Point guard swap meet convenes in Detroit

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Charles F. Gardner, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Monday, November 25, 2013

DETROIT—Brandon for Brandon.

Which one will shine the brightest?

It’s still far too early to tell following the late July sign-and-trade deal that sent point guard Brandon Jennings from the Milwaukee Bucks to Detroit in exchange for point guard Brandon Knight.

The Bucks parted ways with Jennings after four up-and-down seasons that had their share of highlights but also plenty of low moments.

Now Jennings will get his first shot at his old team Monday night as the Pistons host the Bucks at the Palace of Auburn Hills.

The rebuilding Bucks were not willing to commit major dollars to Jennings, who received a three-year, $24 million contract in the sign-and-trade.

But it’s unclear what they have in Knight, the third-year pro who will turn 22 next week. Knight suffered a right hamstring injury in the first 2 minutes of the season opener and has been sidelined for most of the first month.

Knight did return off the bench in the Bucks’ 96-72 loss to Charlotte on Saturday, the team’s eighth consecutive defeat. In 26 minutes Knight went 1 for 8 and scored three points while adding seven assists and four turnovers.

Jennings was slowed at the start of the season by an impacted wisdom tooth but has been a fixture in the Detroit lineup.

Entering a Sunday game at Brooklyn, Jennings was averaging 15.9 points and 7.8 assists. But he was shooting just 37.4 percent overall and 30.6 percent from three-point range.

Jennings gave hints throughout the 2012-’13 season that he was ready to leave Milwaukee in free agency. And he made it clear he was unhappy when Scott Skiles and the Bucks parted ways last January, leaving Jim Boylan as interim coach.

But Jennings’ free agency dragged into late July until general manager John Hammond made the trade with Detroit. Earlier Hammond had tried to pry away restricted free agent guard Jeff Teague from Atlanta, showing the Bucks also were moving in another direction.

But the Hawks matched the Bucks’ four-year, $32 million offer for Teague. Jennings was left in limbo for much of the summer.

In a recent interview Jennings gave to Yahoo Sports, he said he was certain his time in Milwaukee had ended following the Bucks’ first-round playoff exit.

“I just wanted a new start,” Jennings told Yahoo. “Seeing a bunch of my teammates leave, Monta (Ellis), J.J. (Redick), Mike Dunleavy, everybody, the coaching staff I’d been around for four years, everything was different. I felt like they were going in a different direction and I felt like I had do the same.”

Jennings said that his 55-point game against Golden State, in just his seventh professional game in 2009, was “a blessing and a curse.”

And he developed a reputation for scoring rather than being a set-up-his-teammates point guard.

But he came close to making the all-star team last season and was bitterly disappointed when he was not chosen to the Eastern Conference squad.

His play tailed off in the second half of the season and he struggled in the playoff series against Miami.

“It just opened up my eyes,” Jennings told Yahoo of his long wait for a contract in the offseason. “I just realized that I had to get back to focusing on basketball. Basketball had to be the No. 1 priority like it was in high school for me. The first four years in Milwaukee it really wasn’t.

“I got a little fame (with) the 55-point game, getting to the playoffs here and there. I lost focus on what was most important.”

Knight was Detroit’s starting point guard in his first two NBA seasons after playing just one year at Kentucky. He averaged 13.1 points and 3.9 assists in 141 career games with the Pistons, including 135 starts.

The Bucks believe they received another talented player in the July trade with Detroit. Small forward Khris Middleton has carved out a spot in the rotation and scored 20 points in 28 minutes Saturday against Charlotte.

“There’s no hard feelings with Detroit,” Middleton said. “They did what they had to do.

“When I looked at the roster and talked to John Hammond and the coaches here, I just thought it was going to be a great opportunity for me here.”

The 6-foot-7 Middleton, a Pistons second-round pick from Texas A&M in 2012, is averaging 9.8 points and 3.3 rebounds while playing in all 12 games (24.8 minutes per game) for Milwaukee.

Middleton, 22, suffered an injury early in training camp but returned quickly and made an impact.

“I wanted to come back and push myself, work as hard as I could and earn a spot in the rotation,” Middleton said. “I try not to force things and force my shot.

“Just go with the flow, and the ball will find me if I’m open.”

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