By Angelo Ventura
Two-time (back-to-back) NBA MVP, four-time All-Star, 2019 – 2020 Defensive Player of the Year, 2016 – 2017 Most Improved Player and four-time All-NBA. This resume will be up for grabs when NBA Superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks becomes a free agent at the end of the 2020 – 2021 season. The 26-year-old is only just entering his prime and He will put whoever he signs with right up there as a championship favourite.
The one and only thing missing from Giannis’ trophy case is the coveted NBA Championship. After coming up short in back-to-back seasons despite Milwaukee’s reign at the top of the league’s standings, there is no doubt the Bucks’ Championship window would end if Antetokounmpo packs his bags and leaves Cream City.
Many teams have reportedly entered the sweepstakes for Antetokounmpo already. According to an article from CBS Sports in September, The Mavericks, Heat, Warriors and Raptors are all frontrunners, while the Bucks have every intention of keeping him as well. They’re all great choices if he wants a big payday while still putting himself in a position to ultimately win but, it’s the team from the North that stands above all the other choices in that regard because of what the lone Canadian NBA team offers.
GIANNIS’ RELATIONSHIP WITH RAPTORS EXECUTIVE MASAI UJIRI
Masai and Giannis’ relationship stems way back to before Antetokounmpo was drafted on June 27, 2013. Ujiri helped Antetokounmpo attain Greek citizenship from his roots in Nigeria and helped bring Antetokounmpo to the United States so he could enter the NBA draft. Ujiri’s reputation as one of the most respected executives in the NBA gives the Raptors a significant negotiation piece. So much so, the Knicks tried to pry Ujiri from the Raptors to help lure Giannis in 2021 according to an article by Complex Sports in February. Ujiri has built a contender in the Raptors, making him somewhat of a superhero in Toronto and taking the Raptors from a laughingstock in the early 2010’s to a well-rounded, successful, and beloved franchise.
THE RAPTORS POSSESS A WINNING CULTURE
With a 374 – 190 regular-season record (.663 win percent) and 86 playoff games since the 2013 – 2014 season (both second overall since then according to Statmuse.com) the Raptors have created a formula to get to the playoffs and become one of the more fruitful current NBA teams.
The Raptors have come a long way since their inaugural season in 1995 – 1996. There have been many heartbreaks, shortcomings and utter disappointments in the franchise’s history but where the Raptors stand now, everything points to them continuing to be a force in the NBA.
Toronto can pick up right where they left off after Kawhi Leonard left by signing Antetokounmpo and competing in the tougher, more competitive eastern conference. The Raptors have the squad to complement Antetokounmpo with core players Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, Terence Davis and OG Anunoby.
However, all but Anunoby and Davis are signed into the foreseeable future. Considering they won’t necessarily break the bank, it would allow Toronto to bring in Giannis’ inevitable massive contract demands and they are certainly an ideal supporting cast who now have that championship pedigree to support Antetokounmpo. Add to that the team’s rock-solid chemistry and camaraderie, their coach of the year Nick Nurse, a top-notch front office, player development that’s seen low-end draft picks and undrafted players thrive in the Raptors’ system, cap space going into the 2021 – 2022 season and an enormous fanbase. Antetokounmpo is the last piece of the puzzle in getting Toronto right back to the NBA Finals, possibly for years to come.
THE RAPTORS FANBASE
The Raptors are in a unique situation because they are the only Canadian team in the NBA. Their support is nationwide, and it is felt not only by those who love the Raptors but multiple NBA players and personnel around the league. The best of the best has noticed the electricity Raptors fans bring and it is the reason many players love Toronto on and off the court. Antetokounmpo can potentially build a tight, lasting relationship with a country that lives and breathes Raptors basketball along with an ever growing Greek and Nigerian population in the GTA.
THE CHANCE TO ADD TO HIS LEGACY AND WIN THE HEARTS OF MILLIONS
The love Kawhi Leonard received when he led the Raptors to the title is insurmountable. His legacy as a Raptor and NBA player became instantaneously legendary. Many people view him as the greatest Raptor in franchise history, even if he was on the squad for only one season.
That was the impact Leonard brought to the lives of Raptors fans and Canadians forever. and The treatment Leonard received, Giannis would probably get the same if not more knowing he chose the Raptors over anyone else.
No one can deny how sweet it would be to win in an American dominated market and crossing off the last thing left in your NBA career while 38 million people are screaming your name, talking about what you accomplished for future generations and cementing your place among the greats eternally. Antetokounmpo would no longer be ‘The Greek Freak’ but ‘The Greek God’ in Toronto.