Jalen Brunson watched his father, Rick Brunson, grind out a nine-year professional hoops career in the United States, bouncing from city to city on non-guaranteed deals. Seeing the determination and work ethic required to carve out a journeyman's paycheck had a huge impact on him.
"To see how hard he worked just to get unguaranteed contracts just showed me that I have to work 10 times harder than that," Brunson told Bleacher Report in a one-on-one interview earlier this week.
Soon, the son will get a guaranteed payday—where, we don't know.
As the NBA trade deadline approaches, Brunson's team-friendly contract makes him a coveted trade target. The Detroit Pistons are among the teams that have been linked closest to Brunson, as are the Knicks. Brunson's father was Knicks president Leon Rose's first client. A clear line can be drawn.
"I try to not let it affect me at all," Brunson said. "They are good problems to have. I guess teams have been calling about me … but I just try to go out and focus on playing for the Dallas Mavericks because that is who I am with. That is who I am trying to win games for right now."
The former second-round pick has established himself as one of the most steady floor generals in the league. He's averaging just under 16 points and six assists per game on a team steadily climbing the Western Conference standings.
Despite career-high usage and minutes per game this season, his number splits show that his efficiency hasn't taken a hit. He averaged 24.2 points per 48 minutes last season and is averaging the same this season.
Brunson has also impressed as a sturdy part of the league's fifth-best defense, and opposing scouting reports are taking notice. "Brunson is really strong," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said, "and while he doesn't have the size, he has the strength to hold up in switches and he's almost always in the right place."
That type of praise and his steady improvement are part of what makes a major payday realistic this summer, when he will be an unrestricted free agent. Bleacher Report's Eric Pincus reported Brunson is seeking a four-year, $80 million deal.
With the trade deadline in a few weeks, Brunson sat down with Bleacher Report to discuss his mindset at a pivotal point in his young career.
Bleacher Report: You've been playing well. And it's safe to say, you're going to get yourself a nice payday, bro. Looking back, what were your expectations as a second-round pick and have they evolved since you've been in the NBA?
Brunson: Yeah, I think they've changed over time. I came in and wanted to make an impact. Prove I belonged. At the stage of my career where I am at now, I really try to focus on the little things—the attention to detail. Because I know I am capable of putting the ball in the basket and distributing to others. I know what I am capable of. But paying attention to detail has made the game become a lot easier. So as long as I keep working on my craft, keeping the same mindset no matter where I am or what I do or how I am performing, only good things are going to happen for me.
Looking at your splits, you've been just as efficient as you were in a smaller role as you've been since you were getting big minutes. Was this just a matter of opportunity?
I think it's been both. I've grown into it and it's been the opportunity. I've always found ways where I could try to expand my game or expand bits and pieces of how I am playing. No matter what the situation is or what the circumstances are, I try and play the same way every time. Sometimes different things happen from one game to another but it's all been about circumstance and opportunity. Each year, I've gotten a little more or each.
You're one of the more cerebral scorers in the game. You don't waste dribbles and it doesn't take a lot for you to get to your spots. How often in a game are you leveraging your physical instincts and how often are you just reading the defense like a game of chess?
All the time. I am always trying to feel out what's going to happen. I can't predetermine what I am going to do. I'll always play off of instincts. When it comes to summertime, I work on everything I can so when it comes to a game it's natural. It's all about instincts. I've always played with my instincts and always trying to see the game a couple plays ahead. And I think as I've gotten older, that part of my game has gotten wiser and better. But I am still learning in that aspect as well.
You've credited your father in the past for a lot of your success. Obviously he was a pro and played for a while. Do you see any patterns on how second-generation players conduct themselves as players and professionals? And are there little nuanced things that you picked up from your dad that have made things easier on you?
That's a good question, damn. I think with being a second-generation player, I've got to see a lot of cool things as a kid. I got to meet a lot of greats when I was younger, I was always around the game. I got to see things that I wanted to end up happening. Be in locker rooms with the greats. And for me, I always thought it was cool, but the one thing that stuck in my mind as I got older was how hard my dad worked just to be in the league and on a team. My dad was on unguaranteed contracts every year of his career, and to see how hard he worked just to get unguaranteed contracts just showed myself that I have to work 10 times harder than that. I thank my dad for not only showing me the ropes but also letting me see that at a young age. And that's my biggest takeaway from that.
How about trade rumors? That could be something you maybe your dad has talked to you about? Some people take them as compliments. I don't know how much you pay attention to that. But teams are asking about your services. Is that something that impacts you?
I try to not let it affect me at all. Like you said, they are good problems to have. I guess teams have been calling about me and things like that, but I just try to go out and focus on playing for the Dallas Mavericks because that is who I am with, that is who I am trying to win games for right now, so that is what my focus is on.
Obviously like you just said, your focus is on the Mavericks, and you have agents who you pay to worry about the other stuff. But this summer you have big decisions to make. Are you excited to be in this position? You've put in a lot of work. Now to be in a position where you want to be desired by many different teams and you can go into a summer and choose what's best for your future?
I am very excited for that. I think it is very special. I am honored to be in the position that I am in. I think most importantly, I have good teammates around me that have been making my life easier. The teammates that I have had have put me in a lot of different positions to be successful. And the good chemistry that I have now is a credit to them. Even ones in high school and college, they've helped push me. And I've accepted the challenge every time. My teammates now help me out as much as they can. I love them for that. I wouldn't be in this position without them.