Brandon Jennings’ focus fixed firmly on future

Feb 26, 2016; New York, NY, USA; Orlando Magic guard Brandon Jennings (55) dribbles the ball around New York Knicks guard Langston Galloway (2) during the first half at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 26, 2016; New York, NY, USA; Orlando Magic guard Brandon Jennings (55) dribbles the ball around New York Knicks guard Langston Galloway (2) during the first half at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports /

Brandon Jennings has shown flashes in his short stint with the Orlando Magic as he returns from injury. But his free agency future remains cloudy.

Brandon Jennings was brought to the Orlando Magic back in February to help make this season’s dream of a playoff push a reality. His veteran leadership and playmaking would provide a boost off the bench and some stability behind Elfrid Payton at point guard.

Now, with just six games left on the regular season schedule and the Magic officially ruled out of that race, Jennings is a player whose focus is fixed firmly on the future.

A six-year NBA veteran, Jennings boasts career averages of 15.6 points, 4.1 assists and 1.3 steals in 32.3 minutes per game, numbers that have taken a distinctive downturn since the ruptured achilles he suffered back in January 2015.

In the 23 appearances he has made for the Magic entering Sunday’s game against the Memphis Grizzlies, Jennings is averaging 7.1 points, 4.1 assists and 0.8 steals in 18.2 minutes per game. In that time he has made six starts, but has rarely resembled the dangerous scorer who averaged a career-high 19.1 points per game back in 2012.

This comes as no great surprise, as Jennings is still learning to trust his body again after recovering from an injury that required surgery and kept him out of action for almost an entire year.

He has shown flashes of his former self, including an 18-point, four-assist effort against the Dallas Mavericks in his debut, a 20-point, three-assist performance against the Golden State Warriors in early March and a well-balanced 12-point, 11-assist outing against the Denver Nuggets a week or so later.

He has also been equally ineffective at times, logging an 0-for-6 shooting night against the Phoenix Suns and a 1-for-8 shooting night against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

On Friday, against his old club the Milwaukee Bucks, Jennings finished with seven assists and three steals but also recorded four turnovers and went an uncharacteristic 0 for 2 from the floor in 18 minutes.

At times like these the frustration is palpable, as Jennings is clearly still capable of putting up big numbers, just not on a consistent basis right now.

Still rehabbing from an injury like his takes time. And Jennings is already looking toward the summer and the opportunity it will provide to work on both his ailing body and his game.

As he told Aaron McCann of Michigan Live ahead of last month’s game against his former club the Detroit Pistons:

"“The first thing is taking care of business this summer. That’s the biggest thing. I’ve got all the way until September, so I’ve got a whole summer this summer. My love for the game is crazy, so I’m going to be ready.”"

Of course, with free agency looming Jennings has no idea where he is likely to end up come next season but regardless of where that might be he seems determined to use it as a proving ground that will enable him to return to relevance once and for all.

There is a distinct possibility the Orlando Magic will be among his potential suitors come this summer, one determined largely by the fact Rob Henningan was willing to give up the promise of Tobias Harris to acquire Jennings and Ersan Ilyasova prior to this season’s trade deadline.

Of course, that trade was in part made to free up playing time for Aaron Gordon and Evan Fournier, and give the Magic a little more experience for that aforementioned playoff push. It was also done to clear up cap room for a run at a major free agent.

The question is what does that mean for Jennings and his potential future? Does he have a place with Orlando at a much lower price?

With this in mind, it seems highly likely Orlando will have conversations with Jennings , in the hope of getting one or perhaps both of them to consider short-term, low-salary deals that see them continue to pick up minutes off the bench. Ilyasova will likely be cut or traded before his full salary becomes guaranteed on July 1 to clear up the aforementioned cap room.

Given his circumstances, offering a guy like Jennings more than a few million to extend makes little sense, especially as the Magic appear to be committed to starting Elfrid Payton at the point, at least for the foreseeable future, and have C.J. Watson earning $5 million next year.

Brandon Jennings, Orlando Magic
Feb 19, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA; Orlando Magic guard Brandon Jennings (55) reacts after shooting a three pointer against the Dallas Mavericks during the first quarter at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

Although only 26 years old, it is currently unclear as to whether Jennings will ever serve as a starter in the NBA again. That said, if he is willing to continue playing off the bench in a sixth man role, Orlando may be the perfect place to do so, especially as it gives him the opportunity to continue serving under his old coach and mentor from Milwaukee, Scott Skiles, while playing on a team that is not necessarily expected to achieve a great deal in the next couple of seasons.

On the flip-side, there is also a distinct possibility a handful of teams will be willing to make Jennings a more serious offer and perhaps even starters’ minutes somewhere down the line, banking on his continuing recovery. And such a scenario makes a lot more sense for a player who was drafted 10th overall in 2009 and who showed so much promise in the early stages of his career.

He could for instance be the kind of player a team like the New York Knicks pursue, as Jennings appears to have both the confidence and the ability to thrive under the bright lights of Madison Square Garden, even if it takes him a year or two to grow into that role.

Sacramento may be another potential landing spot, especially if the Kings choose not to invest any more time or money in Rajon Rondo, who hasn’t exactly set the world alight this season.

Although Jennings recently told Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders that he could see himself growing in Orlando, destinations like New York and Sacramento make far more sense, as neither has a long-term option at the point and both Carmelo Anthony and DeMarcus Cousins are in desperate need of high-caliber running mates.

Next: OMD Podcast: The future and a win streak

Regardless of where Jennings ends up, he is certainly going to attract a flurry of interest this summer. And certainly at less than the $8 million salary he is making now.

Assuming the Magic can assemble the right deal, they may find themselves ahead of the pack. But this scenario is most probably going to be determined by money and fit, and right now both factors seem to suggest Jennings’ future lies elsewhere.