If Jennings returns, can he take his play to the next level?
As the free agency period begins each summer, it brings with it both a sense of excitement and a certain level of nervousness. For the Milwaukee Bucks, the latter likely rings true this year. With an abundance of crucial decisions in front of them, what will the team do?
Predictions can be a funny thing, but trying to forecast what the Bucks might do this summer isn't—or at least shouldn't be—rocket science.
Brandon Jennings Will Wear a Bucks Uniform Next Season and Beyond
As the 2012-13 season came to an end, one of the biggest question marks that surrounded the Bucks was the future of star point guard Brandon Jennings.
Coming off of a season in which he averaged 17.5 points, 3.1 rebounds and a career-high 6.5 assists per game, one would typically think the decision on whether or not to retain his services would be an easy one.
But Jennings struggled with efficiency, shooting just 39.9 percent from the field and had several unprofessional encounters with former coach Jim Boylan. One of those spats included taking to Twitter to call out his coach, as reported by the USA Today in late March.
With Boylan out, the odds of re-signing Jennings didn't seem to increase. After all, he had made it clear, for awhile, that he was going to seek other offers.
In late May, the Bucks signed Larry Drew as their new coach and Jennings endorsed the choice:
Great Pickup. #Bucks— BRANDON JENNINGS (@BrandonJennings) May 31, 2013
Whether or not that was genuine is another question.
Last week, Charles F. Gardner of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel indicated that the Bucks intended on re-signing the restricted free agent to a long-term contract and that they'd be aggressive in doing so.
No more than a few days later, ESPN's Chris Broussard published an article in which he states Jennings might be open to returning as well.
In it, Jennings is quoted:
"I definitely want to do more for the city and the franchise," Jennings responded. "I want to make the playoffs and get out of the first round and become an All-Star for the Bucks. We haven't had one since Michael Redd so I want to be the first."
With both player and team seemingly inching towards being on the same page, it's more probable that Jennings will be on the roster when the season starts this fall.
The only question will be whether he'll simply accept the qualifying offer or agree to a long-term deal.
Monta Ellis Will Not Return
Aside from Jennings, the Bucks have another issue to address in the backcourt with Monta Ellis.
From the looks of it, he won't be in Milwaukee—at least not in a Bucks uniform—at season's start.
Ellis exercised his early termination option in June, turning down a 2013-14 salary of $11 million to become an unrestricted free agent. According to Broussard, this came after the Bucks reportedly offered him a two-year, $24 million extension.
It's hard to imagine Ellis getting $12 million per year elsewhere, but perhaps he'd consider less money to play for a contender who could use his services.
And as ESPNNewYork.com's Jared Zwerling tweeted recently, the Bucks have a "strong" interest in J.R. Smith:
Sources: Bucks have interest in J.R. Smith and Chris Copeland. Interest in Smith is "strong." The Bucks, under the cap, can outbid. #Knicks— Jared Zwerling (@JaredZwerling) June 27, 2013
Acquiring Smith would put an end to any small chance of bringing Ellis back.
Regardless of whether or not Smith is signed, the probability of Ellis returning to the team isn't very high.
J.R. Smith Will Be Signed as the Starting Shooting Guard
With Redick officially gone and Ellis likely to follow suit, the Bucks will find themselves in desperate need to fill that vacancy with someone who can provide scoring.
And with a limited market in terms of 2-guards who fit that bill, they'll overpay Smith.
Despite coming off a season in which he averaged 18.1 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game, paying an inefficient, volume shooter like Smith isn't a smart move.
There's no denying the successful season he had.
However, Smith's personality and attitude is highly questionable, and potentially bringing him into a locker room that needs leadership and direction probably wouldn't be the best decision.
If the team re-signs Jennings, pairing these two up might be a more massive train wreck than the Ellis-Jennings combo.
Not only on the court, but off it as well.
While Smith simply seemed to enjoy indulging in a few too many alcoholic beverages, Jennings infamously took it a step further when he allegedly spent $24,000 on a stripper at a Miami club in November.
Logic would tell you that having one of these guys on your team—let alone both—might be asking for trouble.
Nonetheless, the Bucks have made some poor decisions in the past, and it wouldn't be surprising to see them overpay Smith, especially when it's imperative that they fill the position.
The Amnesty of Drew Gooden
The most important thing the Bucks may do this summer doesn't involve bringing in a new player or working to retain a free agent.
It has to do with using their available amnesty to get rid of Drew Gooden.
The 31-year-old power forward is on the books for roughly $13.6 million over the next two seasons and, unless the Bucks like throwing money around, they'll do the smart thing here.
Gooden played just 16 games in 2012-13, averaging 3.3 points and 1.9 rebounds per game.
And while he's not that old and probably has some value left, Milwaukee isn't the place for him to assert himself at this point.
Using their amnesty on Gooden not only frees up valuable cap room, but it alleviates a bit of a log jam that has built up at the power forward position with John Henson, Gustavo Ayon and Ekpe Udoh all vying for playing time.
This move should definitely happen, and if it doesn't, write management and let them know what kind of money they're wasting on a guy that never steps foot onto the floor.
Other Odds and Ends
The Bucks will likely need to make some other, less significant moves in order to bolster their bench.
Don't be surprised if the team pursues Milwaukee native Devin Harris to back up Jennings at point guard.
The team could also use some help at small forward, and Chase Budinger was a solid option, but as Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports tweeted, he has agreed to a new contract with the Minnesota Timberwolves:
Chase Budinger has reached agreement on a three-year, $16 million deal to return to Minnesota, league source tells Y! Sports.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) July 2, 2013
With the market thinning for small forwards, the Bucks might have to ride out the services of Luc Mbah a Moute and hope that his offensive production increases in 2013-14.
The tumultuous offseason for the Bucks is just beginning, and it's probably going to be a bumpy ride. Milwaukee isn't exactly a top destination at this point in time and getting big-name players to sign for a reasonable price won't be easy.
Being a small-market team, going over the salary cap and being taxed is probably not something they'll be interested in doing any time soon.
Instead of worrying about making a big splash in free agency, the Bucks should focus on developing the young talent already on the roster and rebuilding.
Not to mention, it always seems more satisfying to build a team rather than buying one.