An NBA team's medical staff doesn't just treat the club's current players or work with the "performance team" of trainers and strength/conditioning staffs. They are also critical to advising the front office on trades or free agency. The first thing teams exchange when talking trade --after the players contracts-- is their medical reports. It's up to the medical staff to review the reports and make a judgment on a player's health.
That could be critical this summer as the Nets look for a starting point guard. There's a lot of medical reports to sift through as some of the top candidates ended last season in street clothes. And in a real oddity, three free agent PGs the Nets might be interested in are dealing with injuries to their achilles.
Brandon Jennings ruptured his achilles in January 2015 and although team doctors believed he could be back on the court in six to nine months, he did not look good this past season, splitting it between Detroit and Orlando, averaging less than seven points and four assists.
Then, in March, the Grizzlies' Mike Conley and Mario Chalmers both had to sit out the season after achilles injuries. Conley had to sit from March 6 with achilles tendinitis. Three days later, Chalmers blew out his achilles and was released.
The Grizz sat Conley because 1) he couldn't even walk without a limp and 2) the Memphis front office feared that tendinitis could lead to a rupture, which other than a torn ACL is about the worst injury a basketball player can sustain. The Nets no doubt will pursue Conley. Chalmers on the other hand is just beginning his rehab. That leaves Jennings. There's a lot to like about Jennings, starting with his youth, but is he worth the risk? Can he play at the same level he did before he went down?
It's almost impossible to believe that Jennings is only 26. The Los Angeles native was the 2008 Naismith Prep Player of the Year in high school and he seemed poised to be a collegiate star for hometown USC. Then, he changed course and committed to Arizona. But, a year later, he skipped college altogether to play professionally in Italy for Lottomatica Roma.
Much like current Nuggets point guard Emmanuel Mudiay did a couple of years later, Jennings dumped college to instead play overseas at a high level for a season. That would make him eligible for the NBA Draft. Following an underwhelming season with Lottomatica, he was picked 10th overall in 2009, just one selection before the Nets drafted Terrence Williams. Not great company.
Since entering the league, Jennings has gone from certain star with the Bucks to a short and injury-riddled stints with the Pistons and Magic. He spent the last half of the 2015-16 season -- after recovering from an achilles injury -- with the Magic and didn't impress by any means.
There were high points. Three times, he scored 20 or more points, including 20 against the Warriors in March. He had two double digit assist games and five times, he hit three or more three-pointers. All reminiscent of his game when he played for Milwaukee and Detroit. He admitted he wasn't his old self during an extensive rehab, chronicled by Evan Waghelstein of Complex just last week.
Now an unrestricted free agent at the likely low point of his value, Jennings is the rare young guard whose value is on the decline, not an uptick. It just so happens that the Nets need a new point guard, have almost no assets to trade for one and would be well-advised to pick up a useful piece on the cheap. It seems like Jennings and Brooklyn could be a decent match ... at least on the surface.
The Nets, at least according to Sheridan Hoops, actually were interested in trading for Jennings during the season, but Stan Van Gundy dismissed the story as "made-up shit." Obviously, nothing went down and Brooklyn's front office looks radically different now than it did in February. But is Jennings the type of player the Nets can both afford and could give legitimate minutes to? The Nets medical staff's assessment may be critical to the decision.
When healthy, Jennings has always been a serviceable point guard but who would never be confused for an efficient player. However, before his injury two regular seasons ago, Jennings was playing pretty well for the Pistons. In 41 games, he shot .401/.360/.839 while averaging 15.4 points and 6.6 assists. And let's not forget that wondrous 55-point game his rookie year. But he hasn't been able to regain that form since returning to the floor.
Point guard play was one of the Nets' many weaknesses last season. Shane Larkin and Donald Sloan provided isolated pockets of promise, but they just weren't good enough playmakers to make the Brooklyn offense somewhat respectable. There's no arguing that both guys are good enough backups, but should not be starters.
Now, as Sean Marks and Kenny Atkinson sort through the possibilities, there will be other concerns, like the achilles injuries suffered by three point guard candidates. And if the Nets are interested in Rajon Rondo, they will no doubt take a look into his medical records, too. After all, he is only three years past ACL surgery (and two past hand surgery).
The Nets season, which wasn't going well in January, turned into a death spiral after their starting point guard blew out his knee, and basically sealed the Nets decision not to exercise their team option on him. With that in mind, how much of a factor will injuries be come July?
Brandon Jennings is an undeniably talented player who could be gotten for cheap and is pretty young. The Nets would be doing themselves a disservice by not giving him a hard look in free agency.