Achilles injury changes the Brandon Jennings equation

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 is good at scoring with a fast release and explosive first step. An Achilles injury though has slowed him down and shadowed his free agency

There are certain images of Brandon Jennings.

The lasting image might be something that came from his rookie year, a 55-point outburst against the Golden State Warriors in November 2009. His bounciness as he dribbles the ball is a trademark as much as his quick-trigger left-handed jumper.

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If there is one thing Jennings is, it is a scorer.

The ease with which he could rise over a defender and get a shot off was still something incredible. That is a skill that is hard to find and hard to fill for any team that needs the most basic element in an offense.

Some of the other numbers did not matter, Jennings has that skill that enamors scouts and makes him have some value in whatever role a team envisions for him. The future was boundless — he could develop into a star with the right understanding of the game or be a solid scorer off the bench in the mold of Jamal Crawford or John Starks, perennial Sixth Man of the Year winners.

That changed in Detroit. He blew out his Achilles and the explosion would have to be rebuilt to match that quick trigger. It was a yearlong journey to rebuild and get on the court, including a stint in the D-League.

Jennings was beginning to get “it,” averaging 15.4 points and 6.6 assists per game while shooting a 47.1 percent effective field goal percentage. Things seemed to be trending up for him when that injury derailed part of his career.

When he arrived in Orlando in February, it was still clear Jennings was dealing with the injury and still trying to get to 100 percent.

“I definitely don’t wish this injury on my worst enemy,” Jennings said during the season. “It’s a long process, I’m still recovering from it. I still have times when I think about it and times that I don’t. It’s a long process. But I’m back. People said I wouldn’t come back the way I used to be or come back at all. I’m blessed.”

Jennings averaged 7.0 points per game and 4.0 assists per game in 25 games with Orlando. He shot a 45.0 percent effective field goal percentage. There were moments where he did look like that player again.

There were more moments where it looked like he was still figuring out what his body could do and how he fit into the team.

Jennings said when he arrived that his first real practice was Feb. 18, his first day with the team. The Magic were getting a player that could contribute something but was still coming back from an injury.

That will be part of the consideration for the Magic and for any other team that considers signing Jennings now that he has hit free agency.

“We’ll have to see on that,” Rob Hennigan said the day he announced the trade acquiring Jennings. “Brandon is recovering from a significant injury and it is going to take a little time to recover the rhythm he had prior to the injury. We think he is functional now and able to compete at a high level. He’ll probably be the first to admit he is working off some rust. We’re going to help him regain the rhythm he had prior to the injury. That’s one of our main goals.”

Now that the season is over and free agency is quickly approaching, it is hard to tell whether Jennings did enough to make the Magic believe in him or what role he should have.

He has never been a reserve in his career until his recovery for this injury. And certainly if he gets healthy he should push for starter’s minutes again — even if he has a bit of a gunner mentality or reputation. Jennings’ future is tied to his health.

It seems with the current controversy over Elfrid Payton‘s future that may or may not have caused Scott Skiles to resign, Jennings’ desire for a larger role and desire to prove he can do more makes him a poor fit for the Magic.

But the questions that remain about his health could prevent him from finding that role, and certainly the money he is looking for.

Brandon Jennings, Milwaukee Bucks
Feb 11, 2013; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Milwaukee Bucks guard Brandon Jennings (3) sits on the floor after he was fouled during the game against the Washington Wizards at the Bradley Center. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports /

Jennings is not likely to see his $8 million per year salary. As much as he wants a starting job, he is not likely in line for that either.

So the question facing the Magic is whether they want to bring him back to play that reserve role and whether Jennings would accept that role behind Payton. And then take on the risk that Jennings is and can remain healthy without any impediments.

“Sometimes there is still a mental aspect over something that serious when you know you are a 100 percent,” former Magic coach Scott Skiles said in February following his first practice. “It can still take a year or even more to get fully back from that. He hit the ground really well today. He looked good.”

Jennings seemed still to have good days and bad days in his short time with the Magic. The question about whether he is fully healthy and fully capable of reaching the level he was at before his injury will be the big question for his free agency.

Orlando is looking for a veteran point guard to back up Elfrid Payton, most likely. The team needs someone with a scoring tendency and ability to put the ball in the basket.

Jennings just may not be that guy. Not with the uncertainty around him and how much he struggled in that same role with a familiar coach guiding him.

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Jennings will latch on somewhere. It is just not likely to be with the Magic this summer as his career faces a major question.