It isn’t a secret that the Knicks are still looking for another guard to add to their backcourt. They’re currently still set to rely on Jose Calderon to play a big role in the upcoming season, especially as they wait for first-round pick Jerian Grant to come along.
The Knicks may not be ready to compete for a championship, but they still have aspirations of beginning the on-the-court turnaround and fighting for a playoff spot in a weak Eastern Conference. In order to get that far, Calderon is going to come up woefully short for what the team needs. Grant and Langston Galloway have promise, but if the team was confident they could get the job done alone, the team wouldn’t be looking outside the organization for help. The Knicks already expressed interest in trading for Jamal Crawford in their quest for a third guard, but if they’re willing to wait, they might find a better option in Brandon Jennings during the upcoming season.
Jacob Street of Inquisitr.com was the first I saw to bring up this possibility, and it no doubt stemmed from the rumors that the team was looking to move Calderon for a quality guard. Crawford may be a luxury in Los Angeles, but he’s still a valuable member of a team with championship dreams. Even though the Clippers seem willing to trade him for the right return, the Knicks have to compete with the Heat and the Cavaliers among others, and don’t have much to offer that would entice Doc Rivers to pull the trigger believing he’d made his team better.
Jennings is a totally different case. Coming off a ruptured Achilles injury from back in January, the Pistons got used to life without him in Detroit last season. They traded for Reggie Jackson at the deadline and committed to him long term this offseason with a five-year deal worth $80 million. Playing the same position, the writing is on the wall for Jennings, who’d previously worn out his welcome in Milwaukee. Two ball-dominant guards aren’t going to coexist fluidly in Stan Van Gundy’s offense, particularly considering Jennings is a high-volume shooter who’s struggled with efficiency.
Moving Jennings to the bench is a solution, and one that he himself said he’d be willing to do, and that’s a role that suits the 25-year-old point guard. He can provide microwave offense in spurts off the bench and be the primary ball handler on the court. At the same time, he’ll become a luxury in the same way Crawford is in Los Angeles. Unfortunately for the Pistons, a luxury like that isn’t as valuable when he isn’t a piece of a championship puzzle, and the team might be willing to move him during the season.
He may be the odd man out in Detroit, but Jennings would be a welcome addition to New York Basketball. The reason they’ve entertained putting a package together for Crawford is that they need another scorer and ball handler. Jennings not only solves both needs, but he’s an even better fit than Crawford would be. Arron Afflalo is a lock to start at the other guard position, and Crawford running the point on a bad Knicks team is a recipe for disaster. Crawford hasn’t logged major minutes as a point guard since his early years with the Bulls, and his score-first mentality flies in the face of the ball movement and zen philosophies of Phil Jackson’s offense.
At the very least, Jennings has shown the ability to run the offense without only looking for his own shot. If he was the golden ticket as a point guard he wouldn’t be getting replaced by Jackson, but he’s certainly closer to the desired skill set than Crawford is. Even if you think Grant is about to become a star for the Knicks as a rookie, Jennings gives the front office the ability to bring him along slowly as part of a three-guard rotation that resembles a professional backcourt. If Grant succeeds and does end up emerging as a starter, Jennings would still have a huge role as the sixth man, and could still log major minutes at both guard positions and have a chance to be the secondary scorer to Carmelo Anthony on many lineups, as well as leading the charge for the second unit.
Jennings hasn’t been a model teammate, and his scoring mentality along with hot and cold streaks ultimately led him out of Milwaukee. He hasn’t been sulking Josh Smith by any means, but there’s precedent for Van Gundy getting rid of a big-name player who doesn’t fit his system. That isn’t to say that Jennings will be cut, but if he isn’t fitting in with the team, the hope is Detroit will be willing to move him rather than have him negatively effect the locker room.
That’s the ideal scenario for the Knicks, who still don’t have a lot to offer in terms of a trade. They’d be including Calderon, who doesn’t have much value other than as a free throw shooter and a veteran. Galloway and Cleanthony Early are the only young pieces left on the roster who can plausibly contribute to an NBA roster and that the Knicks would be willing to move.
Jennings will be a free agent at the end of the season, and for a bad Pistons team set at point guard, the likelihood of either the player or team looking to continue the relationship is low. It’s uncertain if he’ll be ready for the beginning of the season or how well he’ll play when he returns to the court, but Jennings is an attractive option because the Knicks could buy low on him. If Galloway plays well in early action, him packaged with Calderon and maybe a second-round pick or a pick swap could be enough to get the deal done. If the Pistons have strong feelings for Lance Thomas, Early or (please no) Kyle O’Quinn, they could make a push to include them instead of Galloway or a pick.
For a one-year rental, the Knicks might not even have to give up that much for him, especially if he struggles finding minutes in Detroit or if he becomes a problem. Still, he turns 26 in September and there’d be a chance the Knicks could keep him at the end of the season if they like him. Of course by that logic, and if they aren’t going anywhere this year anyway, they could always wait until season’s end and then pursue him as a free agent.
The Knicks might be rumored to be a landing spot for a lot of guards who are on the outskirts of their current teams, but the later the season goes the more desperate real contenders get for some playmakers on the perimeter. Competition won’t be good for the Knicks in the trade market, because they won’t be willing to give up the future for help now like other teams will. A buy-low candidate like Jennings who could be available early on in the season is definitely one the Knicks should keep an eye on if they’re serious about adding a guard to their roster this season.