I understand the risks you are taking when you sign Brandon Jennings to a multi-year deal that will eat up a significant portion of your camp space. He’s shown some maturity issues, his on-court production has never matched the hype (and he’s yet to realize this) and the Bucks were an astounding 12.45 points per 100 possessions worse with Jennings on the floor last season per Basketball Value, which was the second worst mark in the league.
And yet, I am still shocked that it took until July 30th for a team to finally work out a deal to acquire the young point guard. After all, Jennings is just 23 years old, he’s spent most of his career playing for a coach that many players, including himself, clashed with and the potential for him to emerge as a more efficient point guard that effectively utilizes his scoring and distributing talents is still there.
But that’s the era that we are in right now. As the off-season played out and teams like Dallas and Utah and Sacramento found themselves new point guards via free agency, trades and the draft, the market for Jennings became extremely bare. There’s no better illustration of this golden age of lead guards than the fact that a 23-year old point guard with obvious talent had no logical suitors. Jeff Teague was in a similar situation a couple of weeks ago, and at one point a Jennings-for-Teague rumor sprouted up presumably so the basketball gods could kill two birds with one stone.
After weeks of waiting, and even some rumblings that Jennings was considering playing for the qualifying offer this season and becoming an unrestricted free agent next year, today we learned that the Detroit Pistons, who have had one of the most active summers in the league, will acquire Jennings in a sign-and-trade deal that will send former lottery pick Brandon Knight, Khris Middleton and Slava Kravtsov to Milwaukee.
Given what Joe Dumars did the last time the Pistons had cap space, it was hard to envision them having a positive off-season, but I find myself liking the team they’ve put together. Dumars essentially pulled off the same move that Dell Demps did with the Pelicans, quickly shifting his team out of rebuild mode and into playoff competition. The reason the Pistons won’t get as much praise for their off-season is because they’ve acquired a couple of unsure things and added them to a core that was already unproven.
The Pelicans started with a strong base of Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson and Anthony Davis and added an all-star caliber point guard in Jrue Holiday and likely sixth man Tyreke Evans. Of that group, assuming Gordon actually plays this year, only Evans is a question mark, and I’m not sure you can blame him for establishing that reputation on that dysfunctional Kings team. Under the leadership of Monty Williams and on a team that actually makes sense roster-wise, I expect Evans to find his niche this season, and overall this is a roster that fits together extremely well.
The Pistons started their quick rebuild with a potential laden base of Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe. While that duo has shown promising signs, we don’t know for sure that Drummond will ever be more than a hyper athletic rebounder and shot blocker; though a hyper athletic rebounder and shot blocker is always an asset, Drummond did shoot 37% from the free throw line last season and he made all of two baskets outside of the restricted area. Monroe has shown a much more polished offensive game with a decent set of post moves and a nice feel for things when distributing from the high post, but he too has his limitations with a lackluster jumpshot and slow feet on defense. It’s a young duo that several teams would envy, but by themselves that’s not a particularly strong foundation.
The additions of Josh Smith and Jennings certainly make the Pistons better, but that doesn’t mean that they solve all of their problems, either. Both players have shown that they can be all-star caliber players when they play to their strengths – Smith with his uncanny ability to defend the rim and the perimeter at an elite level and Jennings with his lightning quick speed and expansive court vision – but they also have a tendency to get lazy, jack up bad shots, gamble on defense and portray a mopy attitude if things don’t go their way.
Smith is also an awkward fit positionally, as he’s been at his best as a power forward; now, he may end up playing power forward alongside Monroe a lot this season, but that means the Pistons will be playing Drummond less, and he was one of the few players on the team to have a positive statistical impact on their performance. A Smith-Monroe-Drummond frontcourt is likely the best way to utilize the talents of all three of these players, but the floor spacing of that unit will not be pretty.
While the Pelicans found a way to add impact players that fit in perfectly with what they had in place, the Pistons have gambled on some impact players that may not mesh with the Drummond/Monroe duo. On top of that, the team also hired a new head coach – former Thunder assistant Maurice Cheeks – this off-season that will be tasked with managing all of these egos for the first time. All signs point to Detroit’s transition to contender going less smoothly than it will in New Orleans, and yet I don’t think Dumars massively screwed up this off-season, at least not compared to what happened in 2009.
I’m not sure this is a playoff team right away – not with Washington, Cleveland and Toronto also freshly in the playoff hunt and only the Celtics definitely dropping out of the post-season picture – but I’ll back the method used to build it.