Tuesday's sign-and-trade agreement between the Milwaukee Bucks and Detroit Pistons is just another high-profile move in a summer that has seen significant changes for both teams. By shipping out point guard Brandon Jennings, the Bucks completed a drastic turnover of nearly half their roster. When the trade is finished, every single point guard, shooting guard, and small forward on the team except for Ish Smith will be a new arrival.
The Bucks look to be building their team around their talented young frontcourt. Ersan Ilyasova is under contract at what looks like a good price for another four years, Larry Sanders could be extended before next season starts, and John Henson is just a year into his rookie contract. The Bucks also have Ekpe Udoh available as a rotational big or possible trade chip.
The backcourt remains a bit muddled, however. O.J. Mayo is the presumptive starter at the 2, but the 1 and 3 remain unsettled. Brandon Knight, the centerpiece of the package Milwaukee will receive from the Motor City, has shown promise as a defender and shooter, but he isn't a true point guard in most respects, boasting a higher turnover rate and lower assist rate than even Jennings. Khris Middleton, a second-round pick in 2012 who appeared in just 27 games for the Pistons, isn't likely to step in as anything more than a bit player in the SF rotation.
The Bucks had plenty of reasons to move on from Jennings, and resetting things with a young player still on his rookie deal makes plenty of sense. We'll discuss the trade extensively over the next few days, but for now let's turn our attention to Milwaukee's Central Division rival, the Pistons.
Detroit, like Milwaukee, has a talented frontcourt already in place. But the Pistons couldn't get much in the way out of results from an unbalanced roster, ranking in the bottom third of the league on offense and defense. In order to get the ball rolling before costs spike in a few years, Detroit seems to have decided aggressive tactics were necessary. They started with a 4-year, $54 million agreement with forward Josh Smith, who should bolster their defense and could help the offense if he can reign in the jump-shooting. Combined with their first-round pick Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Jennings gives the team more firepower in the backcourt, particularly as they try to remedy their 18th-ranked 3-point shooting. He's also a low-turnover PG, which was a major issue for the Pistons last season (26th in TOV%). While Jennings isn't a great shot creator, he could pair well with interior scorers like Smith and Monroe who can score on their own close to the basket. Jennings' floor spacing could help in that regard, as he's proven to be a very good spot-up shooter.
It's a bit of a curious decision by Detroit, considering Jennings' biggest strength (3pt shooting) aligns with the guy he's replacing. With a three-year deal paying him $8 million a year, the Pistons need to see some improvement from Jennings or they'll be stuck facing the same problem as they were yesterday, and KCP will be due for a new contract. Detroit has success in it's not-too-distant past, and they may be hoping that even marginal improvement thanks to Jennings' addition could spark new interest in the team from fans and free agents alike. Is it a risk? Of course, but so was the Smith deal. Jennings is still just 23 years old, so Pistons fans should waste little time latching on to words like "potential" and "upside". It's kept Bucks fans going for years.
As for Jennings himself? This finally brings an end to a messy period in his career. As was the case with Monta Ellis, it truly seems like Jennings was shocked at the lack of big-money offers to come his way as a restricted free agent. There were reports soon after the trade was announced that his salary demands had been overblown--some said he never actually asked for more than about $9 million a year. But was he ever prepared to take a cheaper deal to stay in Milwaukee? Only he knows.
This is the start of new eras for both teams. Things are sure to be very different for both squads next season, and both could find themselves battling for the playoffs in an improved Eastern Conference. The fates of each will depend heavily on two Brandons taking the ferry across Lake Michigan.