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Can Brandon Jennings and O.J. Mayo Be Mark Cuban's Backcourt of the Future?

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Can Brandon Jennings and O.J. Mayo Be Mark Cuban's Backcourt of the Future?
USA TODAY Sports

Mark Cuban's Dallas Mavericks are in need of some hope for the future outside of O.J. Mayo, but there is no Utopian-esque relief to be found in their pursuit of Brandon Jennings.

Per ESPN.com's Tim MacMahon and Marc Stein, Dallas is interested in acquiring the fourth-year point guard from the Milwaukee Bucks:

Sources tell ESPN.com’s Marc Stein that the Mavs have a “level of interest” in Jennings if the Milwaukee Bucks make the restricted free agent-to-be point guard available before the Feb. 21 trade deadline. 

Jennings, 23, is averaging 18.5 points and 6.1 assists in his fourth NBA season. He arguably fits Mark Cuban’s description given for potential trade targets: a young talent who would immediately be a top-three player on the Mavs’ roster with the potential to develop into an All-Star. 

The Mavericks have interest in Jennings, and it isn't difficult to understand why. They've been linked to just about any and every available player since team Cuban's declaration that the "Bank of Cuban" was officially open for business. Jennings has simply proved to be no exception.

As a restricted free agent to be, an accord that lands Jennings in Dallas will be difficult to strike.

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Acquiring Jennings won't be easy for the Mavericks to begin with.

Milwaukee could very well opt to move the 23-year-old Jennings instead of paying him a hefty sum of money this summer. Chad Ford of ESPN.com previously reported that almost no one on the Bucks is untouchable, including Jennings.

Lang Greene of HOOPSWORLD also writes that while Milwaukee's preference is to re-sign Jennings, the inability to have extended him earlier in the year could pave the way for his departure:

The Bucks haven’t been actively shopping Jennings by any stretch and have publicly stated that they’ll match any offer received for the guard when he hits free agency next summer. But it is a telling sign when Milwaukee, not exactly a free agent hot spot destination, doesn’t lock up its talent long-term when given the early opportunity.

With numerous signs pointing to Jennings' tenure in Milwaukee coming to an end, a trade seems less than complex on the surface. Jennings is due for a significant pay raise, yet his salary for the 2012-13 seasons stands at roughly $3.2 million, an easy figure move.

Still, the Bucks aren't about to sell low on the player who presently leads the team in points, assists and steals per game. More likely than not, they'll look (if they look at all) for any suitors to provide some budding prospects or proven talent while also taking back a bad contract or two (looking at you Drew Gooden).

Dallas and its cash-wielding owner in Cuban are unlikely balk adding any extra payroll if Jennings is indeed the floor general they pine for. Outside of dollar bills to burn, however, the Mavericks don't have much to offer.

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Who can Dallas even offer for Jennings?

There is a surplus of expiring contracts they could dangle, but given that the Bucks can let Jennings walk this summer, those will hardly be enough or of any interest at all. Reasonably priced players like Darren Collison, Vince Carter and Rodrigue Beubois may draw some intrigue, but neither are the caliber of athletes you use as a centerpiece for a deal like this. And let's face it, Mayo is about as off-limits as Dirk Nowitzki is at this point.

For conversation's sake, though, let's assume the Mavs defy the odds and land Jennings. Let's say a third or fourth team becomes involved and Cuban, along with general manager Donnie Nelson, assembles a package worthy of peaking Milwaukee's interest.

What then? Is Jennings really someone to build around with Nowitzki and contend alongside Mayo in the near future?

 

Jennings' 18.5 points, 6.1 assists and 1.9 steals per game would be valued commodities, but they wouldn't impact Dallas' production much. He just doesn't fit the mold of the point guard the Mavericks need.

Nowitzki played some of his best basketball alongside Jason Kidd, a pass-first point man. Jennings is a shoot-first, defer later type of floor general who doesn't complement Nowitzki or Mayo properly.

Though he has shown a willingness to play off the ball more next to Monta Ellis, he prefers to dominate it. And per Synergy Sports, he's shooting just 36.2 percent when used as a spot-up scorer.

Bear in mind that he's hardly an upgrade over Collison as a distributor either. Collison is actually dishing out more assists (6.2) per game while assisting on the same percentage of baskets (27.4) while he's on floor. 

