Wednesday, 13 February 2013

The Milwaukee Bucks have some tough decisions to make regarding Brandon Jennings

On Wednesday, Chad Ford’s annual trade deadline ranking sheet went up at ESPN Insider, and for what feels like the 29th time in his four-year career Milwaukee Buck point guard Brandon Jennings is prominently featured on the list. The 2013 restricted free agent has often talked about exploring other opportunities outside of the team that drafted him, as well he should, but Ford’s anonymous source took things one step further:

Jennings has, according to one source, "irreconcilable differences" with Milwaukee. He's frustrated, according to sources, that the two sides weren't able to work out a long-term extension this summer. In addition, he feels as though he doesn't get the attention he deserves and wants a bigger market to take his talents to.

Jennings isn't bluffing. He recently changed agents in an attempt to get some traction on his relocation. Jennings' marching orders for his new representation? Get him out of Milwaukee, either by the trade deadline or via a toxic offer sheet from another team this summer.

The “bigger market” thing always confounds me. I can understand wanting to enjoy a bigger city – and this is coming from a writer that very much loves Milwaukee – but what does a bigger market have to do with Brandon Jennings’ production? I’m sorry, is it Milwaukee’s small market that has you shooting less than 40 percent from the field this year? Or shooting under 40 percent for the third time in your four-year career? Would Jennings earn more respect from the refs and get to the line more than 3.8 times per 36 minutes if he played for the Knicks?

Honestly, Brandon Jennings is one of the few players in this league that has a memorable endorsement deal with a shoe company, and he’s managed that in spite of his status as a Milwaukee Buck, and in spite of his (to be frank) solid play that still falls a few giant paces behind that of NBA All-Stars. Brandon Jennings has the ball quite a bit, he gets to shoot a lot, he gets the green light on three-pointers despite being average in that category, he rarely gets to the free throw line, and he’s ranked 16th in the NBA in assists per game. He is nowhere near star-caliber, and hasn’t made a huge year-to-year jump yet in any of the NBA seasons since his rookie campaign.

And if you think the late 2011-12 addition of Monta Ellis has taken away from Jennings’ ability to shine, understand that just about all of his standard and advanced statistical metrics are right around their career averages this season. He’s improved in three straight years between his rookie season and 2011-12, but the uptick wasn’t massive, and he’s dipped back again to his norms this season despite being freed from Scott Skiles’ offense.

Sort of being freed from his system, I should say.

As it was when the Chicago Bulls fired Skiles in 2007 and kept his lead assistant in Jim Boylan around, the Bucks are still mainly running Skiles-bred sets with little difference between the two save for the tiresome Scott Skiles glares and more time for Ersan Ilyasova. Boylan is a respected basketball mind that works his tail off, but he’s split his 18 games as coach just as Skiles split his 32 games as coach earlier in the year. Why the Bucks didn’t learn from Chicago’s wasted 60 percent of a season in 2007-08 and go for a voice that didn’t approximate Skiles is beyond us.

And this could be why Jennings, probably and if so rightfully, wants out. Talking about big market dreams and increased attention toward his inefficient per game stats (be careful what you wish for, Brandon) sounds like where Jennings has gone, on record, for a while now. Overall, though, the guy just might want a break. To be free from a squad that seemingly has been chasing the eighth seed in the playoffs since Jennings’ rookie year.

The problem with all of this is that Jennings isn’t an unrestricted free agent this summer. He’s a restricted free agent, which means the Bucks can match any offer tendered to Brandon (should they extend the qualifying offer for Jennings to return for one year in 2013-14, as the team likely will) and make him a very unhappy camper.

The free agent class is weak this summer, and teams will probably end up overpaying someone like Jennings – and the Bucks will have to decide if they want a still-ticked Jennings working for a franchise he didn’t choose, under terms of a contract that some other front office talked itself into. It’s true that Jennings once dug Milwaukee and compared it to Italy, but this is the same guy that left Italy after one year.

After years of clogging contracts, the Bucks actually have some room to work in the offseason. Monta Ellis and Ersan Ilyasova will combine to make $18.9 million next year (assuming Ellis opts into the last year of his deal, which isn’t a guarantee even given the market), but the squad could pass on Jennings, watch as Samuel Dalembert and Beno Udrih go away, sign Mike Dunleavy Jr. (already one of the NBA’s better contracts) to a reasonable rate, and use the amnesty provision to say goodbye to the final two years and $13.3 million left on Drew Gooden’s deal.

The team could have just $26 million on the books even with Ellis opting in, and develop an asset rich roster as a go-between while working with teams trying to either shed salary or land a star. And very little of this is possible if they match a maximum offer for Jennings services.

After another run to around .500 and first round exit, it might be time for a change. For both sides, as Milwaukee says goodbye to its four year starter, and Jennings moves on to an on-court climate that might shake him from his sub-40 percent funk.

The only question is, does this parting come in February, or July? Or at all?

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