The NBA’s annual spend starts at 6 p.m. Thursday, with the Knicks once again established as big players after clearing about $30 million in cap space over the past week.
Leon Rose’s foray into big spending was a major disaster last year, when the Knicks handed their money to Kemba Walker, Evan Fournier, Nerlens Noel, Derrick Rose and Alec Burks. Three of those five are already out of the squad, traded with the need for a capital project attached, while another – Rose – hasn’t played since before Christmas.
The reason for these moves primarily relates to Jalen Brunson, who we’ll detail below with three important questions for the NYK heading into Thursday.
Is Brunson worth it?
At this point, it’s a done deal that the Knicks are offering Brunson a monster contract to be their primary guard. The only thing that could derail the signing is for the Mavericks to offer more while exercising bird rights, but reports from Dallas suggest Mark Cuban doesn’t want to go that high. Still, Brunson has scheduled free agent meetings in New York with three teams — the Knicks, Mavericks and Heat — according to Yahoo Sports. Brunson may have stayed in Dallas with $125 million, but Cuban has only offered $106 million so far, a league source told the Daily News.
The Mavs owner would also have hefty luxury tax penalties to pay if he signs Brunson, and last season’s acquisition of Spencer Dinwiddie makes the point guard somewhat useless.
The Knicks offer? Made four years and around $110 million.
Their logic is easy to defend. The Knicks, as evidenced by the past two decades, need a reliable point guard. Brunson, despite his flaws (more on that later), is the best available in free agency after Kyrie Irving found out no NBA team trusted him, especially his own in Brooklyn.
You might say the Knicks would be better off trading for San Antonio’s Dejounte Murray or Indiana’s Malcolm Brogdon — both of which are defensive upgrades — but the Knicks are focused on Brunson first.
As widely dispersed, the organization has eyebrow-raising family ties to Brunson. His father, Rick, was hired as an assistant coach under Tom Thibodeau. Rick was also the first NBA client of Rose, the former agent who now manages the Knicks and recently attended Rick’s 50th birthday party.
Rose’s son, Sam, became an agent and represents Jalen Brunson.
It sets up a defining moment in Leon Rose’s regime, which will play out based on Brunson’s production. If he struggles, Rose will have manipulated James Dolan’s money to take care of his people. Think Brodie Van Wagenen. Or, if Brunson successfully returns the Knicks to their 2020-21 status, Rose will be praised for his connections and his glimpse of an underdog star.
Brunson, according to a source, is considered by at least one high-ranking Knicks member to be one of the top 10 point guards in the NBA. That’s a reasonable estimate, but hardly a given that will translate to NYK without the spacing provided by the Mavericks system and staff.
He’s a proven winner (two-time NCAA champion) and dependable personality, which is important for a franchise that seems perpetually unstable. Brunson provides something the Knicks backcourt has sorely lacked — an enabler and playmaker who can create shots for himself and thrive on ball screens.
His defense, however, is suspect. Opposing teams have often targeted Brunson, who is not an elite athlete, which makes for a troubling backcourt with Evan Fournier, especially with Tom Thibodeau’s defensive demands.
There’s also the unknown of adding use to Brunson’s game without Luka Doncic dominating the ball and the attention. He handled that well during Doncic’s absences last season, especially in the playoffs, when Brunson led the Mavericks to two wins over the Jazz by averaging 36 points.
That being said, Brunson, by himself, is not seen as a path to instant discord. Much of his value will be attached to transforming the Knicks from a disappointment into a desirable destination for a true superstar.
WILL MITCHELL ROBINSON RESIGN?
The negotiation of Nerlens Noel on Tuesday set up another likely scenario: the return of Robinson.
It’s another bet for the Knicks, but for different reasons. Robinson, who will be an unrestricted free agent if he doesn’t sign an extension by Thursday’s deadline, has been an effective scorer and rim protector but also an injury risk who has grumbled intermittently about his role and got deformed.
Robinson, 24, was grossly underpaid in his first four seasons in the NBA, with many wondering what a big guaranteed salary will do to his motivation.
According to Bleacher Report, Robinson is expected to sign with the Knicks for four years and around $60 million. That’s a 1,000% increase from his previous contract.
Still, the Knicks can’t lose Robinson for nothing after drafting and developing him for four years.
He is their best option at the center. Plus, in a team mostly devoid of engaging, fun personalities the past two seasons, Robinson was a shining light.
WHAT ABOUT RJ BARRETT’S EXTENSION?
The Knicks’ best young player becomes eligible for an overtime Friday, but there’s no rush. The parties have until the season opener to reach an agreement and, if a deal isn’t reached, they can renegotiate next summer when Barrett hits restricted free agency.
The meaning around the NBA is that Barrett will ask for the maximum, worth a projected $185 million over five years. Whether he gets it is another story. If Barrett doesn’t, things could get messy.
The big hole in Barrett’s argument for max money is his efficiency, which ranks among the lowest in the NBA for such a high usage rate. With just two weeks shy of his 22nd birthday, it’s reasonable to expect improvements in Barrett’s free throw and 3-point percentages. The athleticism, or lack thereof, does not change. He’s strong at scoring in transition with the runners’ corner, but Barrett isn’t going to break down half-court defenders.
He’s a relatively low-maintenance personality who enjoys the Knicks’ spotlight, and we could find out if that translates to playing third fiddle to a better team.
Then there’s the story of this heartbreaking franchise and its draft picks, the statistic that sums up its ineptitude of the past two decades and counting: No first-round Knicks pick has resigned with the team from their contract. rookie since Charlie Ward, who is so old he played two sports (and four years) in college.