Leon Rose and the Knicks are on the clock again. This time, they intend to come away with an impact player.
A week after trading out of the first round of the NBA Draft with this very night in mind, the Knicks are believed to be in the driver’s seat to land Mavericks free-agent point guard Jalen Brunson.
But Brunson will meet with other teams before making a decision, Yahoo Sports reported. The 25-year-old former Villanova star will take meetings with the Knicks, Mavericks and Heat starting Thursday at 6 p.m., when the free agency period begins.
Brunson has numerous ties to the Knicks — team president Rose is his former agent, Rose’s son, Sam, is his current agent, he has strong relationships with coach Tom Thibodeau and guard Derrick Rose, his father, Rick, was recently hired to join Thibodeau’s staff and he grew up in southern New Jersey — and he has been their focus for quite some time. They have cleared more than $30 million worth of cap space to offer him a four-year deal in excess of $100 million. They traded away veterans Kemba Walker, Nerlens Noel and Alec Burks, along with the No. 11 pick in the 2022 draft.
On Tuesday, a number of reports painted the Knicks as the heavy favorites to sign Brunson. Dallas, ESPN reported, was only willing to offer Brunson a five-year deal in the ballpark of the four-year, $85 million deal Raptors guard Fred VanVleet signed in 2020. Brunson declined a four-year, $55.5 million contract from Dallas after the trade deadline.
A source close to Brunson believes that unless the Mavericks take a different stance on what they are willing to offer, and up the money per year, he will be a Knick.
“It would be tough to turn down,” the source said.
The Heat, meanwhile, would need the Mavericks to agree to a sign-and-trade to work out a deal since they don’t have nearly enough cap space to pay Brunson anywhere close to what the other two franchises would be able to pay him.
There is one school of thought that the Knicks are overpaying for Brunson, a player who just became a full time-starter for the Mavericks in December. They had to move several draft picks (including the No. 11-overall choice this year) and veteran players to create enough cap space to afford him. A former second-round pick, Brunson has averaged 11.9 points, 3.7 points and 3.0 rebounds in 24.7 minutes while shooting 37.3 percent from 3-point range across his five-year NBA career.
“It will make them more competitive, but it doesn’t take them to a serious contender,” a league source said. “He’s a very talented player. What does he turn the Knicks into? Probably they advance past the play-in. Do they win a round? I don’t know.
“I don’t think what they have in place now — him, Julius [Randle] and RJ [Barrett] as your top three — is going to crack into the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference.”
Brunson is only 25, and is coming off by far his best season, in which he posted career-bests in points (16.3), assists (4.8), rebounds (3.9) and minutes (31.9). Brunson was terrific in the playoffs, helping the Mavericks reach the Western Conference Finals by posting 21.6 points, 4.6 rebounds and 3.7 assists. He showed his potential when superstar Luka Doncic was injured in the first round, producing games of 41 and 31 points in wins over the Jazz.
Former Knick and current Mavericks wing Reggie Bullock took to Twitter in support of Brunson’s big payday.
“JB deserves everything coming his way, true hard worker and def LIKE DAT,” he tweeted with bag and dollar sign emojis. “AND BETTER PERSON OFF THE COURT.”
The Knicks still have 11 first-round picks over the next seven years and have managed to keep all of their young players. Those assets could enable them to swing a big trade, though they missed out on Spurs All-Star guard Dejounte Murray, who was reportedly dealt to the Hawks on Wednesday for a package centering around three first-round picks.
If Brunson does in fact pick the Knicks, he would potentially fill a decades-long void at point guard for the franchise that used Burks out of position at the spot last year there due to injuries to Derrick Rose and Walker.
Since 2009, the Knicks have had 12 different starting point guards on opening night. Only Raymond Felton, in 2010 and 2012, started at the position more than once in openers during that stretch. The list has included journeymen such as Felton, Trey Burke, Ramon Sessions, Chris Duhon and Jose Calderon.
Brunson, on paper at least, would be the Knicks’ best floor general since Derek Harper way back in the mid-1990s. Brunson is in his prime and coming off his best season as a pro. He would join franchise linchpin Barrett to form a young 1-2 backcourt duo that could lead the Knicks back into playoff contention.
But first, the Knicks must sign him.
Brunson was the reason they came away from the first round of the draft empty-handed last week. This, the Knicks hope, will be the payoff for a busy week of moves.
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