If you've been keeping tabs on what the New York Knicks have been doing over the past few months, then you'll notice that they haven't exactly been shy in their chase of acquiring Dallas Mavericks guard Jalen Brunson during free agency this summer.
It started when several members of the Knicks' brass -- including William Wesley and Julius Randle -- attended Dallas' first-round playoff series against the Utah Jazz to no doubt scout Brunson. It continued with the Knicks signing Brunson's father, Rick Brunson, as an assistant coach on Tom Thibodeau's staff. Then during the 2022 NBA Draft Thursday night, New York orchestrated several moves that resulted in freeing up $18 million in cap space this summer. All of these moves have been made with the thought that the Knicks would try to make a serious run at Brunson, something that suddenly has real momentum after Thursday night's transactions, according to Mark Stein.
"Sources say that New York's ability during Thursday night's NBA Draft to offload Kemba Walker's $9.2 million salary for next season, coupled with a growing belief that it can shed further salary to expand its offer when the marketplace officially opens next Thursday, has established the Knicks as a very credible threat to bring Brunson to Gotham.
One source close to the process described that threat as "very, very, very real."
Prior to Thursday's draft, the Mavericks were considered the favorites to re-sign Brunson, as they can offer him the most money with an extra fifth year on a deal. However, Stein reports that Brunson is "enticed" by the idea of being the primary ballhandler for the Knicks, as well as the family ties that connect him to the organization. In addition to Brunson's father being on the coaching staff, Knicks president Leon Rose was the former Villanova product's agent prior to jumping to a front office role, and is regarded as family to Brunson, per Stein.
As worrisome as that may sound to the Mavericks' chances of re-signing Brunson, Dallas general manager Nico Harrison said after Thursday's draft that the team doesn't have a high level of concern when it comes to trying to re-sign their star guard.
"I mean, we're aware of [the Knicks clearing cap space] but we knew they would do that," Harrison said. "We weren't shocked that they did that. They tried to do it at the trade deadline. [We] don't really have a concern level. It was expected."
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In addition to that, Harrison also said the team is optimistic about their chances to re-sign Brunson.
"Honestly, until he tells us he doesn't want to be here, we're optimistic," Harrison said. "We haven't heard otherwise, so we're optimistic. We have to be."
Dallas can be as optimistic as it wants, but if this comes down to opportunity over money, then the Mavs should be somewhat concerned about Brunson leaving for New York. We saw what Brunson was capable of when Luka Doncic was sidelined for the first three games of the playoffs against the Jazz. He averaged 32 points, 5.3 assists and 5.3 rebounds to carry Dallas to a 2-1 series lead when Doncic returned. As long as Brunson stays in Dallas, he'll always be second fiddle to Doncic, and if he wants an opportunity to be the top guard, then it would have to happen elsewhere.
The Mavericks losing Brunson for nothing would be a significant blow for a team that doesn't have the financial flexibility to immediately replace his production. If it does happen, though, Stein reports that Dallas would look to add more wing depth rather than going out and finding a Brunson replacement. Obviously, though the Mavericks would rather have Brunson's name signed on the dotted line. We'll have to wait and see how this plays out when free agency starts, but it sure sounds like the Mavericks will have to work a little harder than expected to retain Brunson.