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Jalen Brunson’s Departure Might Haunt The Mavs For A While

Jalen Brunson #11 of the New York Knicks celebrates after scoring during the fourth quarter of Game One of the Eastern Conference First Round Playoffs against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse
Jason Miller/Getty Images

After the New York Knicks signed Jalen Brunson this past offseason, the NBA opened a tampering investigation and decided to take away the team's 2025 second-round pick. Considering where they are now, they would surely surrender five more second-rounders to keep the best point guard they've had in quite some time.

The reasons the Knicks pursued Brunson so hard were on display Saturday in their 101-97 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers. The former Dallas Maverick got into foul trouble early in the game and had to sit on the bench for a while, but he still finished with a team-high 27 points. Brunson scored 21 in the second half and hit a lovely floater in the final minute to cushion New York's lead and take the first game of the series. Until then, the Knicks hadn't won a Game 1 on the road since 1999.

Jarrett Allen responded with a dunk to cut the Knicks' lead back down to two, and Brunson missed a shot with nine seconds left, but Julius Randle's offensive rebound bailed him out. The Cavs had to resort to fouling Quentin Grimes, and his free throws sealed New York's win.

There's no point in making any big predictions after one game, and this series feels like it could take a while, but I'd be confident in making one declaration: Mark Cuban must've felt sick last night.

It was only a couple of weeks ago that the Mavericks owner attempted to set the record straight on how his team allowed Brunson to get away as a free agent. Cuban did this by showing the press some text messages and putting the onus on Jalen's father Rick Brunson, who took an assistant coaching job with the Knicks shortly before his son signed there. Cuban was attempting to clear the air as his team's playoff hopes dwindled, and it didn't solve either issue.

The Mavs were in a real bad place in the final weeks of the regular season. The team slipped down the standings, and Luka Doncic openly yearned for the days of playing with Brunson. He correctly said there was no chemistry on this year's squad. The mid-season trade for Kyrie Irving didn't help matters. The Mavericks finished 11th in the West with a 38-44 record. They effectively took themselves out of the play-in race in the penultimate game of the season by resting every significant player. The NBA did not appreciate this flagrant tanking and hit the team with a $750,000 fine for "conduct detrimental to the league" this past Friday. It's wild to think that this team was in the Western Conference Finals just last season.

Ultimately these are fixable problems, and the Mavericks still have Doncic. But Brunson's departure will stick with them until they find a solution. Cuban was adamant that his front office never had a chance to offer a proper deal, even though Dallas had Brunson's Bird rights and was in a position to offer more money than the Knicks and add one more year on the contract.

One person who doesn't have to worry about any of this is Jalen Brunson. Right now he's occupied with the Cavs in the first round. He's been named a finalist for the NBA's Most Improved Player award. His old Villanova buddy Josh Hart wore his face on a T-shirt. Sincerely, it must be nice.

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