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Brandon Jennings gets fresh start with Pistons after humbling offseason

Marc J. Spears
Yahoo Sports

Brandon Jennings watched as one-by-one the NBA's marquee free agents signed new contracts last summer, waiting humbly for his own moment to arrive. Not until the last day of July did Jennings finally learn his landing spot when the Detroit Pistons worked a sign-and-trade agreement to acquire him from the Milwaukee Bucks.

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Brandon Jennings (right) is averaging 18.8 points and 5.6 assists this season. (AP)

"It just opened up my eyes," Jennings told Yahoo Sports of his long wait. "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."

The 10th overall pick in the 2009 NBA draft, Jennings quickly made an impression when he scored 55 points against the Golden State Warriors two weeks into his career. Over the next four seasons he earned a reputation for loving scoring more than setting up his teammates.

"Everybody was saying I was a selfish ballplayer and I wouldn't pass the ball," Jennings said.

Jennings was also outspoken about wanting out of Milwaukee. Coaching and roster changes didn't persuade him to re-sign, either.

"I just wanted a new start," Jennings said. "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 told Yahoo Sports last season he was considering staying with the Bucks during the final year of his contract to become an unrestricted free agent in 2014. That option became less appealing when the Bucks hired Larry Drew, a new coach unfamiliar to him. Playing out the last year of his contract also would be risky.

"For me, it was just a humbling experience," Jennings said.

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Pistons general manager Joe Dumars eventually struck a deal late in free agency with his old assistant GM – Bucks general manager John Hammond – to acquire Jennings in a sign-and-trade deal at the end of July. Jennings netted a three-year, $24 million extension with the Pistons while the Bucks acquired point guard Brandon Knight, forward Khris Middleton and center Viacheslav Kravtsov.

Dumars' selling point to Jennings was that he could turn his career to stardom in Detroit just like Chauncey Billups, Ben Wallace, Rasheed Wallace and Rip Hamilton did.

"All these different guys came through and were able to write a new chapter. I told him this was an opportunity to move forward and write a new chapter," Dumars said.

Jennings also gained a needed mentor in Billups. The 2004 NBA Finals MVP rejoined the Pistons in the offseason.

"A lot of things I've known and been through can help Brandon," Billups told Yahoo Sports. "He's got the game, the skill set, all of that. He just has to learn how to lead."

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The Pistons think they can make the playoffs this season with new coach Mo Cheeks and Jennings. (AP)

Along with that, Billups convinced Jennings to buy new suits to wear while he was sidelined – in hopes of improving his public image.

"You know young dudes and how they dress," Billups said. "I was like, 'Man, you got to be presentable for people to respect you. You got to dress nice. There are going to be 15,000, 20,000 people at these games that he wasn't playing. None of these people are going to meet you. But if you look nice with a suit on then they are going to paint a picture of you.' "

"I'm always trying to look sharp now," Jennings said.

Jennings missed the Pistons' first two games with an impacted wisdom tooth and jaw fracture. HipHollywood.com reported the rapper The Game punched Jennings in the jaw at a Los Angeles nightclub during the offseason after they argued over the use of a microphone during the Jennings' birthday party. Jennings declined comment to Yahoo Sports on the report.

Jennings said he played tentative his first three games with Detroit while trying to fit in. Dumars told Jennings to just be himself, and Jennings responded with 28 points and five assists in a losing effort to the Portland Trail Blazers.

"He was being passive, tentative and hesitant on the court. I told him, 'We didn't bring you out there to be like that. Play your game,'  " Dumars said.

Jennings said that despite early "ups and downs," the Pistons have the talent to return to the playoffs. He hopes his game and leadership will play a role in making that happen.

"I'm just keeping low-key and under the radar," Jennings said. "I'm just hooping. I'm just letting my game do the speaking and everything else just happens for itself."

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