Jennings has his upside, but it's not enough.

More importantly, offense isn't even Dallas' biggest problem, defense is. The Mavericks rank eighth in points scored per game (100.9), but 28th in points allowed (102.8). They need someone who can both jumpstart their offense while also providing some valuable perimeter defense like Mayo has.

Jennings isn't the right fit. He's got great hands, but far too often he gets caught sticking them in the cookie jar. From there, he's liable to get called for reach-in fouls or get beat off the dribble; for someone as quick as he is, staying in front of his man isn't a strength of his. And according to 82games.com, he's allowing opposing point guards to post a PER of 17 per 48 minutes, higher than the 16.2 mark he is hitting.

Going on the assumption that, once again, the Mavs forgo this slice of reality and acquire him (if they could) anyway, would he really be worth the risk in the long run?

Dallas could hope that playing next to a legend like Nowitzki would stifle Jennings' itchy trigger finger, but such hope only carries them so far.

Jennings could fall into line next to the elder he has never had the luxury of playing with, and being second (or third) in command could aid in his ongoing development. Nowitzki won't be around forever, though, and the battle of whose team Dallas is will begin before we know it. 

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
Jennings isn't fit for life after Dirk.

If the Mavericks are to acquire Jennings, they have to be of the collective mind that he is someone who can be the leader of the team. The wait-and-see approach isn't an option here. He's set to explore restricted free agency upon season's end, and they'll have to be prepared to match any offer he receives.

Is Jennings worth something similar to the four years and $48 million fellow fourth-year point guard Ty Lawson received from the Denver Nuggets. or the four-years and $44 million the Golden State Warriors handed to Stephen Curry?

The market for Jennings has been set. He'll seek a similar deal to that of his peers, one that would cost Dallas between $10-12 million annually. And that's simply not worth it.

It's not just that Jennings has to improve his accuracy from the perimeter and his distributional instincts. It's that he'll cost the Mavericks $10-12 million a year, stifling their pursuit of Dwight Howard.

With the Los Angeles Lakers able to offer Howard one-year and about $30 million more than any other team in the league, it's difficult to imagine him spurning Cali. That said, courtesy of an onslaught of Hollywood-level theatrics, the possibility for him to leave is still there.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Obtaining Jennings costs the Mavericks any chance of landing Dwight Howard

Cuban and company have nearly $49 million on the books for next season. They can trim more than $6 million of that by declining the qualifying offers on Beaubois and Collison, leaving them with $15-17 million worth of cap space—more than enough to extend a max offer Howard's way.

The money they would be forced to commit to Jennings early on, though, would obliterate that flexibility. So if the Mavericks are interested in Jennings, it better be to the point where they're willing to sacrifice their chances (however slim) at landing Dwight.

Jennings, Mayo and Nowitzki aren't going to lead this team toward any championships. Nowitzki's 34 years old, and neither Jennings nor Mayo holds the clout necessary to lead a championship worthy cause.

In all honesty, if Jennings (should he even prove obtainable) is Dallas' best option, the team would be better off standing pat and tanking through to the summer of 2014, when they are currently slated to have more than $50 million to burn.

And even that figure is misleading. Mayo has a player option for next season, which he's destined to decline. After averaging 18 points on a career-best 46.6 percent shooting per game, he's going to want more, and Dallas should give it to him. But his payday shouldn't coincide with Jennings'. It just doesn't make sense.

USA TODAY Sports
Jennings is not the right fit for Dallas.

Understandably, the Mavericks want to make the most of Nowitzki's remaining time, but they can't do so at the expense of their future, especially when doing so would hardly improve the state of this convocation anyway. 

Is Brandon Jennings a good fit for the Dallas Mavericks?

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Jennings is a fine athlete, and he has plenty of potential. But that promise isn't conducive with what the Mavericks are looking to do now, or in the future. And neither is his inevitable cost.

Knowing what the Bucks would demand in return for Jennings, we could simply chalk Dallas' pursuit of him up to Cuban's notorious name-dropping. That's probably what it is anyway.

At least, that's what the Mavericks faithful should hope.

Because acquiring Jennings makes less sense for the Mavericks than it does for the Bucks to actually accept whatever they could offer for him in the first place.

 

 

*All stats used in this article were compiled from Basketball-Reference, Synergy Sports and 82games.com unless otherwise noted.

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