Jalen Brunson, the former Dallas Mavericks guard who has piloted the New York Knicks to the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference, recently sat down with Chris Haynes of Bleacher Report. Brunson provided Mavericks’ fans with an insider’s look into his tenure in Dallas.
Brunson Wanted to Stay In Dallas
The more we have learned from the fallout of Brunson’s departure, the more we can criticize the front office for letting him walk.
Dallas could have retained Brunson on a four-year, $55 million contract extension before last season’s trade deadline. Brunson indicated that the front office had deals on the table previously but took a different approach when the trade deadline came around.
“There were two times that I thought we had offers on the table before the season,” Brunson said. “Around December or January, they looked the other way.”
Context, however, is important. The Mavericks were actively shopping Kristaps Porziņģis to improve the team, and signing Brunson to the extension he wanted would have limited the Mavericks’ ability to trade him should they have wanted a more immediate upgrade. While nothing more than rumors circulated about Brunson during the deadline, his expiring deal and talent would have made him a valuable asset to either a contending team or a rebuilding team. Ultimately, however, Brunson was never dealt.
His play in the playoffs priced Dallas out of his services, where he increased his scoring average from 16.3 points during the regular season to 21.6 points during the playoffs. Brunson’s father joining the Knicks’ coaching staff was the nail in the coffin of his Mavericks’ tenure.
“I don’t blame [the Mavericks] for making any business decisions,” Brunson said. “Obviously, I wish things would’ve happened differently.”
Jason Kidd is a Player’s Coach
With the Mavericks sitting at 36-38 and currently out of the playoff race, Kidd has deservedly received a lot of criticism from fans and the media.
Yet, time and time again, Kidd receives praise from players he previously coached. Add Brunson to the list.
“Jason Kidd unlocked something in me that I didn’t think would happen that fast,” Brunson said of his former head coach. “When the playoffs hit, he pushed me to a new level.”
Brunson’s development was evident as he became a steadying presence in the Mavericks’ offense. While Luka Dončić was and is the freewheeling creator who could shock fans and players alike with dazzling displays of ballhandling and passing, Brunson acted as a counterbalance through his old-school game and his in-depth understanding of Kidd’s gameplan. He was an extension of the coaching staff on the court, organizing plays with his vocality and setting the tone with his physicality.
Brunson’s comments echo the sentiment of many of Kidd’s former players. Bucks’ superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo was “devastated” when Milwaukee fired him in 2018, and Lakers legend LeBron James believes that Kidd “is the only person alive who sees the game of basketball with his level of clarity.”
Brunson also hasn’t been the only developmental project Kidd has overseen in his Mavericks’ tenure. Dončić has gone from a superstar to an MVP candidate under Kidd’s watch. Josh Green went from a bench pariah to a critical role player. Second-round pick Jaden Hardy has also quickly improved under Kidd’s watch.
“Both coaching staffs I had [in Dallas] were amazing,” Brunson said.
As the Mavericks barrel toward the end of a disappointing season, one thing remains obvious: vibes matter.
Last year, Dallas was a team chock-full of good vibes. Dončić had hit a new gear and brought Brunson along for the ride. Spencer Dinwiddie injected clutch-shot making and a double dose of fun into the team. Dorian Finney-Smith blossomed into his full form.
Now, only Dončić remains.
When Dallas let Brunson walk in free agency, the team thought they were losing a good player. Not only did the team actually lose a great player, but they lost a team leader as well.
Most importantly, they lost the “immaculate vibes,” as Brunson would say, and it seems those vibes have been found in New York.
“I can’t say enough [about] the chemistry and energy that he brings to the locker room,” Julius Randle, Knicks’ All-Star, said of Brunson. “He’s one of the best teammates I’ve ever had.”
This Mavericks’ locker room is desperately lacking this level of leadership and vibes. Dončić is still growing as a leader and Kidd has made it known that he is not the team’s “savior.” Kyrie Irving was acquired to compensate for Brunson’s talent and leadership, and while he has made a big impact as a locker-room leader, it may be too little too late to save the season.
Losing a player of Brunson’s caliber for nothing in return, if anything, will act as a lesson as this front office builds a new roster around Dončić and Irving. With some young, homegrown talent on the roster in Green and Hardy, we will soon see if the front office has learned its lessons from this saga.
“I truly loved that place,” Brunson said. “I wanted [to be] with the Mavericks for the long haul.”