If only the dribble-drive penetrators of the NBA had veered away from Milwaukee’s undersized backcourt the way free-agent riches have so far this offseason, the Bucks wouldn’t have had any defensive issues teaming Brandon Jennings with Monta Ellis for the past 1 1/2 seasons.
So far, though, Jennings and Ellis are a combined 4-0 – agents employed vs. lucrative offers – in what they imagined would be a summer of far greater demand. Jennings, the Bucks’ point guard, dropped Bill Duffy as his representative in February in favor of Jeff Schwartz, while Ellis reportedly dumped Jeff Fried Wednesday with the intent of signing with Dan Fegan.
It is, of course, their old agents’ faults that both flawed players have miscalculated the 2013 market and their worth in it. Right.
Jennings’ inability to attract interest, already somewhat limited by his restricted status, has more to do with own immaturity and unrealistic expectations, stretching back 18 months. The slender, shoot-first guard talked back in February 2012 about doing “homework on big-market teams” way too far in advance of his dip into the market. Then midway through last season, he suggested he was worth more to Milwaukee than Stephen Curry ($44 million over four years), Ty Lawson ($48 million, four years) or Jrue Holiday (four years, $41 million) were worth to their clubs. He even hinted at a maximum salary deal. But he remains a streaky scorer who hasn’t markedly improved in four NBA seasons and learned to put his Bucks teammates to optimal use the way a playmaker should.
Ellis, likewise, misread the market for a volume-shooter who barely pretends to play the other end of the floor. The 6-foot-3, 27-year-old veteran of eight NBA seasons already is one of the most creative, even entertaining scorers in the league. But he’s horribly inefficient – he and Jennings missed a combined 1,589 shots last season, almost 40 percent of Milwaukee’s total, while shooting a combined 40.7 percent.
Ellis also has delusions of grandeur, refuses to consider a Sixth Man role that would play to his strengths and minimize his shortcomings, and badly overplayed his hand from a business standpoint with the Bucks. Bad enough that he opted out of an $11 million salary for 2013-14 but Ellis also turned aside an extension offer that, over two more years, would have pushed the total value to three years, $36 million.
The Bucks, meanwhile, are in the process of assembling a backcourt that would be less electric, perhaps, but more reliable and capable of facilitating real team offense. They have added O.J. Mayo as a free agent, backup point Luke Ridnour in a trade with Minnesota and signed Atlanta’s Jeff Teague to an offer sheet (while also moving J.J. Redick in a sign-and-trade to the Clippers).
Something will give in the coming days for Jennings and Ellis but it won’t have come as fast and it probably won’t happen at the prices they had in mind. Meanwhile, any grumbling they might have done about getting overlooked while playing for Milwaukee gets cast differently now. They’re on the market, out there in front of all 30 teams, and still they’re getting overlooked.