By Antigoni Zachari / email@example.com
It’s finally time for Bucks and Rockets to head to their season opener (3:00 EEST), and what a perfect duel this will be. Α clash of MVPs which can be a hint for things to come in the future. While the season is only just starting, Giannis Antetokounmpo facing James Harden this early opens up issues that, especially for Giannis may have long-term consequences.
The Greek Freak ended the previous campaign as the regular season MVP, while Harden led the league in most points scored.
The premise is pretty obvious here. Bucks have built a team to foster Giannis’ talent, and so have the Rockets with Harden, with one key addition that can make tonight’s game even more appealing. Russell Westbrook, the 2016-17 league MVP has joined Rockets in this offseason.
In summer, Harden spoke about how the “media narrative contributed to Antetokoumnpo winning the MVP” last season, so now he has the chance to make a statement from the get-go of this campaign.
On the other hand, Antetokounmpo has dissociated himself from the MVP debate with Harden. “I’m never gonna say I’m better than James (Harden). But, the trophy’s in my house,” he told Vincent Goodwill of Yahoo Sports.
There’s also, however, the notion, that there’s a lot more in stake for the Bucks in the season that’s about the start.
While the Greek Freak doesn’t discuss contract issues, he stated back in spring that if Bucks underperform, the decision to sign again in 2021 will be difficult.
It’s not something new. Back in 2018, Giannis has said to Eurohoops that while his goal is to win the title with the Bucks “the general manager and the front office must do their work, I must work too in order to win it. If I do my part and some others don’t, then a change might happen”.
Giannis is expected to be eligible to ink a five-year, $253 million supermax contract extension this summer. So a great run and winning the Eastern Conference finals can be considered the minimum goals which they influence his decision.
And there’s also a personal issue involved. Following his MVP honors, Giannis continued staying busy in the NBA offseason and traveled with the Greek national team for FIBA World Cup, but the results weren’t as bold as everyone expected.
The team never found the right chemistry despite featuring some of the nation’s biggest stars next to Giannis, and despite a courageous effort against Team USA, they fell short in the second round. This trip to China, although fruitless, could work as a bigger motivation for him this season, since it’s obvious that under NBA rules he can dominate.
So while the season opener is just one game, the narratives that it can produce are major and endless.