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Jalen Brunson, Knicks Agree to 4-Year, $104M Contract After Mavericks Pursuit

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured Columnist IVJune 30, 2022

Tom Pennington/Getty Images

The Dallas Mavericks now have a Jalen Brunson-sized hole in their backcourt after he made a commitment to the New York Knicks on a four-year, $104 million contract, his agents confirmed to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski.

The 25-year-old wasn't the most decorated player to hit free agency this offseason, but he was one of the bigger wild cards.

Since the 2018 second-round pick was an unrestricted free agent, the Mavericks couldn't simply match an offer sheet he received. He's also a proven contributor who doesn't qualify as a top-tier star.

For teams in smaller markets looking to make a big splash, Brunson was a prime target to consider.

ESPN's Tim MacMahon reported in April that sources around the league thought the Villanova product could collect $20 million annually and that his value had gone as high as $25 million.

When it came to the Mavericks, Jalen's father, Rick, made it clear to MacMahon the young guard wasn't going to take anything less than his market rate.

"We've got to figure out if Dallas wants him. Not words," he said. "Ain't no discount. So don't put it on us. Don't tell me you love me. Show me."

Leaving the Mavericks also presented Brunson with the opportunity to occupy a role that was likely unattainable as long as he shared a bench with Luka Doncic.

According to Basketball Reference, the Slovenian had the eighth-highest usage rate (37.4 percent) for a single season in 2021-22. He also has the 10th (36.7 percent in 2019-20) and 17th-highest (36.0 percent in 2020-21) marks.

That the Mavs have such an offense based around Doncic can make it difficult for other guards to shine, and those players might ultimately prefer different surroundings in which they're more empowered.

Through his first three years, Brunson was used largely as a backup. In 2021-22, he proved himself as a starter, which couldn't have been timed much better ahead of his impending free agency.

He averaged 16.3 points, 4.8 assists and 3.9 rebounds in 79 appearances. He also shot 50.2 percent from the field and 37.3 percent from beyond the arc.

The 2022 playoffs were another great proving ground for the 6'1" playmaker. He averaged 27.8 points in Dallas' first-round win over the Utah Jazz. With Doncic out injured, his 41 points propelled the Mavs to a 110-104 Game 2 victory.

Extrapolating what a player did in the playoffs beyond that can be dangerous when that player doesn't have an extended track record already. But Brunson was so good for Dallas in the postseason.

ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo

Jalen Brunson has 20+ points in 5 straight playoff games. <br><br>He has never had 20+ points in more than 2 straight games in his regular-season career. <a href="https://t.co/mGSMWEYId6">pic.twitter.com/mGSMWEYId6</a>

Jason Gallagher @jga41agher

Luka has been amazing since he first stepped foot in the league. We all knew that. <br><br>But Jalen Brunson and Dorian Finney-Smith were the difference makers this series. They were massive.

It felt like a confirmation of sorts to cement how he had arrived as a valuable contributor on a franchise with lofty aspirations. Even assuming Brunson reverts back more to what he was during the 2021-22 regular season, he still showed he can do a bit of everything on the court.

His departure could be a big blow for the Mavs because there isn't a straightforward way of replacing him. Spencer Dinwiddie outperformed expectations after arriving from the Kristaps Porzingis trade, but the backcourt gets pretty thin after him and Doncic.

Given its salary-cap situation, Dallas can't turn around and sign a guard who's an upgrade over Brunson or at least at his level.

In time, this could work out for the Mavericks. Brunson could fall back to Earth in a big way and turn his contract into a bit of an albatross for New York. For now, this is a clear setback in the franchise's quest for a championship.

From the Knicks' perspective, the Kemba Walker experiment was a disaster as Walker didn't make it one full season before it became clear the team wanted to move on. Derrick Rose, meanwhile, was limited to 26 games because of injuries.

In order to avoid another losing season, New York absolutely had to upgrade at point guard, and the state of the market at the position made Brunson a top priority.

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