Jalen Brunson #11 of the Knicks controls the ball in the...

Jalen Brunson #11 of the Knicks controls the ball in the first half against the Portland Trail Blazers at Madison Square Garden on Friday, Nov. 25, 2022. Credit: Jim McIsaac

GREENBURGH, N.Y. — Leaving a team, even the team that drafted and developed a player, is a common occurrence and one that often comes with little emotion, chalked up simply as a part of the business. And no matter how you ask him, Jalen Brunson insists that is the case as he prepares to face the Dallas Mavericks for the first time Saturday afternoon at Madison Square Garden.

But there is something, a sting that is there, even if Brunson says he won’t approach the game any differently from any other game on the Knicks' schedule.

As he grew with Dallas during his four seasons, the Mavericks had the chance to sign him but never offered him the four-year, $55.5 million contract extension that he was eligible for, nor did they come to the table during the 2021-22 season when he still was open to the possibility.

Mavericks general manager Nico Harrison told The Dallas Morning News, “One, us not re-signing [Brunson] wasn’t our choice.” But Brunson’s father, Rick, now a Knicks assistant coach, told ESPN in April, “In January, I thought he did enough where he deserved [the extension]. I said, 'Hey, take the money, man.' He wants security. He wants to live here. And they declined. He didn't turn [expletive] down. Y'all declined first. When y'all came back to him, we said, 'Hey, we just want to finish out the season and go from there.' "

Asked if he thinks about the fact that he still could be in Dallas if the Mavericks had offered the extension, Brunson said, “I do think about that. I do think about that. But everything happens for a reason.”

Then, when asked if the Mavericks had done everything they could to re-sign him, he said, “Next question, please.”

That is as much as you will get out of Brunson. With the door left open by the Mavericks, he left for more money than Dallas had considered giving him — and never gave the Mavs a chance to come back with an offer, signing with the Knicks for four years and $104 million.

 Now the Knicks, who went 37-45 last season, are 10-12. The Mavericks, who reached the Western Conference finals last season, are 10-11. Brunson has delivered exactly what the Knicks hoped, becoming a leader on and off the floor and averaging 21.3 points and 6.5 assists. In his absence, Luka Doncic has raised his game to an even higher level, averaging 33.6 points, 8.7 assists and 8.7 rebounds.

Brunson knows this game will put his decision — and the Mavericks' decision, too — on center stage, a place he usually tries to avoid. 

“What’s important for me is I don’t let any outside noise affect me, especially when the ball is in the air,” he said. “Obviously, you see a lot, you’re going to read a lot. In this social media era, everything is out there. It’s going to come up. But I just do my best to focus, surround myself with people who aren’t going to deviate me off my path or how I focus pregame or things like that. It’s the same focus.”

“I think obviously he’s had a lot of good experiences there,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said. “That’s where he started his career. But that’s sort of the nature of our league. It’s not uncommon to change teams, so I think players adapt very well . . .  So there’s a lot of friendships involved and agents and that sort of thing. But those guys were a big part of his life, and I think the best part about Jalen is he’s straightforward, focused, locked into exactly what we have to do.”


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