LAS VEGAS — When Jalen Brunson made his decision, not even allowing a meeting with the Dallas Mavericks as he embarked on free agency, Mark Cuban was disappointed. Maybe he raised an eyebrow about just how the departure was going down. But on Friday afternoon, the Mavericks’ owner took the high road and wished nothing but the best for Brunson.
The official signing hasn’t taken place yet. That is expected to occur no sooner than Sunday and likely will extend into early next week as Brunson finishes off a vacation and a camp appearance before heading to New York to undergo his physical. But Cuban conceded that the valuable point guard is gone and praised him on the way out.
“No hard feelings. I wish him nothing but the best,” he said, standing courtside at the Thomas and Mack Center. “You bust your [butt] and you have that choice. He deserves it.
“It happens. It’s the way this league works. It’s a business. You trade a player, you say it’s a business. You lose a player, it’s a business. It’s just the way it goes.”
Cuban had nurtured Brunson from a second-round pick into a starring role beside Luka Doncic in Dallas, and under coach Jason Kidd, Brunson had taken a huge step forward. The Mavericks had their chances to sign him earlier before he reached free agency but opted to keep their roster and cap flexibility. By the time they reached out with a deal, he already was determined to enter free agency.
The Mavericks were believed to be topping out at approximately $21 million per year for five years and the Knicks agreed to a deal worth $104 million over four years. But Cuban felt it wasn’t a matter of value being placed on Brunson.
“It really wasn’t about the amount of money,” he said. “We really didn’t get a chance to make an offer. It was Jalen’s choice. And I understand it. He knew those guys his entire life. He grew up there. It makes perfect sense.”
Once Brunson was free, there was little doubt that the Knicks — in need of a point guard to stabilize their team and with long and deep connections to Brunson — would be pursuing him. His father, Rick, was hired as an assistant coach by the Knicks, returning to a role under Tom Thibodeau that he’d previously served in Chicago and Minnesota. And Knicks president Leon Rose is nearly family with the Brunsons. Rick was Rose’s first client in his beginnings as an agent and Rose’s son, Sam, currently at CAA, serves as one of Jalen’s agents.
That has raised questions about tampering, but Cuban brushed aside the notion that he is filing any charges. “That’s all the league stuff,” he said. “That’s not for us to say. It’s up to them.”
There have been whispers throughout the league that the Mavericks were upset that Knicks vice president William Wesley was sitting in the front row at a Mavericks playoff game, but Cuban dismissed that.
“Somebody asked me . . . ,” he said. “I’m like, I don’t give a [expletive]. Why would I care? It’s not like, ‘OK, we don’t go to the playoff game, that changes what we think and what we’re doing.’ I don’t care.”
What the Mavericks do care about is losing a player who flourished this season, particularly in the postseason. When Doncic was sidelined against Utah, Brunson put up 41 and 31 points in consecutive games.
“They’re getting somebody who creates his own shot,” Cuban said. “Amazing midrange game. Ninth in the league in taking charges. Great guy. Great in the locker room. Great in the community. Supported the organization. A good kid.”
Kidd, sitting with Cuban, said he could not talk about it until the signing was official, but he did speak earlier on ESPN about Brunson.
“Well, we can’t replace Brunson,” Kidd said on NBA Today. “He’s a great player. I’m happy for him and his family, signing a deal in New York. It’s well-deserved. We wanted him back but he picked New York. But when you talk about [adding] Christian Wood and Tim Hardaway coming back, everybody has asked this question — we believe the points will be there and we believe we’re going to be a bigger team.”
Notes & quotes: The Knicks announced that they have waived Taj Gibson, who had a non-guaranteed $5.2 million contract. The Knicks could have brought him back after finalizing their other contracts, but The Athletic reported that Gibson is expected to sign with Washington after clearing waivers.