The enigmatic Milwaukee Bucks guard walked into the 2013 free-agent market expecting to be among the most coveted restricted free agents on the market. Just 23 years old, Jennings has averaged 17 points, 5.7 assists and 1.5 steals per game. He's been one of his team's two or three best players on two different playoff teams.
And in a league where teams wilt off and die without a solid point guard—the Miami Heat as a semi-exception—Jennings' conceit that he would be a valuable commodity made some sense. It was a pipe dream for him to ever expect anything resembling the max, but those who audibly laughed when he turned down four-year, $40 million deal from the Bucks before last season are being revisionist historians.
Stephen Curry and Jrue Holiday both signed team-friendly deals, and are likely living to regret it. Jennings and his representation had to think the $10 million per season range would be on the table in perpetuity.
Nearly the entire chess board of the 2013 NBA offseason has been cleared, leaving a completely barren landscape as teams are looking to pawn their way to the Larry O'Brien trophy. Guys like Mike Miller, amnestied by the defending champs, are among the hottest names out on the open market.
There are exactly three starter-worthy players left—Nikola Pekovic, Gerald Henderson and Jennings. Each are restricted free agents, meaning their current club has full rights to match any offer sheet signed with an opposing franchise.
On the surface, that leaves plenty of room for Jennings to feel secure in his positioning. Restricted free agents always fall through the cracks, with the inactivity looking like collusion but really being about peace of mind. Restricted players generate less interest for the reason intended—their movement is strapped. A team that signs an offer sheet not only has to hope the incumbent team doesn't match, but also that a secondary option doesn't go elsewhere while the offer sheet is sucking up room via a cap hold.
Hence the lack of movement. But the difference here, now that the dust has settled on free agency, comes within each individual situation.
Pekovic is coming back to Minnesota and is signing a long-term deal. The two sides just have to agree on how high into the six figures he'll be making on a per-season basis. They're squabbling over length (four or five years) and salary, but it's in the best interest of both sides to get the deal done.
Henderson is a little murkier, but the result will probably be the same. He's a usable basketball player on a team that kinda sorta needs those. Charlotte will bring him back with an extension or just on the qualifying offer.
As for Jennings, good luck figuring out what's going on. Milwaukee has made it abundantly clear just how much it wants its 2009 first-round pick back this summer. John Hammond signed Hawks guard Jeff Teague to an offer sheet. Ostensibly that move would have forced Hammond's hand into extending a similar offer to Jennings. The Bucks' offseason plan has been to continue competing for the eighth seed for some inane reason, and you can't do that without a point guard.
So much for expectations. The Hawks matched Teague's offer sheet on July 13. Today is July 24. Old-timey tumbleweeds have been more active since. Racine Journal Times' Gery Woelfel has even noted Milwaukee has kept its options open at point guard:
For those who think Brandon Jennings is now a lock to return to Bucks, guess again. As of this tweet, Bucks still looking at other PGs.— Gery Woelfel (@GeryWoelfel) July 19, 2013
What does this mean? Considering Gary Neal and Mo Williams are the best of the point guard crop remaining, Jennings is only slightly more welcome in Milwaukee than a paparazzi at Kanye West's house.
And the only other notable rumor on the market—that the Detroit Pistons were interested in a sign-and-trade deal—was quickly shot down by Detroit general manager Joe Dumars.
“Bogus, bogus. No conversations.” said Dumars (per Vincent Goodwill of The Detroit News). "We were both talking about our dogs. That trade rumor is not true.”
The lack of movement from Milwaukee's side is at least understandable. Jennings' rampant immaturity both on the floor and off has to be as grating as his talent is tantalizing. Given the option of signing him to a fat new contract—especially when he's turned one down once prior—or letting him sweat out 2013-14 playing for less than the mid-level, Hammond's position on the matter is prudent.
Dumars, though, would be remiss if his conversation with Hammond didn't shift from their own dogs back to the one the league has been kicking all offseason.
