Well, on some level, you have to hand it to the Knicks: they’re clearly not afraid of the withering spotlight that’s sure to shine on them by the time NBA free agency begins. And they clearly aren’t scared of their past failures to make anything of note happen once the basketball bazaar opens its doors.
They are officially of one mind now:
Jalen or nothing.
Brunson or bust.
And let’s be perfectly clear on something: whenever the NBA finally gets around to declaring when the starting door on free agency will officially open – likely next Thursday at 6 p.m. Mavericks point guard at the end of a contract. It’s a must. It’s essential.
For a while Thursday, the Knicks were reportedly tough after an alternate plan, trying to find a way to land Purdue’s Jaden Ivey. Once the Pistons picked Ivey at No. 5, the hot stove of hoops still percolated that the Knicks hoped to strike a deal with Detroit, perhaps centered on picking Jalen Duren from Memphis at No. 11 and putting in place of a package to try the Pistons.
Detroit opposed (and suddenly has one of the most intriguing young rosters in the league). That’s when Leon Rose went to work. He traded in the first round with Oklahoma City, adding several future No. 1 picks. He sent Kemba Walker’s salary to the Pistons with a pick. And with that, the Knicks’ intentions became crystal clear.
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Rose likes to find hidden gems buried in the back of the draft – Immanuel Quickley and Quentin Grimes on the last two drafts, as examples – but the time has passed for Rose to be cute about it. It’s Year 3 of his tenure, and while the Knicks are better than they were when he arrived, they’re not about to make a dent in the Eastern Conference.
They need a boost.
Brunson would be a splash, and more importantly, he would bring youth and stability to the point guard position, something the Knicks have dreamed of for years. They started this process slowly, hiring Jalen’s father, Rick (an ex-Knick), from Camden High and putting him on Tom Thibodeau’s team. Rose and Thibodeau have a long-standing relationship with the elder Brunson (and Rose’s son, Sam, is Brunson’s agent), but it’s impossible to believe they weren’t hoping the hiring might bring a side benefit.
By losing Walker’s salary and not taking a 2022 first-round pick, the Knicks now plan to be around $18 million under the cap for 2022-23. They will likely try to offload another veteran in the coming days. That should be enough to make a competitive bid for Brunson, who flourished this year on a Dallas team that advanced to the Western Conference Finals before retiring to eventual champion Warriors.
But competition is not enough. They can’t finish second here.
“What the Knicks need, more than anything, is an undisputed leader on the field, a classic point guard,” Jeff Van Gundy said last month. “That should be the number one priority.”
It clearly is, and it’s clearly going to be a monster deal the Knicks are cooking up for Brunson, one big enough to accomplish two things: one, get Brunson out of a winning situation to become a fundamental part of a team forever mutating ; and more importantly, get as close to a poison pill deal as possible to roll back Dallas owner Mark Cuban – who has said emphatically that he wants to keep Brunson.
Either way, it has to happen. Much of Rose’s credibility and viability is now on the hot plate. If Brunson is still a Texas resident by this time next week, then Rose will have basically taken a draft day bye, watched each of their conference haters take a few more steps past them and prepare the Knicks for a disjointed 2022-23.
The Knicks have been terrible summer shutdowns for years. It is a tradition that must end now. Jalen Brunson won’t put the Knicks in the Finals next year. But he’s a terrific player in a critical position, and he takes the Knicks a few steps closer to the sun. Yet he must first get here. And so Leon Rose is on the clock.
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