The Dallas Mavericks made it their top priority to re-sign Jalen Brunson this offseason, but this saga started four years ago. Brunson entered the 2018 NBA Draft after leading Villanova to two NCAA championships in three years, and Dallas had him as a first-round selection on their board, but Brunson slipped to 33rd where the Mavs snatched him.
Second-round picks have a lot more leeway in the money and structure of their rookie contract. Leon Rose, now Knicks president, was JB’s agent for his first NBA deal, and he negotiated him a four-year contract worth $6.1 million, but the final year was non-guaranteed, instead of a team option. The structure allowed Brunson to be an unrestricted free agent this summer as opposed to a restricted one, which prevented Dallas from being able to match any offer sheet.
Brunson appears all but certain to leave the Mavericks for the New York Knicks when free agency opens on June 30, and the team has nobody to blame but themselves because the structure of his rookie contract is far from the only time Dallas has botched this situation.
Dallas Mavericks should take all the blame when Jalen Brunson signs with Knicks
Fast forward to last year when JB barely played in Game 7 against the LA Clippers as the Mavericks were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs for the second straight year. The Mavericks made major changes, but they guaranteed his final season, which made Brunson extension eligible throughout the season. He was eager to sign the maximum four-year deal worth $55.6 million, but the Mavs did not offer it last summer.
In January, the 25-year-old guard approached the team about the extension, according to ESPN’s Tim MacMahon. It was the Mavericks that declined as they continued to search for trades ahead of the deadline. Dallas did not want to take trading JB off the table by giving him an extension.
After the deadline, the Mavericks offered him the max, but Brunson was playing too well. He declined this time as he was just months away from free agency and knew he was going to make more on the open market.
Dallas had two chances to sign him for a below-market value contract, and they passed up both for the sake of flexibility. It is the story of the Mark Cuban tenure in some ways. Always chasing the mythical move for a star player forced them to miss out on keeping Brunson long-term.
The Mavs remained confident they would re-sign Brunson coming into the offseason. They knew it was going to cost significantly more than $14 million per season because he averaged over 21 points per game in the playoffs as Dallas reached the Western Conference Finals for just the fifth time in franchise history. Still, they believed they were in the driver’s seat.
The Mavericks again misread the room as the Knicks were always planning a massive offer. Dallas thought they would beat it because they could offer a fifth year, but they underestimated the circumstances here. Brunson is close with Leon Rose, and his son, Sam, is now JB’s agent. The Knicks also hired Jalen’s dad to be an assistant coach for next season. The Knicks were willing to give him everything, including the chance to be the primary ball-handler in New York.
The Dallas Mavericks misplayed their hand here. Tim MacMahon reported that they were willing to offer a deal for five years in the ballpark of $110 million, which was not going to be enough to outbid the Knicks and Brunson’s strong ties in New York.
Nico Harrison only deserves some of the blame. He was not with the team when Rose structured the contract. Harrison did miss out on giving him the extension, and ultimately, it cost the Mavericks their second-best player.
The Mavs front office cannot cry over spilled milk at this point. Jalen Brunson is going to sign with the New York Knicks in free agency, so how can Dallas replace his production? It won’t be easy because the Mavericks are over the luxury tax line, but it is what Nico Harrison and company have to do.