Knicks center Nerlens Noel looks on against the Rockets in...

Knicks center Nerlens Noel looks on against the Rockets in the second half of an NBA game at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 20, 2021. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

While the start of free agency remains a day away the Knicks took a major step into the market already by dealing away Alec Burks and Nerlens Noel to clear the space for their free agent pursuits.

The Knicks sent the two players, along with a pair of second-round picks and cash to the Detroit Pistons. The Pistons already had aided the Knicks cap-clearing efforts Thursday when they took Kemba Walker off the Knicks hands. The move now gives the Knicks approximately $30 million in cap space — even without waiving the non-guaranteed contract of Taj Gibson, more than enough to go all in on their efforts to land Jalen Brunson.

The deal, first reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, was confirmed by a league source, but was not expected to be made official Tuesday night — and possibly not until the moratorium on signing free agents is lifted on July 6.

Brunson, the Dallas Mavericks 25-year-old point guard, is widely expected to leave Dallas for the Knicks, where he has close family ties — his father, Rick, was just recently named to Tom Thibodeau’s staff as an assistant coach, a role he already served under Thibodeau in Chicago and Minnesota. And the elder Brunson was the first client of Knicks president Leon Rose when Rose was first starting out as an agent — and Rose’s son, Sam, is now one of Jalen Brunson’s agent.

The family ties aside, Brunson would provide the Knicks with as good of a point guard as they have had in decades. While serving as the sidekick to Luka Doncic, Brunson averaged a career-best 16.3 points and 4.8 assists this season, numbers that escalated to 21.6 points per game in the postseason — including a 41-point performance with Doncic was out because of an injury. 

If the recruiting is easy, the Knicks still have to pay up. Dallas was able to offer a five-year deal worth approximately $175 million. But with luxury tax considerations they are reportedly hesitant to go that high, instead trying to get Brunson for a contract worth $110 million over five seasons. The Knicks can only go four years — unless Dallas is willing to help in a sign-and-trade deal — but now can top the annual salary the Mavericks were willing to offer.

While Brunson is a solid piece to place beside RJ Barrett and Julius Randle — if the team doesn’t move Randle this summer — it’s hard to imagine that his addition brings the Knicks into the stratosphere at the top of the Eastern Conference with Boston, Milwaukee, Brooklyn, Miami and Philadelphia.

With the cap space cleared the Knicks also do not need to renounce Mitchell Robinson’s cap hold and will likely attempt to bring him back — particularly with Noel gone.

While Noel was plagued by injuries that limited him to 25 games last season, Burks was a solid contributor and a favorite of coach Tom Thibodeau. In attaching the picks and cash to get the deals off the books, along with sending picks out to rid themselves of Walker, the Knicks front office paid a steep price for their mistakes of last summer when they signed the three of them. Evan Fournier and Derrick Rose are the only signings from last summer still in place — and the team has shopped Fournier. As of now, Fournier, who set a Knicks franchise record for most three-point field goals in a single season this past season, will plug in as a starter alongside Brunson, Barrett, Randle and Robinson.

While they still have their own first-round pick in the 2023 draft, along with the picks of Dallas, Detroit and Washington the Knicks have more moves to make if they are hoping to jump into contention. If Robinson is back, the Knicks will have Jericho Sims, who is expected to be shifted from a two-way contract to a regular roster spot, and Gibson behind him. 

Not having Burks on the team will allow more minutes for young guards Immanuel Quickley and Quentin Grimes.