The Knicks executives’ controversial appearance in Dallas also raised eyebrows because of the expectation that New York will aggressively pursue Mavericks ball-handler Jalen Brunson as an unrestricted free agent. One source with knowledge of the Knicks front office even suggested to B/R that New York’s efforts before the February trade deadline were primarily geared toward freeing ample cap space to offer Brunson a competitive contract this July.
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But word of the Detroit Pistons’ interest in pairing Brunson with Rookie of the Year finalist Cade Cunningham, similar to how Brunson has thrived alongside Dallas’ supersized point-forward Luke Doncic, has been as persistent as the Knicks’ rumored desire for Brunson. The Indiana Pacers, who hired former Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle last offseason, are another team known to have interest in Brunson’s services. However, Dallas personnel have also shared a repeated confidence they will be able to retain Brunson after this strong postseason run in North Texas.
One league source who has spoken to Cuban during the playoffs told The Post he’d be shocked if Cuban didn’t keep Brunson, who averaged 28 points in the first-round series versus Utah. That doesn’t bode well for Leon Rose’s Knicks as they search for a premier floor general. Rose’s son, Sam, and Aaron Mintz are Jalen’s CAA agents.
ESPN recently reported Cuban wasn’t willing to engage in sign-and-trade talks to facilitate Brunson signing elsewhere. The Knicks need to do lots of work to create cap space if Brunson rebuffs Cuban’s offer. On Sunday, Brunson notched 18 points, four assists, four rebounds — a plus-18. The most important number, though, may have been the “6’’ on Paul’s ledger, marking his foul total.
Brunson has earned serious money over the past few months, and his free agency lingers as the team’s main question whenever the offseason begins. I still anticipate Brunson returns to Dallas; sources have told me that, but even an unsourced observer of this team’s rising success and Brunson’s oft-worn “immaculate vibes” apparel could deduce the same.
Team sources express the same confidence in his return, but it likewise doesn’t take inside information to understand that Dallas couldn’t replace his value in the open market if Brunson were to walk for nothing in return.
Don’t expect much bold talk from the Dallas Mavericks as they enter the second round for the first time in 11 years and face the 64-win (and suddenly full-strength) Phoenix Suns. They are well aware how good the Suns are. Behind the scenes, though, team officials are expressing clear confidence that they will re-sign Jalen Brunson in the offseason. Detroit and Indiana are two teams with considerable cap space known to have interest in signing Brunson this summer. New York’s interest has also been well-chronicled, even though the Knicks will have to make some moves to create sufficient financial flexibility to compete with the offers Brunson is expected to command that could exceed $80 million over four seasons.
The Knicks, who could give Brunson the opportunity to be a full-time primary ball handler, need to shed salary to have the flexibility to sign him but could feasibly create $20 million or more in cap space. League sources say the Mavs have no intention of cooperating in potential sign-and-trade scenarios.
NBA pro personnel scouts and executives polled by ESPN for this story anticipate that the floor for Brunson’s next contract will be an average annual salary of $20 million. The high end of the estimates range around $25 million per year.
The Pistons, according to league sources, see how well Brunson fits with Doncic and envision him similarly enhancing Cade Cunningham, the No. 1 overall pick in last year’s draft who is also a big-bodied scorer and playmaker.
“I told him once the season is started, that’s it,” Rick Brunson says. “I told the Mavericks, ‘Once the season is started, there’s no contract talk,’ and I went back against my word. In January, I thought he did enough where he deserved [the extension]. I said, ‘Hey, take the money, man.’ He wants security. He wants to live here. And they declined. “He didn’t turn s— down. Y’all declined first. When y’all came back to him, we said, ‘Hey, we just want to finish out the season and go from there.'”
But Brunson, the former 33rd overall pick who is making $1.8 million in the final season of his rookie deal, insists his next contract — and potentially his next franchise — isn’t on his mind as he tries to help the Mavs make it to the second round for the first time since Dallas’ 2011 championship run. “Not at all. Not at all. I promise you,” Brunson says. “My dad, we’ll joke about it, but [my family knows] that I don’t want to talk about it until the season’s over. That’s really not going to help me right now. … I know it’s a weird situation. People don’t believe that I don’t talk about it, but it’s not a topic of conversation until I guess we get there.”
Marc Stein on Jalen Brunson’s free agency: I recently reported that Indiana I’ve started to hear them as a team that might try to get into that mix with Rick Carlisle obviously knowing Jalen Brunson is game very well.
Just look at it: Outside of Doncic, the Dallas roster is absent of stars. It just carries really good role players. Jalen Brunson is a tremendous secondary ballhandler who can create his own shot, is a terrific spot-up shooter and possesses great basketball instincts. He’s also a free agent this summer, and the Pistons have real interest in him, per sources. Brunson next to Cunningham would be one difficult backcourt to deal with offensively and would look nearly identical to how Doncic and Brunson play together. After that, the Mavs’ main players are the kind who can hit open shots and have the length defensively to switch across the board. Guys like Reggie Bullock aren’t hard to find. Dorian Finney-Smith is a good player but not a star. However, both are great in their roles and act as Doncic’s safety valves on the perimeter. They’re low-maintenance players who take advantage of the opportunities provided by playing alongside a star.
