Jalen Brunson is getting closer and closer to his friends and family at the Knicks.
According to ESPN, the Mavericks point guard is “widely expected” to sign with New York on a four-year deal worth more than $100 million. A source said the Mavericks are still in the game because they can give Brunson more money as the incumbent team, but the draw of playing as the lead guard is appealing to Brunson – which he can’t do next to Luka Doncic in Dallas – and the Knicks is willing to offer more than market value.
Brunson has fans with the Mavericks, but isn’t the most natural match with Doncic, given their defensive limitations. Meanwhile, at least one Knicks top decision maker considers Brunson a top-10 NBA point guard, according to a source in touch with the organization. That’s hardly a direct path to title fight, but would certainly close a big gap in the lineup.
As it stands, the Knicks have $18 million in cap space and are in trade talks to create more. Alec Burks and Nerlens Noel have shopped the most aggressively, according to sources from three opponents.
Signing Brunson to such a lucrative contract is sure to open the front office to heavy criticism if it flops. Until Brunson’s breakthrough into the playoffs, his worth was widely considered to be up to $20 million a year in free agency. Just before last season, the Mavericks declined to offer a $55 million four-year extension.
But the Knicks have long coveted Brunson and are well known. His father, Rick, was recently hired as an assistant coach under Tom Thibodeau. Rick was also the first NBA client of former agent Leon Rose, who now runs the Knicks and recently attended Rick’s 50th birthday party.
Leon Rose’s son, Sam, became an agent and represents Jalen Brunson. In other words, if Brunson’s deal goes awry, Leon Rose would rightly be accused of looking after friends with James Dolan’s money rather than helping his employer. If it works out, Rose gets credit for his intuition and connections.
First, the Knicks have to create the space and get the signature. If the Mavericks put up with losing Brunson, they can help the Knicks — and help themselves — by facilitating a sign-and-trade.
Brunson’s pursuit was set in motion on draft night, when the Knicks made their first round pick for future assets and more cap space by shedding Kemba Walker. The Knicks could have struck a deal for guard Jaden Ivey in the draw by choosing Jalen Duren, according to sources, but declined the award and kept focus on Brunson.
The Knicks have only one major free agent on the market this week — center Mitchell Robinson — expected to re-sign, according to NBA reporter Marc Stein. They could also extend RJ Barrett’s deal for next season.