HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Brandon Jennings was running low on options. As a restricted free agent from the Milwaukee Bucks, he had strained for more than a year at the leash holding him to that club. Jennings previously talked fondly of bigger markets and then sent max-salary shots across the Bucks’ bow as his semi-freedom approached, a not-so-subtle way of discouraging them from flexing their matching rights.
Unfortunately for Jennings, when he hit the marketplace, the marketplace hit back. It was bad enough that others, including his self-absorbed backcourt mate Monta Ellis, found jobs and millions; it was worse when Jennings’ own team, the Bucks, tried to procure his replacement, Atlanta’s Jeff Teague, with a four-year, $32 million offer sheet it wasn’t willing to give Jennings. The Hawks matched but the message was clear – Jennings’ business with the Bucks had festered into something other than mere leverage.
So his options were few, barring a philosophical change by Milwuakee. Jennings could sign the one-year, $4.5 million qualifying offer with the Bucks and try again next July. In theory, that might have made sense: A motivated player, his team benefiting as he hoists his market value.
But anyone familiar with the Bucks’ situation and locker room knew that scenario would be rife with pitfalls. A sensitive lad, a little light on the maturity scale, Jennings could end up playing self-consciously and, thus, unnaturally. It wouldn’t guarantee that his game – high energy but shoot first, with too many shaky finishes at the rim and a laissez-faire defensive attitude – would budge a bit from the plateau on which it has settled. And an agitated Jennings wouldn’t help a locker room mood hoping for some addition-by-subtraction (Ellis, Samuel Dalembert).
How ‘bout spending 2013-14 in Europe? Jennings, after all, had taken that creative route around the one-and-done eligibility rule prior to the 2009 Draft in which Milwaukee picked him 10th overall. But no, NBA free-agency rules don’t work that way; Jennings still would be Bucks’ property.
So the multiple reports Tuesday afternoon that the Bucks and the Detroit Pistons were completing a sign-and-trade to ship Jennings to Motown made a lot of sense. According to ESPN.com’s Marc Stein and Chris Broussard, Detroit would send to Milwaukee guard Brandon Knight, forward Khris Middleton and center Viacheslav Kravtsov. Estimates of Jennings’ three-year deal ranged from $24 million to more than $25 million, putting him in the same financial neighborhood as Teague but for one year less.
In Jennings, the Pistons get a talented backcourt player who has averaged 17.0 points and 5.7 assists in four NBA seasons. He is a career 39.4 percent shooter, so he won’t bring the range to pull defenses away from big men Greg Monroe, Andre Drummond and Josh Smith. He’ll be teaming with veteran Chauncey Billups, back with Detroit after a summer signing.
Milwaukee already had added guard O.J. Mayo in free agency, traded to get back Luke Ridnour and introduced its latest addition, former San Antonio guard Gary Neal, to local media Tuesday. Knight, whose trial as Detroit’s point guard suggested to some he was better suited to shooting guard, still has potential to intrigue Bucks GM John Hammond – the No. 8 pick in the 2011 Draft won’t turn 22 until Dec. 2. And since when does a shoot-first point guard trouble the Bucks?