If someone could shove a stick into the machinery of free agency right now – and the Milwaukee Bucks could bring back point guard Brandon Jennings on the one-year qualifying offer price of $4.3 million – both the team and the player would be well-served.
Of course, the gears will keep turning, teams will assess and re-assess, someone will panic, someone else will blink and Milwaukee general manager John Hammond probably will be faced with matching a multi-year deal for Jennings. Hammond’s preferred choice at point guard, Jeff Teague, was snatched back Saturday by the Atlanta Hawks, who chose to match the restricted 25-year-old’s four-year, $32 million offer sheet from Milwaukee.
As eager as Teague was to continue playing for former Hawks coach Larry Drew in his new gig with the Deer, Atlanta wasn’t willing to lose an asset such as Teague for nothing in return. As the proprietor here at HTB, Sekou Smith, notes, the Hawks’ backcourt is too thin and Teague is too consistent a performer to have picked off, especially by a middle-of-the-pack rival in the Eastern Conference.
That leaves the Bucks and Jennings staring at each other, perhaps to make nice now that their options are dwindling, perhaps to glare a little and scramble like mad to avoid what might be less than a warm-and-fuzzy reconciliation.
It didn’t sound as if Hammond and Jennings would be running slow-motion through a sun-drenched meadow to embrace, in the immediate aftermath of Atlanta’s Teague decision, as the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Charles F. Gardner reported it:
Bucks general manager John Hammond got the news after his flight landed in Las Vegas, where Milwaukee plays its first NBA Summer League game on Saturday night.
“Now we have to move forward with the job before us,” Hammond said. “We have some work to do.”
The best thing for both sides, it says here, would be to re-up with each other for a year on that $4.3 million qualifying offer. That would allow Jennings to become unrestricted in 2014, freed from the Bucks forever if he truly wants a bigger market or bigger money (and can find someone to offer either or both). It would benefit Milwaukee, too, because they would have a highly motivated point guard, presumably eager to address some of the significant flaws in his game. Like his shot selection. Like his shaky work facilitating teammates. Like his poor percentages finishing at the rim. And like his deteriorating defensive play.
Obviously it would be risky for Jennings to forsake guaranteed money over multiple years if someone offers it. Then again, he has taken the road less traveled before, heading to Europe for a season rather than spending one year at a college campus in the U.S. prior to the 2009 Draft.
His development on the court has stalled because his maturity off it has been playing catch-up. Yet it’s unlikely Hammond and Drew want to go through the season with only newly-added Luke Ridnour, O.J. Mayo as a combo option and raw backups Ish Smith and rookie Nate Wolters at the point.
Jennings, almost as a tease but also in response to a talk last season with interim head coach Jim Boylan, produced a striking month’s work just after the All-Star break. Over 13 games, he averaged 15.5 points and 9.9 assists while shooting 44.8 percent from 3-point range (while reigning in his attempts a bit). Six of his 13 double-double games and seven of his 13 double-digit assists performances came during those 13 games, and the Bucks went 7-6.
It seemed like a salary drive, only it didn’t last. Over Milwaukee’s final 15 regular-season games, Jennings averaged 14.4 points, 5.1 assists and shot 35.9 on 3-pointers, jacking them up at a higher rate again. The Bucks closed 5-10.
Milwaukee, if it’s going to bring him back at all, needs the good Jennings, the motivated Jennings, for most or all of its 82 games, not just 13. Jennings needs to demonstrate his market value, because the gap between what he think he’s worth and what he’s being offered at the moment scarcely could be greater.
Going all in for one year would be best for both sides. Even if it’s unlikely to happen.