Timing is everything when it comes to how you feel about Brandon Jennings. One week he might be shooting an ugly percentage from the field and moping around the hardwood without a concept of how to impact a game. The next week he might be dishing out assists at a rate that makes your head spin so fast you can't remember why anyone wanted the Bucks to move on without him.
That's not a hyperbolic assessment, either. Those things literally happened over the course of two weeks. It's what makes Milwaukee's decision so difficult. Is Brandon Jennings the long-term answer at point guard? On Friday afternoon the soon-to-be restricted free agent offered up some thoughts to Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports that were designed to address his possible future with the franchise:
"If I take the qualifying offer and become an [unrestricted] free agent there is no way I am coming back," Jennings told Yahoo! Sports on Friday after practice. "There is no way."
"If you think about it I still do have power," Jennings said. "If anything is offered out there that doesn't mean I have to accept it, right? That means next season I will be playing and then I will become a free agent and can go anywhere I want to go."
"It doesn't mean if another team offers me something or the Bucks offer me something that I have to take it. I can still play it out. That's something I've been thinking about. Then I can really have the power to really make my own decision."
I used the word "designed" because Jennings is searching for leverage in the negotiating process. That's why these comments made it to the public sphere, and it's why he explicitly articulated the power he holds in the quotes excerpted above. He's been coached up well.
Here's my take-away: he wants the most lucrative long-term deal he can possibly get, and he's not afraid to ruffle a few feathers if it helps him get there. Who wouldn't want max money? As for the timing of his comments....*slams head against table*.
To illustrate the power the Bucks have, let's make it easy and just imagine a world where the fourth-year guard is worth max money. The Bucks can offer Jennings more money ( ~$83M vs. ~$60M) and more years (5 vs. 4) than any other team, so if it's about the green stuff, Milwaukee is in the best position to satiate the former first-round pick.
Three other point guards from his draft class -- Jrue Holiday (4yr, $41M), Steph Curry (4yr, $44M) and Ty Lawson (4yr, $48M) -- signed early extensions before the Oct. 31 deadline. Brandon reportedly turned down a four-year, $40 million offer from John Hammond and the Bucks before the start of the season. As for other NBA teams that have: (a) a clear need for a PG and (b) the cap space to make a max-type offer, the list probably only includes the Dallas Mavericks, Orlando Magic, Atlanta Hawks and Utah Jazz.
In restricted free agency, Brandon and his *new agent can shop for offers from other teams after the season, but Milwaukee has the right to match any offer sheet he signs *(recall that he dropped long-time agent Bill Duffy in early February and switched to Jeff Schwartz). He could otherwise choose to sign a one-year, $4.5 million qualifying offer and become an unrestricted free agent after the 2013-14 season, but only 14 NBA players in his situation have ever done that, and none of them were very good.
That's probably why John Hammond didn't sound to worried when he was asked to respond to Jennings' comments (via Yahoo! Sports):
"It's not unfair to make that statement if he feels there is not a deal fair to him this summer," Bucks general manager John Hammond said of Jennings' stance. "I would be surprised if it happens. But he is operating within the [collective bargaining] rules. I'm not taken aback. It's a natural discussion to have."
It would be a bold move for anyone to turn down a long-term offer of $40+ million to sign a one-year deal worth less than $5 million. You aren't promised tomorrow in the NBA (or anywhere else, for that matter), and to reject a big-money offer is to shoulder the risk of injury in hopes of a slightly bigger payout next year.
It's where the reality of fully-guaranteed contracts in the NBA actually helps teams retain young players that go to restricted free agency. Sign a qualifying offer and blow an ACL in the subsequent season? You may never make that money back. Sign a long-term deal and blow out your ACL in the subsquent season? All of the money on your long-term deal is still fully guaranteed.
Frank probably said it best back in February: "young NBA players just want to get paid, and the Milwaukee Bucks' money is just as green as anyone else's." In fact, Jennings beat Frank to the punch with the comments he made last summer about taking a max-type offer from Milwaukee:
"I mean, why not?," he said. "If everything's right and my agent comes back and says this is what we should do, then I'm going to do it.
"At the end of the day, it's an NBA team. And if you ask any guy in the NBA 'Would you want to be the face of a franchise?' I'm sure 80-percent of them would say 'Yes' no matter where they're at."
If Milwaukee offers him the most lucrative long-term deal, I can't foresee a situation where Jennings would turn it down. It's pretty simple stuff. Except it gets tricky when Jennings attempts to parse out his desire to be on a "winning team" as if it's something with primacy over his desire to get paid (via Yahoo! Sports):
"I just want to win," Jennings said. "The way I am playing now, I just want to go to a winning team and play like that. I don't care about being a superstar or being the main guy. I did that [the] first four years. I just want to win and be somewhere where it's all about winning.
"I'm not saying the Bucks aren't about winning. But I think [a title caliber situation] will help me, motivate my game and then you have to perform."
Can a contending team afford to offer Jennings more than the four-year, $40 million deal he turned down last summer? More importantly, would a smart team with designs on winning an NBA championship in the near future consider it prudent to offer him more than that four-year, $40 million contract? Would BJ take less money to find a better situation?
The Bucks still control the process in restricted free agency, but that can only provide comfort when we analyze the situation in theory. In practice the Bucks face a scary situation. When we retreat from my imagined world where Brandon Jennings is clearly worth max money and return to confront reality, it all gets murky and uncomfortable again.
It feels like the Bucks will have to gamble on Jennings' future regardless of what they choose to do. Now it appears that Brandon wants the Bucks to know he's prepared to gamble on himself, if that's what it takes to get the deal he wants. Let the games
begin continue expand.