Michael Scotto: I’ve heard some people in that front office that have an eye for Jalen Brunson. I’ve also heard there are people in the front office that could see Mitchell Robinson, who’s an unrestricted Knicks free agent, as a guy that they’d also look at. Deandre Ayton’s name has been floated out there too. My observation on this is guys like Brunson and Robinson are targets for Detroit because they’ll command less money (than Ayton). With Ayton, you’d have to give him a full max to try to get him there and out of Phoenix going into his (restricted) free agency. I think that would be tough. Whereas, with Brunson, Dallas knows there’s going to be a market for him. One of the reasons they got Spencer Dinwiddie was a hedge to cover themselves depending on what the market bears for Brunson. The Knicks have Robinson entering free agency and also have an eye for Brunson with the relationship with Leon Rose. They do need a point guard looking ahead. Immanuel Quickley is there, but it seems like he’s viewed as a microwave scorer off the bench, and Tom Thibodeau likes him off the bench in that role.
Scotto: There has been a lot of smoke around the Knicks and Jalen Brunson looking ahead towards the summer. NBA executives I’ve spoken to around the league are split as to whether the rumblings about the Knicks having interest in him will ultimately come to fruition or if they’re being used as a leverage play to try to get him more money and boost his market going into this summer. He certainly has plenty of ties to Leon Rose, who represented his dad, Rick Brunson. The Pistons have members of their front office who like Brunson. Mitchell Robinson is another name the Pistons are monitoring looking ahead to free agency, I’ve heard as well.
Tim MacMahon: This I know: Jalen Brunson’s preference would be to stay in Dallas. He ain’t taking a discount to do it. He wants to get paid, period. Preferably in Dallas. I’ve asked around about that, I feel like I’ve got very strong information there.
Zach Lowe: I’ve heard competing intel on Brunson. How scared they are that Brunson is going to leave in free agency. Let’s put it that way. There are some teams who are telling me, ‘Well, the Mavs are projecting confidence that Brunson is going to stay, they have the means to to re-sign Brunson.’
Brunson has thus far been resistant to accepting the four-year, $56 million extension that Dallas can offer him through June. The estimated $56 million figure is the most the Mavericks can offer Brunson working off his bargain $1.8 million salary in the final year of Brunson’s original four-year deal. The former Villanova star, who for the last two seasons has proven to be the most reliable Maverick not from Slovenia, is said to want more … something in the $18 million range annually.
Scotto: I’ve heard Jalen Brunson has some admirers in Detroit. They have cap space and are a team to keep an eye on towards the summer. If Dallas is able to enter the mix for Jerami Grant and acquire him, don’t be surprised if either Brunson or Finney-Smith is involved in a trade package. If Dallas is going to part with either player, they’re going to want an asset that helps them win now.
Dallas already has a full roster heading into next season and are right at the projected $145 million luxury tax when accounting for their 2022 first-round pick. Both Jalen Brunson and Dorian Finney-Smith are set to become unrestricted free agents this offseason and are extension-eligible throughout the rest of this season. Bringing back just one of these players will put them over the luxury tax. This predicament could lead them to some tough decisions this month. The Mavericks could look to offload several players under contract for next season if they want to bring both Brunson and Finney-Smith back without increasing the payroll too much.
Brunson faces a similar market, but the guard is believed by many to be seeking near a four-year, $80 million contract. That is a large number, especially for a player that several competing executives think is too big of a target defensively in the playoffs.
Dallas has been trying to get into the trade mix for Myles Turner or John Collins. Jalen Brunson and Dorian Finney-Smith, two low-salaried but highly rated Mavericks headed for unrestricted free agency this summer barring contract extensions by June 30, have no shortage of suitors.
Behind the scenes, Mavericks officials continue to express confidence that they will re-sign Brunson, who becomes an unrestricted free agent in July if Dallas does not sign him to a contract extension by June 30. Brunson and defensive specialist Dorian Finney-Smith are both eligible for extensions before the end of this salary-cap year and the Mavericks naturally hope to keep both given the significant roles they’ve seized.
Now it’s up to Dallas’ new coach, Jason Kidd, to decide whether Brunson, a second-round pick out of Villanova, is the guy to build around and lock in long term. The Mavericks will exercise his team option for next season and can offer him an extension. If Kidd lowballs him, Brunson will decline and the Mavericks will be forced to trade him or risk losing Brunson to 2022 free agency. The Knicks have Brunson on their radar.
Brunson, who scored 15 points with seven assists and five rebounds in a win over the Knicks on April 2, has a non-guaranteed year left on his pact. The Mavericks, whom the Knicks visit on Friday night, could let Brunson become a restricted free agent and match any offer this summer. Or they could let him become an unrestricted free agent in 2022. The guard is the son of former Knick Rick Brunson. The Knicks have had their eye on Jalen Brunson, whose father was one of Thibodeau’s assistant coaches with the Bulls and Timberwolves.
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May 22, 2022 | 7:42 pm EDT Update
Miami Heat star Jimmy Butler (knee) intends to play in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Boston Celtics on Monday, league sources told Yahoo Sports.
The six-time All-Star is being listed as questionable for Monday. Miami is also listing Kyle Lowry (hamstring), Tyler Herro (groin), P.J. Tucker (knee), Max Strus (hamstring) and Gabe Vincent (hamstring) as questionable.