The Dallas Mavericks were up 2-1 in the series against the Utah Jazz without Luka Doncic in the lineup. Jalen Brunson played a major role in that edge, averaging 32.0 points, 5.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists, and Dallas went on to win the first-round series, moving on to a Round 2 meeting beginning Monday with the Phoenix Suns.
And the New York Knicks are watching.
With the Mavericks passing on the chance to get a four-year, $55.5 million contract extension with Brunson after last season, he's emerged as one of the top free agents to watch in the summer.
The Knicks have been frequently linked as a potential suitor for Brunson given his father's personal ties to their organization. Their persisting need for a long-term answer at the point guard should make for a motivated pursuit.
According to ESPN, the Mavericks have "no intention" of helping to facilitate a sign-and-trade sending Brunson to the Knicks. New York would need to shed salary to be in a position to outright sign him.
"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," according to the report. "League sources say the Mavs have no intention of cooperating in potential sign-and-trade scenarios."
The consensus around the league has been that Brunson has boosted his value with his impressive playoff performance. He could earn upwards of $25 million per season on his next contract, potentially complicating the Knicks' pursuit.
Some around the league may have concerns about paying big money to a smaller guard like Brunson, but again, his efficiency and ability to play both on and off the ball are pretty enticing for many teams.
The success Brunson has had against the Jazz in the playoffs has impressive many around the NBA. Leading a lead a team the way he did without Doncic showcased his abilities to handle a heavier load, in addition to working alongside a star.
The Mavericks will likely do whatever they can to retain Brunson in free agency. They are able to exceed the salary cap to re-sign him since they have his Bird rights. However, they cannot use that spending room on any potential external signings, meaning it's probably Brunson or nothing.
There shouldn't be hesitation from the Mavs when deciding if Brunson is worth a big contract. He's been highly efficient alongside Doncic, while also showing there's growth in his game as the primary initiator. All of which makes it clear why New York would covet him.