Brandon Jennings’ next step is a big one. In all actuality, every move Jennings makes in the 2012-13 season is vital to his future in the NBA. Come summer 2013, the current Milwaukee Bucks point guard will be a restricted free agent tasked with the decision of taking the extra money available through signing an extension with his current team or exploring his worth on the free agent market after playing out a final season in Wisconsin.
First, the facts.
- Barring trade agreements, franchises never draft with the intention of letting a player go to another team. They imagine each young player selected as a building block or potential game-changer. This remains true to this day, and was the case when the Bucks’ front office chose Jennings with the tenth-overall pick in the 2009 draft.
- After committing to play basketball at the University of Southern California and, later, the University of Arizona, Jennings decided to gain experience by bypassing college to play professionally in Europe, with an ultimate goal of making an NBA roster. Of course, the move also allowed him to profit from his on-court talents rather than languish in the NCAA as a student-athlete with no major source of income.
- Jennings is on-record saying that he’s “doing [his] homework on big market teams,” but is not ruling out a long-term deal that would keep him running the show in BMO Harris Bradley Center.
The last point is the most shaking for the Bucks organization and fans, especially since Jennings made the statement less than a week after a dispirited performance against the Phoenix Suns in February, a game in which he attempted only four field goals while being guarded by noted defensive stalwart Steve Nash. According to reliable sources, including head coach Scott Skiles, Jennings seemed like someone who wanted to be elsewhere. Whether or not that was the case during the game itself is anyone’s guess.
At the time, Jennings was likely dejected after missing out on an All-Star selection – an offseason goal he had set for himself – so the actions and words could merely be the result of youthful hubris or hope that is not quite in line with reality.
Through Andrew Bogut’s injuries and eventual shipment to the Golden State Warriors, and general manager John Hammond’s Stephen Jackson-as-mentor experiment – to mention just two items of note – Jennings’ time in the spotlight has been a push, not overly positive or negative. There was the seven-game series against the Atlanta Hawks in his rookie year, but things have been considerably rockier over the previous two seasons.
If his open secret was that he wanted to return to his native Los Angeles and for one the NBA’s most storied franchises alongside arguably the best shooting guard in league history, that dream was quashed for the foreseeable future when the Lakers acquired the guy who maybe (doubtfully) shut Jennings down on that night seven months ago.
That buys the Bucks some time. At minimum, one season to entice Jennings to stay the course in a small market and keep faith that the right pieces are being arranged to make a proper run into the postseason. To satiate a big personality’s appetite for success and, maybe more importantly, attention.
The onus is not just the Bucks’ to carry, though. In May, a Racine Journal-Times correspondent quoted Hammond as saying extending Jennings “is not something [the Bucks] have to do.” The quote is innocuous enough standing alone, but accompanied by a narrow playoff miss and what the young guard has said, there is trouble to be brewed if someone is willing to put forth the effort.
There will be teams in need of point guards next summer, though, with Dallas looking like the biggest market with a spot to fill. JaVale McGee’s $44 million windfall in Denver is the most recent testament to an adage about being paid for potential rather than production. Jennings is used to playing starter’s minutes and is a known talent when it comes to filling the hoop. If he flashes a bigger repertoire of tricks in any portion of his game, and if there is any question of his loyalty to the Bucks afterward, there could be reservations in the front office about matching the sizable offer sheets that would arrive from other franchises. There’s also the prospect of two more seasons, after which Jennings would be free to make his own call in the free agent market.
It is fatalistic to assume a departure this far in advance, but given past actions – furtiveness when it came to choosing a college and then scooping cash overseas, the disposition displayed after a loss that could have been different if a poor shooter hadn’t jacked three triples against a lax defender – there shouldn’t be any surprise if Jennings brings back the high-top fade in time to show it off to complement a new color scheme.