The Pistons' need for a long-term solution at point guard might as well have a glaring neon sign above it. If there is one thing Jose Calderon's presence proved last season, it's that Brandon Knight is infinitely more comfortable playing away from the ball than creating. He doesn't shoot well off the dribble, isn't comfortable passing out of pick-and-roll sets and is average at just about every other offensive duty necessary to be an NBA point guard. On the other hand, Knight is a usable starting 2 in a pinch, and should fill out a solid destiny as a third guard.
But Detroit drafted Knight as a point guard. Hence the need for help in that regard. Many (myself included) have pegged Detroit as a natural fit for Rajon Rondo. The Boston Celtics are in full-blown rebuild mode, and while no one would outwardly say Rondo is on the block, it would be shocking to see him last in Beantown through February.
Should Dumars want a less expensive option, though, Jennings might be an interesting fit via sign-and-trade. The cost-benefit just has to strike the right balance.
Any trade for Rondo starts with either Andre Drummond or Greg Monroe. There are no two ways around it. Danny Ainge would hang up the phone and fly to Detroit just to give Dumars the bird if he planned on a Knight-draft picks combo being enough for Rondo. Monroe and the expirings of Charlie Villanueva and Rodney Stuckey would be the start point.
That's not the case with Jennings. Hammond and Dumars would have to sit and hammer out a deal, but something with Jennings-for-Knight at the center is probably amenable for both sides. Perhaps Detroit throws draft picks or Kyle Singler and a second rounder. Whatever. The Bucks aren't going to push for a beachside Malibu condo the way Ainge would.
We're certainly talking about players on completely different levels. Rondo is one of the five best point guards in the league, even if he's been kept at the kiddie-end of the pool in crunch time his entire career.
And the warts in Jennings' game are obvious. When a player's flaws are so glaring someone who only watches the highlights package can point them out, you know something is amiss.
The most obvious in Jennings' case being shot selection. If you've seen one Jennings outing, you've probably seen them all. He takes five shots a night that are infuriating to anyone who's coached any level past sixth grade, especially considering Jennings has the quickness to get to the rim more often than he does. While Jennings is a weak finisher at the rim, it's because he's so often going there on an out-of-control drive to the basket.
Anyone you talk to around the league will start clenching up a bit when talking about Jennings. There is this permanent acknowledgement that he's a talented guy. But he's also a talented player with a head the size of Barry Bonds circa 2003, who plays the deepest position in the entire league. No one is sure whether Jennings will ever "get it."
So is Jennings a max player? Hell to the no. Is Jennings a $10 million a year guy? Probably not. But if you're talking somewhere in the $7-8 million range for a slightly below-average starting point guard, then that's about the market value.
And, again, here is where we remind you that Jennings is 23. Habits get better as a player matures, that's just a fact. Even if Jennings becomes only, say, 10 percent better during the rest of his career, he's a serviceable starting point guard and sixth man contender. Remember folks, we think it's all right for Jamal Crawford and his toro defense to play nearly 30 minutes a night; Brandon Jennings will be just fine.
What's more, the criticism shadows Jennings' strengths. He's a career 35.4 percent three-point shooter, but has two different seasons in the 37.5ish range. If Jennings can stabilize at that number or even go a bit higher, he's a commodity—especially considering the degree of difficulty.
Jennings is also quite good as a pick-and-roll creator. He still shoots too many contested shots from 18-20 feet, but his 0.84 points per possession (per Synergy Sports) produced is solid for a guy who uses an abundance of possessions in that set. And for all the criticism about Jennings' ballhoggishness (if you'll allow me to make up a word), he's an adept passer in traffic when he wants to be.
When he wants to be.
Those are the five words with Jennings that make teams like Detroit so wary. And with another enigma in Josh Smith already on the roster, any potential Jennings trade would probably begin there before the basketball implications. If Jennings is willing to work on his deficiencies and sign a mutually beneficial contract in Detroit—let's say three years, $27 million with an opt-out after two—then it's at least something Dumars needs to consider.
The Jennings-Milwaukee marriage is all but over. Whether it's in the middle of the season or later this summer, some team will swoop in with an offer to show the NBA's most unwanted man that he still has a home in this league.
Why not the one with the best natural fit?
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