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Report: Jalen Brunson Favors Bigger Role With Knicks? Mavs' Backup Plans

The Knicks are making a major effort to clear cap space amid their pursuit of Jalen Brunson. What are the Mavericks' backup plans?

The Dallas Mavericks have addressed their starting center position by trading for Christian Wood. Their focus shifts to retaining Jalen Brunson in free agency, who appears set to receive a massive contract offer from the New York Knicks. 

After pulling off a career-best year with averages of 16.3 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 4.8 assists, Brunson followed it with postseason heroics. With Luka Doncic sidelined for the first three games of the Mavericks' first-round series against the Utah Jazz, Brunson averaged 32.0 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 5.3 assists. 

Brunson's perceived value had soared after leading the Mavericks to a 2-1 record to begin their series against the Jazz without Doncic. He continued to make a significant impact with averages of 21.6 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 3.7 assists in 18 playoff games as the Mavericks made it all the way to the Western Conference Finals.

Part of the Knicks' appeal to Brunson will be the ability to be more of a focus in their half-court offense. Given the Mavericks' unwillingness to assist the Knicks' pursuit of Brunson by cooperating with a sign-and-trade, New York has gotten busy clearing cap space. During the NBA Draft, the Knicks traded the No. 11 pick for future draft capital while also shedding Kemba Walker's near $9.2 salary.

The Knicks still have work to do in terms of clearing cap space. Some potential trade candidates include Evan Fournier ($18.0 million), Derrick Rose ($14.52 million), Alec Burks ($10.0 million), Nerlens Noel ($9.24 million), and Cam Reddish ($5.95 million).

According to Marc Stein, there is an increasing expectation the Knicks will assemble a contract offer for Brunson in the "range" of a four-year, $100 million deal. 

The Knicks are increasingly expected to assemble a four-year offer to Brunson valued in the $100 million range, sources said, after the former second-round pick (No. 33 overall in 2018) played out the final season of his first NBA contract at $1.8 million in 2021-22. 

The maximum contract offer the Mavericks can provide Brunson is a five-year deal worth $175.45 million. Dallas can use Bird rights to exceed to salary cap for a $30.25 million first-year salary with 8-percent annual raises.

At most, the Knicks could offer a four-year, $130.1 million contract. They can offer the same starting salary but are limited to just providing 5-percent annual raises. Again, New York would need to create salary cap space for any offer.

The Knicks still have work to do in terms of clearing cap space. Some potential trade candidates include Evan Fournier ($18.0 million), Derrick Rose ($14.52 million), Alec Burks ($10.0 million), Nerlens Noel ($9.24 million), and Cam Reddish ($5.95 million).

According to Spotrac, the Knicks have maximum possible cap space of $8.94 million when factoring in all guaranteed salaries along with waiving any non-guaranteed salaries and renouncing cap holds. Among New York's non-guaranteed money is Taj Gibson's near $5.16 million salary. 

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Stein also reported a growing belief inside the Mavericks organization that Brunson may want to embrace the challenge of joining the Knicks despite Dallas' ability to offer a five-year contract. 

Only the Mavericks, possessing Brunson’s Bird Rights as the incumbent team, have the ability to offer a five-year deal that could zoom well past $100 million. But further boosting New York's chances is a growing belief among some close to the situation that Brunson wants this move to Madison Square Garden despite his considerable rise in prominence as a Maverick and Dallas’ ability to outbid the Knicks, enticed by the opportunity to become New York's unquestioned lead guard on top of strong family ties.

If Brunson were to outright sign with the Knicks, the Mavericks would have just the $6.339 million Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception at their disposal in terms of money to spend on free agents. Dallas would likely need to turn to the trade market.

Instead of pursuing a guard replacement, Stein reported the Mavericks' plan would be to find a wing instead of acquiring a replacement guard. Spencer Dinwiddie would take on a larger role to help fill the void at guard.

Should the Knicks indeed prevail, after their own painful history in free agency filled with countless disappointments, Dallas is expected to focus on upgrading its options on the wing rather than try to find a Brunson replacement. 

The Mavericks will be getting Tim Hardaway Jr. back into the lineup after he missed much of the 2021-22 season after foot surgery.  Dallas also traded two future second-round picks on draft night to acquire the No. 37 overall pick, which was used to select former G League Ignite guard Jaden Hardy.

“I mean, we’re aware of [the Knicks’ pursuit of Brunson], but we knew they would do that. We weren’t shocked that they did that. They tried to do it at the trade deadline. [We] don’t really have a concern level. It was expected,” said Mavs GM Nico Harrison after the draft.

“Honestly, until he tells us he doesn’t want to be here, we’re optimistic. We haven’t heard otherwise, so we’re optimistic. We have to be,” said Mavs GM Nico Harrison after the Draft.

You can follow Grant Afseth on Twitter at @GrantAfseth

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