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NBA trade rumors: Brandon Jennings joins Marcin Gortat on list of players most likely to be traded

Milwaukee Bucks point guard Brandon Jennings is once again at the center of NBA trade rumors. He's been labeled one of the top-10 most likely players to be dealt before the deadline by Chad Ford of ESPN.

Grant Halverson

Well, it's that time of the year again in the NBA. The Feb. 21 NBA trade deadline is sneaking up on us, and trade rumors are suddenly flying in every direction. The latest? Milwaukee Bucks point guard Brandon Jennings is the seventh-most likely big-name player to be moved prior to the deadline, at least according to ESPN's Chad Ford.

Ford says he has talked with teams around the league, and he's convinced that Bucks management is open to parting ways with Jennings if they can get a point guard and a big man in return. Here is the relevant excerpt from Ford's piece (insider):

The Bucks have been among the most active teams in the league when it comes to trade calls. It doesn't look like anyone on their roster is safe. While my esteemed colleague Marc Stein wrote recently that Jennings was the least likely Buck to be moved, I'm not so sure.

Jennings hits restricted free agency this summer and, with a plethora of teams under the cap, someone is going to make him a big offer. Jennings would prefer a trade, and the Bucks aren't going to want to break the bank for him, so the team has been open to parting ways if they can get a point guard and big man in return.

Ford ranked the top-10 impacted players likely to be dealt, and Jennings clocks in at No. 7. Here's the full list, in order:

  1. Josh Smith, Atlanta Hawks
  2. Rudy Gay, Memphis Grizzlies
  3. Al Jefferson, Utah Jazz
  4. Danny Granger, Indiana Pacers
  5. Marcin Gortat, Phoenix Suns
  6. Andrea Bargnani, Toronto Raptors
  7. Brandon Jennings, Milwaukee Bucks
  8. Eric Bledsoe, Los Angeles Clippers
  9. DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings
  10. Rajon Rondo, Boston Celtics

The idea that the Bucks are active is intriguing, but it's important to remember that GM John Hammond has previously expressed the Bucks' desire to keep Jennings, going so far as to promise that Milwaukee will match any offer Jennings receives in restricted free agency this summer. And as Ford alludes to, ESPN's Marc Stein went so far as to suggest a week ago that Jennings was the least likely Buck to be dealt in-season.

If we follow Ford down this path of speculation (why not, right?) the name that pops up at No. 5 on the list makes things a bit more interesting. The Phoenix Suns and head coach Alvin Gentry agreed on Friday to part ways after a 13-28 start to the season, and the organization is reportedly looking to move into a developmental phase.

Gortat doesn't fit well into a youth movement (he's 29), but he does have trade value thanks to his premium size (he's 6'11, and conservatively listed at 240-pounds) and reasonable contract (he's owed $7.7 million next year). What's more, Ford had this to say about Gortat:

If the Suns decide to blow things up and try to collect young assets, I think they can get a draft pick and a young prospect in return for Gortat. Boston, Milwaukee and Atlanta are all on speed dial.

Frank Madden and I recently discussed a loosely conceived trade option involving the Suns and Bucks, so follow along and see if you like the concept (or, quite possibly, hate it).

Gortat is a big body that would provide a post-oriented meat-and-potatoes option to pair with the Bucks' current collection of string bean big men. Jennings is a 23-year-old lead guard who would fit into the Suns' rebuilding project. The only problem is that Phoenix already has a youngish point guard in Goran Dragic. The idea is that the Bucks could send Jennings out with some other high-salary option (Ersan Ilyasova, Drew Gooden, Samuel Dalembert, Beno Udrih) in exchange for Gortat and Dragic -- who is in the first year of a four-year, $30 million deal he signed with the Suns during the off-season. Feel free to play around with the trade machine and see if you find any combinations that excite you--though keep in mind the Suns likely won't be excited to dump first round picks given their current situation. And there's obviously the intangible question of star power: the Bucks would not only need to replace Jennings' production, but also his PR value as the Bucks' de facto face of the franchise. Dragic and Gortat aren't exactly the kinds of names that will resonate with casual fans.

The basic framework of that proposal and the underlying trade rumor that inspired it both revolve around uncertainty about what Brandon Jennings is truly worth. He is headed for restricted free agency this summer, and GM John Hammond has previously said that the team will match any offer sheet he signs. Therefore, it's all about projecting what Jennings could become and whether his next deal will provide the franchise with value. Ford's allusion to Jennings preferring a trade could also be a key piece of any decision--while Jennings has generally said the right things about playing in Milwaukee, it wouldn't be shocking if he were at least moderately interested in a change of scenery. That said: huge paydays have a way of keeping guys happy, and he stands to get one next summer.

Dragic is now owed $7.5 million over the next three seasons, and Jennings should be expected to get a deal worth at least that much--he'll be likely looking for something closer to the $10-12 million that fellow 2009 first round picks Ty Lawson, Jrue Holiday and Stephen Curry got last summer. Jennings is three years younger and clearly more accomplished than Dragic, but it's unclear whether he's markedly better as an expensive investment. The Bucks declined to sign Jennings to big extension this past summer, so they may not know either.

Jennings has two deficiencies on offense: he doesn't finish well at the rim (so he doesn't draw fouls), and he isn't a good enough three-point shooter to offset his inefficiency inside the arc. He isn't going to get any taller, and it's unlikely he will change his body type to better compete in the paint. As we've discussed at great length in previous posts, to get better around the rim he would need to (1) work on his right hand and find better angles of attack and (2) develop a deadly pull-up game, ala Beno Udrih. Those things may come to pass, but it's a gamble to assume that they will.

On the filp side, Jennings could instantly improve his value by hitting his threes at anything close to a 40 percent clip. He takes a ton of attempts from beyond the arc (5.2 per game over 249 career contests) but only converts at an league average rate (34.7 percent on 1,287 career attempts). If that three-point percentage jumps to 38-40 percent, Jennings is suddenly a really dangerous offensive player that defenses will have to play a bit differently. He may never hit mouth-watering levels of efficiency overall, but a more consistent stroke from deep range would go a long way towards shutting down the TS% complaints.

Trade or no trade, it's still very difficult to get a handle on where the Bucks are going. Do the Bucks see Jennings as a legitimate face of the franchise or a miscast and soon to be very expensive third banana? We'll get a better answer by this summer at the latest: Jennings will be a restricted free agent, Monta Ellis can opt out of his contract, and veterans Beno Udrih, Mike Dunleavy and Samuel Dalembert are all on expiring deals. Do they play out the string and hope good things happen down the stretch this season, or do they restructure the roster now and plan for a better tomorrow? Do they gamble on a trade involving one of their "star" guards now, or try to rebalance the roster with some of the spare parts (Hello, Sam Dalembert)? Let us know where you stand, Bucks fans.