The Dallas Mavericks have been searching for a secondary ball handler and scorer next to Luka Dončić for quite some time. The failed pursuits of players like Kemba Walker and Kyle Lowry have left fans salivating for another player who can initiate the offense and take some of the load off of the Mavericks’ star point guard. However, Dallas may have that exact player already on their roster in Jalen Brunson.
Brunson, the 33rd pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, has spent most of his career as a 6th or 7th man off the bench. He’s been tasked with running the second team offense while occasionally spending time with the starters. This season, Brunson has played more minutes with the starting unit along side Dončić and has really begun to showcase his talents. Through eleven games, Brunson is averaging a career high in PPG (14.9), APG (4.6) and RPG (4.6) off the bench but spending a lot of time with the starting unit.
The rules surrounding the extensions of second round picks are vastly different than those of first round picks. For example, their deals can be extended at any point during the season. The Mavericks, for whatever reason, failed to lock up Jalen Brunson in previous years. Whether this is due to his playoff performance last year against the Clippers or just the shift in focus to external free agents, the front office now finds themselves in a dilemma. When the Mavericks originally signed Brunson, they did so without attaching any options to his contract. Thus, Brunson will now enter free agency at the end of the year unrestricted, a situation in which any team can sign him outright. There are already rumblings that NBA teams (specifically, the Knicks) have their eyes on Brunson as a key free agent signing this offseason.
Should the Mavericks approach Brunson with an extension, those CBA rules for second round picks don’t help the Mavericks’ cause. Dallas can only start his salary at 120% of the average salary, which is $14 million for 2022-2023. A three year deal for Brunson would then look something like 3 years, $45.3 million. With Brunson elevating his play early on in the season, he could be in line for a much larger pay raise. John Hollinger of The Athletic has predicted as 3 year contract worth up to $57 million, much more than the Mavericks can afford.
The Mavericks failure to extend Jalen Brunson prior to this year may put them in a tight situation as the season moves on. If Dallas approaches Brunson and extends him an offer that is rejected, there may be a situation where they may have to look at trading the young guard to recoup some assets as opposed to allowing him to walk for free in the offseason. Much has been made about the Mavericks’ failure to secure free agents in the offseason, but keeping one of their blossoming young players is arguably just as important. Unfortunately, this may be a tall task to tackle for new GM Nico Harrison and owner Mark Cuban.
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