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Ira Winderman: Has Bucks' preemptive strike torpedoed Miami Heat's Summer of Giannis?
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Ira Winderman: Has Bucks' preemptive strike torpedoed Miami Heat's Summer of Giannis?

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Giannis Antetokounmpo soaring dunk, AP photo

Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo dunks in the first half on Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019. He finished with 33 points and 11 rebounds as Milwaukee beat the Atlanta Hawks 135-127.

The focus for the Miami Heat for years seemingly had been a single moment when Giannis Antetokounmpo would change the calculus of the NBA playoff race.

The expectation was that moment would come during the 2021 offseason, when the versatile Milwaukee Bucks big man would take stock of his free-agency options after months of taking stock of the vision of the Heat and Pat Riley.

As LeBron James and Chris Bosh had done during the 2010 offseason.

As Jimmy Butler did in the 2019 free agency.

Instead, that moment may already have come and gone, without Riley getting the opportunity to release his bag of championship rings, without Dwyane Wade getting the opening to plant the seeds with Antetokounmpo of what could grow in South Florida.

With midnight moves that dramatically overhauled the playoff race in the Eastern Conference, the Bucks early Tuesday morning launched a preemptive strike that might have torpedoed Riley's 2021 plans months before the metaphoric harpoon could be hoisted.

With the addition of Jrue Holiday and Bogdan Bogdanovic, the Bucks armed Antetokounmpo with the type of firepower he lacked in falling to the Heat in the second round of the playoffs. There now is the type of floor leader Milwaukee lacked with trade-dispatched Eric Bledsoe and George Hill, the type of wing presence the Bucks needed to ease the load on Khris Middleton.

Suddenly, the Dec. 21 deadline for Giannis to grant his approval for a Bucks extension looks like a very real signing date, if not earlier.

Granted, the Bucks have reshuffled the mix numerous times already during Antetokounmpo's tenure, enough to assist him in becoming the two-time-defending Most Valuable Player.

But these two latest moves feel different, last-stand type of different. With Holiday and Bogdanovic, the Bucks have cast aside any possibility of life post-Antetokounmpo. Their draft cupboard is even more barren then when the Heat went all-in with their moves for Goran Dragic and then Butler.

It doesn't mean that Giannis can't, or won't, wait to see how it plays out, recognizing that the previous moves for Bledsoe, Hill and other complementary pieces failed to produce a trip to the NBA Finals. But this is the type of commitment the Heat made to LeBron James when Riley recognized it was go time from 2010 to '14, the Heat's moves for Mike Miller, Shane Battier and Ray Allen.

And in this case, the timing matters for the Heat, when it comes to a read on what is next.

If Antetokounmpo extends with the Bucks, or even strongly indicates that such will be the play, then the Heat's hand in coming days and weeks could be forced.

It is more difficult to ask for one-year patience on free-agency offers to Dragic and Jae Crowder if there is no Giannis to chase next summer. More so, asking Bam Adebayo to hold off on his rookie-scale extension, which also comes with a Dec. 21 deadline, would become much more of an ask, especially after the playoff injuries Adebayo suffered during the Heat's run within two victories of the 2020 NBA title. (Adebayo and Antetokounmpo share the same agent.)

Patience for the opportunity to play alongside Giannis is one thing. Requesting similar patience to play alongside other potential 2021 free agents is another. Yes, it still is a class that could include Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Victor Oladipo, Kyle Lowry and even LeBron. But just as LeBron was everything in 2010, '14 and '18 free agency, so has the 2021 class been defined by Giannis.

What hasn't changed with Milwaukee's acquisitions of Holiday and Bogdanovic is Giannis' right to play it out this coming season, see if this fit is better than previous Bucks fits.

The difference is that after allowing Malcolm Brogdon walk in 2019 free agency, the Bucks are pushing all their chips to the middle of the championship chase. There is no bluffing with the intentions.

After finishing as the No. 5 seed in the East last season, the Heat now face the challenge of the overhauled Bucks of Antetokounmpo, Middleton, Holiday and Bogdanovic; a Nets team that has Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and possibly gets James Harden; a Celtics team banking on returns to health by Kemba Walker and Gordon Hayward; a 76ers team with the added leadership of Doc Rivers and Daryl Morey; and a relentless Raptors roster.

Now the question is whether Riley and the Heat fold on the Summer of '21, or at least hedge their bets in coming days and weeks for the immediate challenge ahead.


Photos: Heat end Bucks' season as Giannis Antetokounmpo looks on

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