Where will Brandon Jennings end up for 2013-14?
Brandon Jennings has a future just as uncertain as the rest of the marquee free agents in the 2013 offseason pool.
The left-handed point guard improved during the 2012-13 season, helping carry the Milwaukee Bucks to the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, but there's no guarantee he'll be returning and making opponents Fear the Deer once more. As a restricted free agent with a great deal of potential, he'll certainly draw a lot of attention during the offseason.
Milwaukee could retain his services, choosing to match any offer sheet that he receives and signs, but four other destinations have presented themselves as logical landing spots as well.
That said, it's important to note that this is speculation. Rumors have not yet presented themselves, at least not ones that don't deal directly with the Bucks.
Even if the rumor mill hasn't popped out the names of these destinations yet, each has both the cap space necessary to sign him and a need at point guard.
Note: All stats, unless otherwise indicated, are courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.
If it seems like the Atlanta Hawks are a potential free-agent landing spot for just about every available player in the NBA, well, that's because they are. That's what tends to happen when a team goes into the offseason with $21,513,122 on the books and the ability to drop that figure to $18,483,800 by doing away with the non-guaranteed contracts of DeShawn Stevenson and Mike Scott.
The Hawks are in prime position to land any two free agents of their choosing, or more if they seek out less expensive options. Chris Paul and Dwight Howard are the players du jour, but think of them as a realistic pipe dream rather than a clear-cut example of how free agency will play out.
Atlanta also has the ability to match any offer for Jeff Teague, but there's no telling how high the price will go for the Wake Forest product. One of the more interesting battles of this offseason will be the inevitable monetary clash between Teague and Brandon Jennings. Who will end up commanding the larger salary?
If the incumbent Hawks floor general becomes the answer to that question, that's when Danny Ferry could just let him walk away, choosing instead to go with Jennings.
Both point guards are of the same caliber. They're solid starters, but not exactly All-Stars at this stage of their careers. To this point, Jennings has produced better stats, but I'd argue he's also been in a significantly more featured spot with the Milwaukee Bucks than Teague has found himself in on the Hawks.
The southpaw does bring an undeniable scoring talent to the table, even if his shot selection can often border on what-was-he-thinking levels of bad. Jennings' three-point stroke took massive strides during the 2012-13 campaign, as did his passing.
It's this that makes him even more appealing to the Hawks then Teague, especially since Atlanta has traditionally fallen in love with the three-ball. While Teague took 3.1 shots per game from the outside and converted them 35.9 percent of the time, Jennings outpaced him in both areas. Despite taking 5.8 three-pointers each contest, the southpaw connected at a 37.5 percent clip.
Usually there's a tradeoff between volume and efficiency, so when one player outdoes another in both areas, that facet of his game is clearly superior. Such is the case for Jennings and Teague behind the arc.
Speaking of arcs, as a prep-to-pro player, Jennings has a different developmental curve than the ones we're used to seeing from 1-guards. He now seems to be speeding along it, and that could make him an intriguing player for the Hawks to build around as they seek to shape their team around Al Horford and a point guard.
Ever since Steve Nash left for the Phoenix Suns, the Dallas Mavericks haven't been able to catch a break at point guard.
Jason Kidd was a nice stopgap, nice enough even that the Mavs were able to win a title with him running the show, but his age prevented him from being the floor general of the future. So Dallas looked elsewhere.
Last offseason, Deron Williams was the primary target. Mark Cuban would have loved nothing more than to land one of the league's truly elite point guards, but things didn't work out. D-Will signed with Brooklyn, and Dallas was left scrambling to find a solution among a dwindling set of options.
In the end, the Mavs had to trade to find their answer, and it was another short-term solution. The team shipped Ian Mahinmi off to the Indiana Pacers, receiving Darren Collison and Dahntay Jones in return.
While Collison enjoyed the best season of his four-year career, he wasn't a true difference-maker. Plus, he's now a restricted free agent, and Dallas can just let him walk if it finds a better alternative.
That's where Jennings enters the picture. Although he's not as strong an option as Dallas' inevitable No. 1 target—Chris Paul—he's certainly stronger than Collison.
Collison's 16.3 PER may have been slightly higher than Jennings' 16.1, but the latter earned his mark in a significantly more featured role and did so while playing nearly seven minutes more per game.
The Mavericks have a lot of cap space, especially if they can convince Shawn Marion to opt out of his contract and re-sign for less money. O.J. Mayo will almost certainly be declining his player option too.
