When the Milwaukee Bucks traded for scorer Monta Ellis before the 2012 trade deadline, most analysts wondered why they would want to obtain a player so similar to point guard Brandon Jennings, one of its ostensible franchise mainstays. Both players are quick, take questionable shots, tend to score in streaks, are slight in build, and struggle defensively. A team can get by with one player like that, but having two tends to exacerbate the problems that each presents.
With both Jennings and Ellis (who has an early termination option) potentially on the open market this summer, the Bucks have a choice as to which player to keep. According to Marc Stein of ESPN.com, they're nearing a decision on how to move forward:
And a free-agent rumble: There's a rising belief in exec circles that Bucks prefer to re-sign Monta Ellis over Brandon Jennings this summer
— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) May 29, 2013
Bucks still have coaching choice to make: Larry Drew or Kelvin Sampson. But in backcourt there is sense they prefer Monta/Redick next season — Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) May 29, 2013
In many ways, there's no way to win in this choice, because both Ellis and Jennings have proven they're not particularly well equipped to lead a team in this capacity. As Matt Moore argues at Eye on Basketball, the more sensible option would be to let both walk, keep J.J. Redick, sign a short-term point guard such as Jarrett Jack in free agency, and draft a long-term replacement. Doing otherwise signals that the Bucks aren't willing to get worse in order to rebuild, instead opting for a few more seasons of quasi-relevance and a lack of progress.
Yet, if they do feel compelled to choose between Ellis and Jennings, their apparent decision has its merits. Although the 23-year-old Jennings more easily fits into the standard point guard mold, his numbers show a player who has failed to improve at ages where most player see rapid improvement. At the advanced age of 27, Ellis isn't really improving either, but there's some hope that he could raise his efficiency. The Bucks at least know what they're getting with him — Jennings is still described in terms of vast reserves of potential he doesn't seem able to tap.
That's not to say that this move will work out. While I am inclined to compare any combination of off-guards to the extremely effective and even more watchable combination of Gilbert Arenas and Larry Hughes with the 2004-05 Washington Wizards, Monta Ellis serving as a primary facilitator is a potential disaster, even if he improved his assist numbers after the addition of Redick this season.
The problem for the Bucks is that they seem to be focusing on this choice without considering that rejecting the Jennings/Ellis binary entirely is in their best interest. Focusing on the familiar isn't always the right solution.