Pistons' Jennings, Bucks' Knight say their trade worked out
Milwaukee — Brandon Knight feigned ignorance when the notion of him being highly motivated to defeat his former team was brought up, as the kid who admits finding motivation in everything said he couldn't muster anything for the franchise that drafted him.
"What was that, two years ago?" Knight asked, speaking of being traded for Brandon Jennings in July 2013.
"Nah. I don't worry about the trade or anything," Knight said. "Just about focusing on improving."
Knight was in good spirits after spearheading a third-quarter run that pushed the surprising Bucks over the disappointing Pistons, 99-89, Tuesday at the Bradley Center, as Jennings sat on the bench with a sprained left thumb.
Let both of them tell it: Neither thinks much about it. The usual competitiveness that comes with guys getting traded for each other doesn't exist — if you choose to believe them.
"It's over and done with," Jennings said. "It is what it is. So I moved on very quickly."
The swap was made for logical reasons on both ends. Pistons owner Tom Gores tacitly decreed the 2013-14 season needed to be one that didn't end in the middle of April, rather sometime in May, and Knight felt he was receiving mixed signals from then-coach Lawrence Frank and management.
"In Detroit, I think coach wanted me to do certain things. Management wanted me to do certain things," Knight said. "It wasn't really on one accord. It made it tough. Here, everybody's behind me.
"For me, it was a growing experience. I tried to please everybody in Detroit. Here I leave it in the Lord's hands and not try to make anybody happy."
Jennings was a restricted free agent, and his growth could have been stunted by playing loose and free under Scott Skiles — despite having led the Bucks to the playoffs in two of his four years.
"I definitely bonded with Skiles," Jennings said. "I was just young and instead of trying to learn the game, I was playing basketball. Now that I'm older, I try to think the game more.
"I had to mature. I had to grow up. If I wanted to be a real point guard and stay in this league and be a starting point guard, I had to think the game of basketball."
Jennings could make every basketball pass with his exceptional vision, but was branded as an undisciplined gunner who needed seasoning, and it was expected he would take the next step in Detroit, presumably with better talent around him.
It was the opposite for Knight, as in a way the two mirror each other. One's strength is the other's weakness.
One of the many criticisms of Knight was his inability to see the floor, as crucial an attribute for a point guard as vision is for a quarterback. Having a coach who played the game at its highest level provides him with a perspective he didn't get from Frank, who never played the game.
"I think you can improve, of course, the fundamentals of the game," coach Jason Kidd said. "Maybe you look at his court vision at 20-21, it's more narrow than it is at 22, a little wider at 23, he'll see more."
Knight said: "In a lot of situations it can make it tougher. Playing for J. Kidd, it makes it easier for me. They see the game, they understand it, they've played. They tell me what to look for because they've had that experience."
He fills the stat sheet just like Kidd did in his day, although in different ways. No longer as skittish, Knight's poised line of 20 points, eight assists, three rebounds and two steals is not an anomaly, as he leads a long, young and athletic Bucks team that's above .500 and in the playoff hunt.
Still learning to slow down, as evidenced by his steal and blown layup at the buzzer against Brooklyn last week, Knight admits he's a work in progress, still.
"I'm not a person to harp on that stuff," he said. "The way I feel, if I continue to do what I do, work hard, get better and win games, the cream always rises to the top."
Knight, a few days shy of his 23rd birthday, is one of seven players averaging at least 18 points, six assists and five rebounds, joining the likes of LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Damian Lillard and James Harden.
"Just assessing everything," Knight said. "The game, my teammates. Knowing time and score. Knowing where to get guys the ball. A lot of things have changed, as far as thinking the game. I used to play so fast when I first got to the league. The chemistry with my teammates wasn't really there as far as knowing where guys liked it."
Jennings has made a step in the right direction this season, averaging 16 points and 5.8 rebounds, as arguably the second-best player behind Greg Monroe. Aside from AAU and a couple of testy Pistons-Bucks matchups before the two were swapped, it's not like the two are keeping tabs on each other.
"My thing is, when I play the Bucks it's to win the game. I think I'm 4-1 against them," Jennings said. "I'm not trying to win a battle with Brandon Knight. I think winning a game is more important than stats."
The debate will likely continue, although neither will participate publicly, preferring to let their on-court play do the talking.
"Neither one of us made the playoffs, so nobody's really won the trade yet," Jennings said.