Brandon Jennings and Tyreke Evans in 2010, when the air was sweeter (Getty Images)
Once you take the lockout's chunk out of his 2011-12 paycheck, Sacramento Kings guard Tyreke Evans is making just $3.35 million this season. Milwaukee Bucks point man Brandon Jennings is making even less, at around $2.1 million. Quite a hefty haul, for you and I, but that's pretty slim takings by NBA standards; Jennings even plays for less than half of the league's average salary. It's because they're on rookie-deal contracts, scaled out to them when they entered the NBA in 2009, put in place to counter the outrageous demands of players like Glenn Robinson and Jim Jackson when they entered the NBA (ready to feel old?) nearly 20 years ago.
For their production, it's quite the bargain for Sacramento and Milwaukee. It's also why you don't see many young players (unless their name is "Charlie Villanueva") being dealt to other teams while they're still under their rookie deals. It's also why we have no idea why the Kings and Bucks are apparently shopping the youngsters in anticipation of this Thursday's trade deadline.
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Not because we're incredibly bullish on either player's game. Jennings has improved by a good margin in his third NBA season, but it's taken this long for him to average 40 percent shooting from the floor, and he's firing over six 3-pointers a game despite shooting just 33.7 percent from long range. Evans enjoyed a nice milestone in his rookie season as he averaged 20 points, five rebounds and five assists per game; but he's made some poor choices off the court, and he seems to be lost on the court at times if he's not allowed to completely dominate the ball as he did during that rookie season. Still, what are you going to get for them in return, at their limited price?
For those that are hopping on board during trade deadline season, understand that capped-out NBA teams (and most teams are over the salary cap) must approximate the salary they're trading away with the salary they're taking back in. And while Jennings or Evans likely wouldn't be dealt in a one-on-one deal, that unholy mix of potential, age (both are just 22), already-there production and smallish contracts make for an odd combo. Again, it's why you don't see many players on rookie deals dealt, especially when teams that employ those contracts have the right to keep the players around until their first unrestricted turn as a free agent hits in 2014.
It's not a stretch to wonder if the Kings and Bucks could pull something sound out of such a deal. Dumping Evans or Jennings for a sure-fire lottery selection or burgeoning young talent would work in a vacuum, and it could work as a way for the Kings or Bucks to lift John Salmons, Stephen Jackson or Drew Gooden off of their payroll. As long as you ignore quite a bit, such a constructed deal might be feasible or even beneficial.
What lottery-bound team is going to offer up a pick in this year's draft for either player, though? What team is going to replace four or even five years of an incoming rookie in a league-mandated contract for two years of Evans and Jennings making that scratch? What team would be willing to take on a superfluous veteran in the process, and why would the Bucks and Kings (wary of payroll concerns in their limited market as it is) work up a dollar-for-dollar deal that would have them paying just as much money for the last month of the 2011-12 season?
To say nothing (well, let's say something) of the fact that the teams would be dealing young talent to make up for terrible trades and deals. Outside of Drew Gooden (who is having a fantastic year in Milwaukee after an iffy first season with the Bucks) the Jackson and Salmons deals were chided by NBA analysts the day they were made, and Salmons and Jackson have lived up to those wary expectations. How many mistakes can you counter with a mistake before being mistaken as right all along?
It's just a bad scenario, in every conceivable way. To have Evans fall off or Jennings fall out of favor (in response to his comments from a few months ago about his 2014 free agency) enough to be put on the block just three years into a career is rough stuff for Bucks and Kings fans. To have a deal even be considered in order to make up for past personnel screwups is even rougher.
And to have the rebuilding extended for the duration of yet another rookie contract scale is a little bit distressing. These two players were supposed to be the future of their respective franchises. Now all they're doing is reminding of the past.
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