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Momentum appears to be building. With the free-agency period nearing, the Knicks seem to be in great shape to land top target Jalen Brunson of the Mavericks.
Multiple reports emerged Tuesday claiming that Brunson signing with the Knicks is inevitable, that the Mavericks have become resigned to the notion of losing the valuable guard. Mavericks beat writer Tim Cato of The Athletic tweeted it is “seen as a certainty.” It is believed the Knicks are ready to offer the 6-foot-1 Brunson a four-year deal in excess of $100 million to fill their cavernous hole at point guard.
The Mavericks are willing to give him a five-year deal in the ballpark of the four-year, $85 million deal Raptors guard Fred VanVleet signed in 2020, ESPN reported. Brunson declined a four-year, $55.5 million contract from Dallas after the trade deadline.
“I think he would come to the Knicks if that’s the case,” said a source close to Brunson, who has known him since college. “It would be tough to turn down.”
The ties with Brunson to the Knicks are endless. Team president Leon Rose is his former agent, and Rose’s son Sam is his current rep. The Knicks recently hired his father Rick to join coach Tom Thibodeau’s staff, and Brunson knows Thibodeau and guard Derrick Rose well, from his time growing up in Illinois when both were with the Bulls and Rick was an assistant under Thibodeau. In fact, Derrick Rose was a mentor for a young Brunson, his high school coach Pat Ambrose previously told The Post.
“Jalen would go over to the Bulls’ facility and practice with the Bulls players,” Ambrose said. “That’s where he became good friends with Derrick Rose. So your story gets deep with the Knicks. Derrick saw that young Jalen was a very, very good player, and Derrick was a Chicago kid and really started to mentor Jalen basketball-wise.”
On top of all those bonds, Brunson grew up in the area in southern New Jersey up until the sixth grade and still owns a home on the Jersey Shore. He returned to the northeast for college at Villanova.
Brunson, 25, is coming off a career year, one in which he averaged career-highs of 16.3 points, 4.8 assists and 3.9 rebounds while shooting a robust 50.2 percent from the field after becoming a full-time starter in December. The former second-round pick was even better in the postseason, posting 21.6 points, 4.6 rebounds and 3.7 assists, and playing at his best in the first round when star teammate Luka Doncic was injured, scoring 41 and 31 points in a pair of victories over the Jazz.
Brunson has won at every level. He helped Villanova win two national championships, contributed to the Mavericks’ run to the Western finals this year and was a McDonald’s All-American in high school. He led Team USA’s U-19 team to the World Cup title in 2015 and was the MVP of the tournament.
Though this looks to be trending in the right direction for the Knicks, they still have work to do to clear enough salary-cap space to make Brunson a lucrative offer.. That could mean waiving Taj Gibson and his $.5.1 million cap hit or trading Alec Burks and/or Nerlens Noel. SNY reported the Celtics have interest in Burks, who is owed a shade over $10 million next season, and that Noel has drawn interest from the Nets and Raptors. The rim-protecting big man is set to make $9.2 million next year.
The Knicks cleared money on draft night by trading out of the first round and sending Kemba Walker to the Pistons, creating roughly $14 million of cap space.
The source close to Brunson believes it is important for the Knicks to lay out a detailed plan of how they will become a contender if Brunson joins them. That means everyone being aligned — front office, coaches, players — with one mission in mind. Brunson, the source said, will create a pros-and-cons list when it comes time to make a decision.
“The Knicks will have to present a detailed plan of how to create a winning culture,” the source said. “He’s very calculated. He’ll do what he thinks is best for his long-term career. Winning is extremely important to him. He wants to be in an organization where excelling is valued, around guys in the locker room buying into the same thing he’s buying into.”