will be back on track, and a “wait-and-see” approach has been reported as realistic in Giannis’ case.
But that gives the Bucks a lot more to worry about. Every team with salary-cap space next offseason will be throwing 30% of it at Giannis, which is the most any other organization can give him. The supermax deal was designed to help small markets keep All-NBA players, but as we’ve seen in the past few years, it hasn’t been too compelling. There’s no guarantee that Giannis will stay in Milwaukee after next season, so the Bucks need to capitalize on this next year to win as much as possible.
Los Angeles Lakers
This is one of the most top-heavy teams in the NBA. With LeBron James and Anthony Davis, the Lakers have managed to secure two top-eight players in the NBA for at least the end of this season. But once again, there’s no guarantee these stars will remain much longer. Anthony Davis has a $28.7M player option for next season that he must decline or accept by October 14th.
At the beginning of the 2019-20 NBA season, it was virtually a lock that he would decline and sign a max deal in free agency. But because of the pandemic and the four-and-a-half month suspension, he might actually make more money by opting in. Granted, the salary cap would have to dip below $96M for him to procure more money on his current deal, but between the China fiasco early on and the hiatus, it is possible the cap dips that low, however still unlikely.
Instead, it would make the most sense for Davis to sign a one-year max deal. He would make more money than if he accepted his player option, but wouldn’t be confined to a bad long-term deal because of the massive cap hit. And it certainly makes sense to sign that deal with the Lakers. First of all, living in Los Angeles is always seen as a plus, and he’d definitely be playing on a contending team alongside LeBron James.
Speaking of LeBron, he will have a big decision to make after next season. He also has a player option built into his current contract, and he will decline or accept it after the conclusion of the 2020-21 season. The salary cap will most likely be back on track by then, but he’ll still have to make some judgment on the best course of action for him. He’s never been one to shy away from declining an option, as he’s exercised his Early Termination Option in Miami, then opted out of two player-options in his following years in Cleveland. And while I personally do not think he will leave $41M on the table, there’s always a chance that both LeBron and Davis could be gone after the 2021 free agency concludes.
Los Angeles Clippers
And guess who else has player options for the 2021-22 season: Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, the two stars the Clippers acquired during the 2019 offseason. LeBron will have no misgivings about declining an option — well how about these two?
First, let’s look at Kawhi. While he hasn’t been like Jimmy Butler or even Kevin Durant – he’s no Dirk either. Kawhi was the root cause of the most infamous breakdown in sports history, between him and the San Antonio Spurs. While he definitely has his own reasons for his actions, namely a misdiagnosis, the explosion that followed was quite startling. Especially when you consider what his personality was thought to be like that of Tim Duncan for quite a few years.
Anyways, it would be no surprise if Kawhi opts out of the player option on his deal, and if he opts out, Paul George could also decide Los Angeles isn’t the best place to win anymore. George has been on 3 teams the past 4 seasons, and also seems to have no qualms about moving on if things aren’t going his way.
So there you have it. The best three teams in the NBA might not last that long on top.
Photo: The Sports Rush