Brandon Jennings really couldn’t have arrived in Milwaukee at a better or worse time.
He was very good immediately. Too good. Jennings was a superstar for his first 11 games in Milwaukee, there’s really no other way to phrase it. But 11 games is just enough time to be dangerous in a city with the recent history Milwaukee had in 2009.
Bucks fans had been desperate for a star player for quite some time. Milwaukee traded Ray Allen in 2003 and was heavily reliant on Michael Redd to be a star after that. Redd kept the Bucks mediocre, but didn’t have the help or ability to take them any further than that. After a few years trying their hardest to be a good team, the Bucks bottomed out in 2006-07 and 2007-08. The resulting draft picks? Yi Jianlian and Joe Alexander. Not exactly the stars Milwaukee needed to revitalize a struggling franchise.
That’s the situation Jennings stepped into in 2009. John Hammond had already traded Yi and the player he acquired for Yi, Richard Jefferson and was moving quickly to distance himself from his mistake with Alexander. It had been a long time since the Bucks had a first round pick of their own that turned into an important player, so 11 superstar type games was a big deal. Milwaukee was starved and Jennings looked like prime rib.
But Jennings was more of a hamburger. Not a McDonald’s burger or anything, he was restaurant quality, but once you’re at the restaurant that you think is serving up some kick ass prime rib, when you find out you’re getting a burger instead, things can get pretty ugly. Especially when you’re a hefty fella that hasn’t had a bite in a while.
If Jennings maintained something close to the production level he produced over his first 11 games over the next four years, he would have been exalted, lawyers would have courted him for commercials and he could be stepping into Ryan Braun’s shoes right now as Aaron Rodgers‘ partner in the local restaurant and good times business.
Bucks fans wanted (hell, we still want to) to believe in something, but they wouldn’t just believe in anything.
By the end of last season, Jennings certainly seemed like “just anything.” Four years into his career, his production was nowhere near what it was over that special first 11 games. It was his fault our expectations got so high, but it wasn’t his fault that we were so desperate that we were still living off 11 games four years later. Those 11 games seem so far in the past now that he’s gone, now that there’s no reason for Bucks fans to try and fool themselves anymore. At this point, he might be as remembered for his sub 30% field goal percentage against the Heat in his final games as the Bucks starting point guard as he is for his 55 point game.
His development was so incremental that it was hardly noticeable if it was there at all on offense and completely absent on defense. He was in a bad situation, playing with a two guard that made no sense, but it didn’t seem like he did anything to improve things either. Of course, he still was an above average player capable of big nights and just 23-years-old. Expectations are a crazy thing.
Fans were exhausted with Jennings, but it wasn’t just him. By the end of last season, the organization seemed to have taken so many steps back since 2009-10. Some of those steps were the fault of management, some of them horrible accidents. That team was a fleeting hope in a decade of misery, wiped out when Andrew Bogut fell. Jennings and the Bucks seemed the same — stuck. Neither was getting much better or much worse and it seemed as long as they were together, they’d be stuck in basketball purgatory.
By the end of last season, things had grown toxic in Milwaukee. Supposedly in the locker room and definitely in the stands. He probably had to go. Had he come back on that qualifying offer everyone would have been walking around the issue like Bruce Willis stepping on glass in Die Hard.
There’s a sense of relief now among the Bucks fans I know and have tweeted back and forth with. Jennings was the last piece of a frustrating mini-era that had a high high and very mediocre lows, the worst kind of lows in the NBA. Like Jennings, the John Hammond era Bucks started with so much promise and have ultimately gone nowhere. But both Jennings and Hammond have a new opportunity now. Hammond has pretty much a whole new roster that could go any number of ways. He has the flexibility to be dangerous in the trade market next season and a roster that could bottom out at the exact right time if things go just … wrong.
And Jennings finally gets out from under the pressure of being the face of a franchise. He’s the fourth best player on the Pistons. He has three bigs that can crash the offensive glass when he misses a layup and can spectacularly finish alley-oops when he tosses them up. He’ll have space to shoot threes and plenty of capable pick and roll partners. I’m sure he feels he has a bright future ahead of him.
It seems like he arrived in Detroit at just the right moment. Hopefully it actually is this time.