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Bungled: Mavs Must Take Blame for Losing Jalen Brunson to Knicks

Despite having a new front office regime for the first time in over a decade, the ghost of Dallas Mavericks Free Agency's past still made an appearance on Thursday.

Somehow, someway, the Dallas Mavericks always seem to bungle things when it comes to NBA free agency ... not only with trying to add star players, but also with trying to retain the good players they already have.

The latest edition of "Mavs Free Agency Failures" came on Thursday, as Jalen Brunson officially agreed to sign a four-year, $104 million contract with the New York Knicks, leaving behind the team he spent his first four seasons with. 

How did Dallas get to this point? Is this failure a product of the old front office regime or the new one? Well, the answer to that is "both."

It's true that the Donnie Nelson-led front office should've constructed Brunson's contract in a better way after he was drafted in 2018. Instead of adding a team option for the fourth year and giving Brunson the opportunity to hit the restricted free agency market in 2021, he received a straight four-year deal, enabling him to be an unrestricted free agent this summer. That particular screw-up is on the old Mavs' regime, as Nelson and Co. had dreams of chasing Giannis Antetokounmpo in 2021 free agency that surely impacted that contract decision for Brunson in 2018.

However, the new regime still had multiple opportunities to sign Brunson to a four-year, $56 million extension within the last year and declined both times, according to multiple reports – once before last season began, and again in January. Even if the Mavs were hoping to use Brunson as a trade chip, wouldn't it have made more sense to have that trade chip either this offseason or during next season at $14 million per year vs. at last season's trade deadline on an expiring $1.8 million contract with unrestricted free agency looming?

The entire situation makes zero sense. It's baffling, it's embarrassing, and it makes the Mavericks look like fools caught with their pants down ... again.

After making all those miscalculations with Brunson, the Mavs still could've made up for their previous mistakes by out-bidding the Knicks in free agency in order to keep their second-best player. Media members and fans alike all witnessed what Brunson did in the playoffs against the Utah Jazz, Phoenix Suns and Golden State Warriors, and for the most part, everyone agreed that Brunson was going to make around $25 million per year or more thanks to his stellar performances.

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If the Mavs' reported offer of $105 million over five years is true ... did they really believe that was going to be enough? When they eventually found out it wasn't enough, did they really think there was that much difference in giving Brunson $21-22 million per year vs. $27-28 million per year, which is what it would've likely taken to keep him?

Although GM Nico Harrison has done a fine job up to this point – he's added Reggie Bullock and made trades to add key pieces Spencer Dinwiddie and Christian Wood in one year on the job – this Brunson situation feels like something owner Mark Cuban got the final say on. The only thing that would've changed by presenting Brunson with an acceptable offer is Cuban's wallet. 

(To Cuban's credit, he usually follows up free agency with a generous explanation of what happened. We look forward to that clarity again this year.)

The Mavs are still currently a luxury tax team even without Brunson now, and they're likely going to be one heading into next season. It'll be the first time Cuban has paid a luxury tax bill in 11 years. Even if the Mavs thought $27 million+ per year was an overpay for Brunson, the downside to that was nothing compared to the downside of losing him for nothing – which they did (a sign-and-trade with New York could still be possible, but isn't likely).

Now, Brunson is gone, the Mavs are still capped out, they've agreed to sign 34-year-old JaVale McGee to a three-year, $20 million contract (with a player option!), and barring a big unforeseen pie-in-the-sky trade to save face ("Kevin Durant Ripple Effect''!), the only other additions that will be made will be through veteran minimum contracts.

Losing Brunson isn't the end of the world for the Mavs, but the optics of the whole situation just seem extremely bad. Given that Brunson was unrestricted, there's a chance that he still could've left no matter what the Mavs offered ... but the Mavs are claiming that they never gave an official offer, and that's a preposterous thing to say about your own free agent who you've talked with for four years now.

"We can pay [Brunson] more than anybody,” Cuban told Marc Stein after the Mavs’ season ended in the Western Conference Finals.

Why didn’t you, then?