The Dallas Mavericks have been anticipating Jalen Brunson’s likely departure for weeks, according to multiple league sources the athleteand it is now considered certain that the 25-year-old guard will sign with the New York Knicks when free agency opens on Thursday.
While the team went into the offseason believing Brunson would prefer a return to Dallas, it’s clear that what New York has to offer — a lucrative contract, more opportunities and family ties — was an influential factor in Brunson’s upcoming decision .
So far, it’s unclear to what extent money will play a role in Brunson’s decision — ESPN reported that Dallas would have bid less annually than the four-year, $100 million bid New York is preparing — compared to other competing factors such as Brunson’s father, Rick , who joins the Knicks’ coaching staff, and several other close ties Brunson has to the New York organization. But Mavericks players and executives have understood the increasing likelihood of Brunson’s departure as an unrestricted free agent in recent weeks. (Last Thursday, Marc Stein had the first significant report of the offseason on the possibility.) Within the Mavericks’ organization, talks have shifted from re-signing Brunson to replacing its production line, as well as the possibility of a sign-and-trade deal for Brunson, who could at least keep Dallas from losing him for nothing.
Like the Mavericks, Brunson may have gone into this offseason believing he would return to Dallas, sources say, and it’s unclear when and why those feelings changed. If there was one uncomfortable aspect of his past season, in which Brunson otherwise broke through as the Mavericks’ second option, it was the team’s decision to withhold an offer of a pre-season extension — and then again during the season. It’s unclear if Brunson would have actually signed the four-year, $55.5 million deal, the most Dallas was able to offer him over the year. While Rick Brunson told ESPN in April that his son would have been ready to sign him in January, there was a firm belief in the league that Brunson had already moved into more lucrative territory by that point. In any case, the extension was never officially offered.
Brunson’s official departure from the Mavericks would be taken as a blow, even if it was expected recently. As the Mavericks’ season ended in the Western Conference Finals last month, the team’s general manager Nico Harrison said that signing Brunson was the team’s top priority. In the final months of the season, Dallas used its ability to rotate three playmaking guards, fueling the team’s postseason more than expected. It would be surprising for the team not to repeat this approach next season, which would necessitate Brunson’s replacement in any way.
As it stands, Dallas will go into next season with a roster about $7 million above the luxury tax threshold, making them a tax-paying team for the first time since the 2010-11 NBA season. That was the main argument for keeping Brunson at all costs, even if it would have vaulted the Mavericks well past the taxed penalty they would currently pay if the roster stays the same.
Still, Dallas is expected to stay above the luxury tax limit this offseason, with more moves awaited. However, it has become clear that the future they are preparing for is one without Brunson.
(Photo: Kevin Jairaj / USA TODAY Sports)