Dallas needs scoring to help out Dirk Nowitzki. The big German and his flamingo fadeaway can rack up points, but no player can completely carry the scoring load by himself on a consistent basis. And since the Mavs' second-best scorer on the roster at the moment is Vince Carter, it's readily apparent why help is needed in that area.
The Mavericks would be a terrific fit for Jennings, and they have the money to land him.
Replacing Jose Calderon with Brandon Jennings would present a major stylistic change for the Detroit Pistons.
While the former is an über-efficient shooter who infrequently calls his own number, preferring instead to use his magnificent court vision in search of dimes, the latter is very much a gunner. Jennings is a score-first point guard, and he's typically struggled to keep his field-goal percentage over basketball's version of the Mendoza Line: 40 percent.
However, Detroit could use Jennings' scoring more than Calderon's passing, and the Spanish floor general enters the offseason as an unrestricted free agent.
The Pistons were pretty awful on both ends of the court last season, and they finished 21st in offensive rating, putting up just 103.8 points per 100 possessions. They were even worse defensively, but it's not like Jennings, porous defender that he may be, is a significant downgrade from Calderon in that department.
In fact, even with his much-maligned defensive reputation, Jennings was better than Calderon on defense during the 2012-13 season. The extra 1.3 defensive win shares he earned help show that.
Detroit needs offensive output, largely because Greg Monroe and Brandon Knight can't carry the scoring load by themselves. Andre Drummond may eventually develop into an offensive powerhouse, but he's more of a defensive specialist at this point in his extremely young career.
Calderon's passing is valuable, but distribution skills are more useful when there are players to distribute the ball to. And that's where Jennings comes in.
There aren't too many situations in which Jennings could come in and immediately have free rein to shoot as he pleases. Detroit is one of them, though.
For the first time in his career, the lefty would also be able to play with a big man who demands attention from defenses. Monroe must be focused on, or else his unique offensive talents can tear apart the opposing team.
I'd be excited to see what this shot-prone guard can do with less defensive focus on him.
Ultimately, the Milwaukee Bucks still control Brandon Jennings' fate.
One of the other four teams featured in this article could offer the restricted free agent a max deal, but if the Bucks wanted to match the offer, that's exactly what they'd do. And Jennings would remain put on the team he's always played for.
Would he be happy about it? Not necessarily. But much like Eric Gordon found out with the New Orleans Hornets, he'd have no say in the matter.
Lately though, it's seemed like Jennings won't have to worry about any return to the Bucks. The team is likely to pick between him and Monta Ellis, who has a player option for $11 million, and John Hammond appears to be leaning toward the shooting guard over the point guard:
And a free-agent rumble: There's a rising belief in exec circles that Bucks prefer to re-sign Monta Ellis over Brandon Jennings this summer— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) May 29, 2013
Bucks still have coaching choice to make: Larry Drew or Kelvin Sampson. But in backcourt there is sense they prefer Monta/Redick next season
— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) May 29, 2013
The Bucks remain a potential free-agent destination for Jennings, but they're starting to seem like an unlikely one.
You can see how intently Brandon Jennings is focusing on Jameer Nelson in this picture. It's almost like he wants both the ball and his job.
The Orlando Magic control Nelson for the next two seasons, and he's set to make $8 million in each of them. However, that doesn't prevent the organization from bringing in a more talented 1-guard and pushing the St. Joe's product into a sixth-man role.
Nelson is a productive player, but I can't praise him too effusively. He's solid and rarely rises above that level. So while he's a good option on a rebuilding team just hoping to stay at least a little bit afloat, he's not the future of the franchise.
Jennings could be.
In fact, Nelson is one of the few player who shot the ball worse than Jennings during the 2012-13 campaign. While the southpaw came in at 39.9 percent from the field, Nelson fell in at 39.2 percent.
Alongside Arron Afflalo, Maurice Harkless, Tobias Harris and Nikola Vucevic, Jennings would give the Magic some serious hope down the road. Quite frankly, they'd actually win a significant number of games in the weaker Eastern Conference, assuming the late-season breakout from Harris was a legitimate one and not a small-sample-size fluke.
The Magic have $50,991,837 committed to 12 players going into the offseason, and they could drop the total by $6 million if they choose to get rid of Hedo Turkoglu and the non-guaranteed portion of his contract.
Pieces with potential are in place at shooting guard, small forward, power forward and center. Notice which position is missing?
Again, while Nelson is a capable starter, "potential" and his name shouldn't often be used in the same sentence. And that, above all else, is what Orlando should be looking for this offseason.