The NBA’s window for free agency negotiations opens Thursday at 5:00 p.m. Dallas time.
But signs two days earlier point to a disappointing start for the Mavericks.
Starting guard Jalen Brunson has not informed the Dallas front office of where he plans to set up for a head-to-head pursuit between the Mavericks and the New York Knicks, a source said The Dallas Morning News on Tuesday.
But the source said the Mavericks expect Brunson to choose the Knicks – and their family and fame-related perks – if the league allows players and teams to verbally agree to new contracts at 11 p.m. Thursday.
In that case, consider the Mavericks 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 have not hesitated to state Brunson’s return as their number one goal.
“It’s easy. That’s top priority,” Harrison said in his exit interview on May 27. “We’ll have to find that out. … We don’t have control over it, but he’s definitely a priority. We want to re-sign him. He knows that we want him back and [to] be part of our future.”
The Mavericks have had several chances to make that happen over the past year.
As of last offseason, Brunson has been eligible for a four-year, $55 million extension to the second-round rookie annual contract he signed in 2018.
But the Mavericks didn’t present it to Brunson’s camp before the season or at halftime — when an agreement before the trade deadline ended would not have included Brunson in a potential deal for Dallas.
After Kristaps Porzingis’ timely move, the Mavericks renewed the same four-year $55 million offer for starting wing Dorian Finney-Smith, who signed immediately despite the possibility of earning more as an unrestricted free agent this summer.
Come the Knicks, who have targeted Brunson as their next leading point guard for a while.
Knicks managers William Wesley and Allan Houston and forward Julius Randle — a Euless Native — sat courtside during the Mavericks’ first-round playoff series against the Jazz in April at American Airlines Center.
At this point, Brunson’s value skyrocketed as he totaled 72 points and 11 assists to a turnover in Games 2 and 3 to lead the Mavericks through Luka Doncic’s three-game absence with a calf strain.
Shortly after the Mavericks ended their upset playoff run — in which Brunson averaged 21.6 points and 46.6% shooting in 35 minutes per game — reports surfaced that the Knicks were planning to add Brunson’s father Rick as an assistant coach .
According to another source, that didn’t surprise the Dallas leadership, who said discussions about Rick’s hiring surfaced as early as last December.
His father’s role in New York added to a group that already had strong ties to Jalen.
As an NBA journeyman, Rick was the first client of then-agent Leon Rose, now president of the Knicks’ basketball division and close to the Brunson family. Rose’s son Sam now represents Jalen as his day-to-day agent at Creative Artists Agency.
Rick has known Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau since high school three decades ago and coached Thibodeau’s staff with the Chicago Bulls (2010-12) and the Minnesota Timberwolves (2016-18).
What has surprised the Mavericks is a growing sense that Jalen will choose New York even though Dallas can offer him the most lucrative contract and the best chance of continued team success.
As the original team that owns Brunson’s Bird rights, Dallas can offer him a five-year contract — 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 of up to $175 million.
That would mean a massive increase in his $1.8 million salary in 2021-22, the final year of his rookie deal, while also allowing him to start alongside superstar Luka Doncic, learn from head coach Jason Kidd and running a franchise that expects to fight at the top of the Western Conference for years to come.
The Knicks, on the other hand, finished last season with a 37-45 record, have made the playoffs just once in the past nine years, and command attention more often through controversy and disappointments than wins.
New York has released about $20 million in salary cap since the end of the season and is reportedly planning to do more to offer Brunson a four-year deal worth more than $100 million.
A source said earlier this month that the Mavericks probably 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 could soon change as fears of losing one of their most trusted pillars for nothing in return grow.
More on this developing story.
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