Jalen Brunson is a New York Knick

Ring the bells! 

By Russell Richardson

In one of the most anti-climactic events of recent basketball history, the New York Knicks have signed Jalen Brunson

The 6’1”, 190lbs point guard has so many ties to the organization—his dad’s an assistant coach, the head coach and team president are nominal uncles, the team president’s son is Brunson’s agent—that to not sign him would have been considered one of the all-time Knicks’ follies (and there have been plenty). By getting its man, New York has its first bona-fide starting point guard since…Raymond Felton?

According to various sources, the deal is $104M for four years, with a player option on the final season.

Clearly, Leon Rose & Co. want to win games and reach the playoffs. Aside from all the personal connections, the Knicks sought the 25-year old Brunson because he’s a winner.

Jalen tasted glory as a top collegiate player who won two National championships with Villanova (2016, 2018). If you haven’t checked the awards section of his college-basketball reference page, go give it a look. 

Despite his championship credentials and a multitude of distinctions, the Wildcat remained on the 2018 NBA Draft board until the Dallas Mavericks selected him with the 33rd pick. 

One could argue that Dallas won that draft, given that they also scored superstar Luka Dončić, the third pick, in a trade with Atlanta. Since then, Brunson has largely lived in Luka’s shadow but proved this year that he could shine with or without Dončić. This season, in 17 Luka-less games, Jalen averaged 20.4 points, 3.9 boards, and 7.5 dimes in 34 minutes per contest.

During the playoffs, Jalen, who is lauded for his composure, shone even brighter. Over 18 post-season games, he averaged 21.6 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 3.7 assists in just under 35 minutes per game. In a playoff game against the Jazz, he logged a career-high 41 points on the way to bouncing Utah from the tournament and sending their organization into a spiral of gloomy self-reflection. Any takers for a moderately-used Rudy Gobert?

Brunson played a significant role in Dallas over-performing and reaching the Western Conference Finals. After their Game 5 loss to the Golden State Warriors, Mavs’ general manager Nico Harrison called re-signing Brunson their “top priority.”

Huh. Well, for an organization that claimed to prioritize their budding star, botching the Brunson deal looks a major gaffe on Dallas’ part. As explained by Marc Stein in the latest episode of The Mismatch, the Mavs came into this season knowing that Brunson was eligible for a four-year extension, with compensation up to $56 million. Dallas chose to wait and see if a trade was possible. Both the trade deadline and the playoffs came and went without an extension, and the exceedingly patient Brunson decided to test the open market—wisely so, given that he’ll now earn double the amount for which Dallas could have locked him in.

Devil’s Advocates will claim that his departure creates more opportunity for Spencer Dinwiddie as a ball handler, and that the recently-inked center Christian Wood can recoup any points lost in the Brunson exit.

Whatever. Their loss, our gain!

During his breakout fourth NBA season, Jalen averaged 16.3 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 4.8 assists.  He shot 84% from the free-throw line, 50% from the field, and 37% from deep on 3.2 attempts per game. (He’s a killer from the corners.)

With New York, Brunson is expected to serve as the primary ball-handler. Some fans will argue that Immanuel Quickleyhad earned the right to run the point, but Brunson is superior playmaker, has better vision, and will facilitate more IQ scoring. Plus, if Derrick Rose continues to play well in reserve and stay healthy, the Knicks will have true depth at the point guard position for the first time in years.

Naysayers will protest the deal as an overpay, but given Brunson’s talent, his age, and what the league pays other point guards, I’m cool with the numbers. C’mon, Terry Rozier will make $21.4M this season, Malcolm Brogdon will make $22.6M.

Sure, over in What-If Corner, there’s a sale on such chestnuts as, “What if Brunson’s a bust?”, “What if Uncle Leon and Grandpa Thibs can’t separate business from family?”, and “What if Thibs won’t play Jalen and IQ together?” 

But, as tempting as exploring those and other questions might be, for now I choose to guzzle the optimism juice until the can runs dry. Today, my favorite sports team has a talented new player in perhaps its most important position. That’s a cause to celebrate. Ring the bells!