3. Should the Bucks trade Brandon Jennings (2013 restricted free agent) or Monta Ellis (possible 2013 unrestricted free agent) this season? Both? Neither?
BG: Zooming out, the arguments for retaining both past this season are a lot weaker than the arguments for parting with one. You just don’t need two guards who both take 16-plus shots a game and make 40 percent or less of them while presenting issues on the defensive end, especially when both are going to expect big dollars next summer. Make no mistake, both will want to get paid. Jennings, who watched draft classmates like Stephen Curry, Jrue Holiday, Ty Lawson and DeMar DeRozan all get extensions in October, will be looking for eight figures per year, minimum, and he should have multiple suitors at that price. Ellis, 27, has made noise about opting out of his $11 million contract for 2013-14, and he’s the classic inefficient volume scorer who will find a sucker to pay him, oh, 25 percent more than he’s worth. Choosing between the two, the 23-year-old Jennings is obviously preferable: He’s younger, he has better range, he’s a more natural distributor, he has a lower turnover rate and he has a higher ceiling.
Which starting guard should the Bucks trade?
With Ersan Ilyasova, Drew Gooden and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute already signed to long-term deals, paying both Ellis and Jennings to stay makes even less sense. That core isn’t advancing deep into the postseason regardless of how much talent the Bucks have accumulated on rookie deals. What’s the justification in shelling out? The fact that Jennings is on his rookie deal right now reduces the urgency factor and makes it difficult and unlikely to find return value for him by the trade deadline. Let’s assume the Bucks keep winning at their current rate, putting themselves firmly in the playoffs. The strategy should be to shop Ellis and deal him if blown away by a return package, seeking young talent and picks or the ability to package him with one of the other questionable contracts on their books. If there’s no deal, playing out the stretch with Ellis and hoping for a good first-round playoff matchup is a fine backup strategy. No real harm done. If we assume the Bucks fall on hard times in advance of the deadline, then the asking price for Ellis simply drops and you try to cash out on him.
Either way, the plan next summer will be to cross the fingers and grit the teeth during restricted free agency, paying Jennings whatever the market decides he’s worth. With no other readily available options at the point, the Bucks are in a corner on that one. When it comes to Ellis, exploring sign-and-trades would be worth the time but simply letting him walk and allowing someone else to (over)pay him isn’t a bad option either.
RM: Jennings hasn’t shown leading-man aptitude to date, but I agree that the Bucks have virtually no choice but to match whatever gruesome offer sheet comes his way in restricted free agency. Age is a powerful motivator in that decision; while Milwaukee has a tough call to make regarding two good players with functionally similar games, one is four years younger, better defensively and has the benefit of being a lesser-known quantity. Ellis will undoubtedly grow as a player as his career goes on, but we don’t have any reason to expect dramatic improvements or outright reinvention. He is who he is, while Jennings is only beginning to find out what he can be. That makes him a far more attractive piece for a Bucks team without much of an upward trajectory.
I’m not as down on Ellis as most, but I do think he needs very specific conditions in order to succeed, and sharing the backcourt with Jennings over the long term doesn’t exactly fit his needs. He gave the Bucks a way out after they tired of waiting for Andrew Bogut, and given that Bogut has progressed with the pace of a Peter Jackson epic since suffering a wave of injuries, Milwaukee is surely glad to be rid of that concern. But that doesn’t mean Ellis was anything more than a temporary fixture, fit to be repackaged and returned to the store either at the deadline or if he winds up declaring for free agency next summer.