The NBA’s window for free agency negotiations doesn’t open until 5 p.m. Dallas time Thursday.
But signs two days early point toward a disappointing start for the Mavericks.
Starting guard Jalen Brunson hasn’t informed Dallas’ front office about where he plans to sign in what’s become a head-to-head pursuit between the Mavericks and the New York Knicks, a source told The Dallas Morning News on Tuesday.
But the source said the Mavericks expect Brunson will choose the Knicks — and their family- and stardom-related perks — when the league allows players and teams to start verbally agreeing to new contracts at 11 p.m. Thursday.
In that case, consider the Mavericks to be in an early offseason hole.
Since their season ended in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals, general manager Nico Harrison and the Mavericks’ leadership haven’t hesitated to label Brunson’s return as their No. 1 goal.
“It’s easy. It’s the top priority,” Harrison said in his exit interview May 27. “We’ve got to figure that out. … We’re not in control of it, but he’s definitely a priority. We want to re-sign him. He knows we want him back and [to] be part of our future.”
The Mavericks had multiple chances to secure that over the last year.
Since last offseason, Brunson has been eligible for a four-year, $55 million extension to the second-round rookie year contract he signed in 2018.
But the Mavericks didn’t present it to Brunson’s camp before the season or at the midway point — when an agreement before the trade deadline would’ve made Brunson ineligible for Dallas to include in a potential deal.
After moving Kristaps Porzingis at the deadline, the Mavericks extended the same four-years, $55 million offer to starting wing Dorian Finney-Smith, who signed immediately despite potential to earn more as an unrestricted free agent this summer.
In come the Knicks, who’ve targeted Brunson as their next leading point guard for a while.
Knicks executive William Wesley and Allan Houston and forward Julius Randle — a Euless native — sat courtside in American Airlines Center during the Mavericks’ first-round playoff series against the Jazz in April.
That’s when Brunson’s value skyrocketed as he tallied a combined 72 points and 11 assists to one turnover in Games 2 and 3 victories to carry the Mavericks through Luka Doncic’s three-game absence for a calf strain.
Soon after the Mavericks finished their upset playoff run — during which Brunson averaged 21.6 points and 46.6% shooting in 35 minutes a game — reports surfaced that the Knicks planned to add Brunson’s dad, Rick, as an assistant coach.
That didn’t surprise Dallas’ leadership, according to another source, who said discussions about Rick’s hiring surfaced as early as last December.
His dad’s role in New York added to a group with already strong ties to Jalen.
As an NBA journeyman, Rick was the first client of then-agent Leon Rose, now the Knicks’ president of basketball operations and extremely close to the Brunson family. Rose’s son, Sam, now represents Jalen as his day-to-day agent with Creative Artists Agency.
Rick has known Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau since high school three decades ago and coached on Thibodeau’s staffs with the Chicago Bulls (2010-12) and Minnesota Timberwolves (2016-18).
What has surprised the Mavericks: the growing sense that Jalen will opt to join New York despite Dallas’ ability to offer him the most lucrative contract and best shot at consistent team success.
As the original team that owns Brunson’s Bird rights, Dallas can offer him a five-year deal — while the NBA prohibits non-incumbents from negotiating more than four — with a first-year salary of up to $30 million and a total package up to $175 million.
That’d mark a massive increase from his $1.8 million salary in 2021-22, the last year of his rookie deal, while still allowing him to start alongside superstar Luka Doncic, learn from head coach Jason Kidd and help lead a franchise that expects to contend atop the Western Conference for years to come.
The Knicks, meanwhile, finished last season with a 37-45 record, have reached the playoffs just once in the last nine years, and draw attention for controversy and disappointment more often than for winning.
New York has cleared about $20 million in salary cap space since the end of the season and plans to create more, according to reports, in order to offer Brunson a four-year contract worth more than $100 million.
A source said earlier this month the Mavericks likely wouldn’t be interested in a sign-and-trade with Brunson because they didn’t covet any of the Knicks’ potential inclusions.
But the mindset at the team’s Design District facility may soon shift as fear of losing one of their most dependable mainstays for no return increases.
More to come on this developing story.
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