By DREW OLSON
The fork in the road is approaching quickly, and it will test Brandon Jennings’ decision-making ability more vigorously than any trapping double-team he has encountered while playing point guard for the Bucks.
Midway through his third season in the NBA and his 22nd on the planet, Jennings finds himself within striking distance of his first all-star appearance, an honor that would serve as sweet reward for the sacrifices he has made on playgrounds and practice gyms from Compton, Calif., to Casale Monferrato, Italy.
If he lives up to his promise and experiences a level of personal and team success, Jennings could follow in the footsteps of predecessors like Michael Redd, Ray Allen and his current assistant coach, Sidney Moncrief.
If he continues to act like he did during the Bucks’ 107-105 loss to Phoenix on Tuesday night at the Bradley Center, he could find among the mass of Milwaukee misfits like Gary Payton and Gary Sheffield and other talented-but-troubled standouts who passed poutingly out of town.
When Jennings scored 57 points and led the Bucks to a playoff berth as a rookie, it seemed like he was handling the Rust Belt adjustment reasonably well.
Right now, it looks like it could go either way.
If you weren’t paying attention -- and judging by the empty seats this season at the Bradley Center there is a good chance you weren’t -- here is a recap of what has transpired over the past week:
Wednesday, Feb. 1 -- Jennings leads the way with 31 points as the Bucks stun Miami for the second time this season, taking a 105-97 victory at the Bradley Center and improving their record to 10-11
Friday, Feb. 3 -- The Bucks crash back to earth with a dismal effort in Detroit, where they lose to the lowly Pistons, 88-80. Jennings scores a team-high 20 points in the loss, which is marked by lackluster play in nearly aspect.
Saturday, Feb. 4 -- With the Bradley Center invaded by Chicago fans, the Bulls pound Milwaukee by a 113-90 margin. Jennings plays just 20 minutes and scores eight points in the game, which went ugly early.
Tuesday, Feb. 7 -- On the morning of a rematch with the Suns, the Journal Sentinel asks Jennings about veteran Stephen Jackson’s reduced playing time.
"I feel like he should have played against Chicago,” Jennings tells the paper. “The fact we were struggling - I was in foul trouble - maybe he could have gave us a spark.
"Just his presence probably could have changed the game, you just never know. Especially a guy like that who has been sitting down for so long. When they're sitting down for so long and they come in, they've always got that spark that can help us.
"I was a little disappointed, just the fact he didn't get a chance to play and I feel he could have done something for us."
Hours after the comments appear, the Bucks get off to a horrible start against Phoenix, trailing by 17 at halftime and 21 in the first quarter. Jennings, described later by Coach Scott Skiles as “disconnected” attempts one shot in the first half and four for the game. He appears to be sleepwalking at times, much in the way that his teammate, friend and apparent mentor
Stephen Jackson did earlier this season.
Led by the second unit, the Bucks rallied to close the gap and lost a 107-105 decision when they failed to attempt a shot coming out of a timeout with 5 seconds left.
I don’t know for sure if Skiles or anyone else talked to Jennings about the Jackson comments. I do know that Jennings did not look like an all-star or team leader against the Suns. He was described as “distant” during the post-game session with reporters.
After the game, before heading to a Toronto nightclub with Jackson, Jennings issued the following message from his Twitter account: “I'm not a role model so stop trying make me one. My life has no rules I do what I want!”
The comment later was scrubbed.
Jennings and Jackson engaged some critics on Twitter, with Jackson writing on his account: “If u not a real fan of mine or if u dont make 9mil per yr. or have more than 500 followers. Dont tweet me. Lmpao.”
Jackson followed that with another missive: “I can only b me. The person God created. Im happy with it. Love it or leave it. Cant make everyone happy. Dont try. #2real”
At this point, Bucks fans are asking obvious questions:
If the playoffs began today, the Bucks would be the No. 8 seeded team in the Eastern Conference. The playoffs don’t begin today. The Bucks are 10-14, but they’ve lost three in a row and are carrying the stench of a team with a much lower record.
It’s too early to say that we’ve reached a tipping point in this season / soap opera, but the fork in the road is approaching pretty rapidly for the Bucks, an aging forward and a young point guard with a long future ahead of him.
Although many in Milwaukee have turned their Bucks switch from "Anger" to "Apathy," there is a pretty good chance that the next few weeks -- whether good, bad, positive or negative -- are going to be worth watching.