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Knicks tampering bothers the Mavs, but they probably should just do it themselves

The Knicks may lose a second-round pick for how they acquired Jalen Brunson. They'll shrug.
Credit: AP
Dallas Mavericks guard Jalen Brunson (13) reacts after scoring against the Phoenix Suns during the second half of Game 3 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series, Friday, May 6, 2022, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

DALLAS — The Mavs developed a young player into a star, saw that development fuel a deep postseason run, and pledged they'd spend a lot of money to keep him here as the running mate to a generational talent.

And that player decided he wanted to go to the New York Knicks instead.

Jalen Brunson is a Knick. Four years, and a reported $104 million.

Another NBA offseason, another dose of heartache for Mavs fans. This time, instead of swinging and missing on a big-time free agent, it's a homegrown piece dipping out for big city life before the Mavs could even make an offer.

When you consider all the familial aspects of the move -- Brunson's upbringing in the New York area, his childhood times at Madison Square Garden, watching his father play in the NBA Finals for the Knicks, Brunson's father being an assistant coach with the Knicks, Brunson's agent being the son of the Knicks GM, yes this list is very long -- Brunson's decision to sign with the Knicks makes sense.

But on a basketball level, it's endlessly puzzling.

Brunson chose to sign with a Knicks franchise that hasn't been relevant since Brunson's father was on the roster in the '90s. A Knicks team that finished in last place in their division, missed the Eastern Conference play-in, let alone the playoffs, and isn't in the same stratosphere as East heavyweights like the Heat, Celtics, and Bucks. 

He chose this Knicks team over playing with Luka Doncic. Over a Mavs team that he helped usher to the Western Conference Finals. Over pursuing the significant potential he and this team showed for becoming a championship-caliber team.

The Knicks pulled out all the stops. They were very obviously negotiating a deal with Brunson before the league's 'legal tampering period' opened up. Heck, Brunson told the Mavs that there was no point in doing a meeting on Thursday night, during the afternoon. 

Free agency didn't officially begin until 5 p.m. But that kind of tampering, with teams negotiating before they're allowed to, happens all the time, all around the league, and with very little, if any, consequence. Just look at the litany of free agent signings that Adrian Wojnarowski and Shams Charania tweet out at 5:00, 5:01, 5:02, and so forth. Very clearly, those tweets must be drafted in advance. No one's thumbs can move that fast.

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Frankly, I think the Mavs should engage in more tampering. The punishment is virtually nonexistent. And maybe if they were more willing to go that route, they might have more success in the free agent frenzy that we see every summer.

But the Knicks went full Texas high school football when they hired Brunson's dad to be an assistant coach. That's the move that is most bothersome to the Mavericks. 

New York hired Brunson in early June, to be an assistant on Tom Thibodeau's staff. Three and a half weeks later, his son was reportedly signing with the Knicks on a nine-figure deal, without allowing the Mavs to even meet with him or make a real offer.

The Knicks will probably lose a second round pick over it all. They'll shrug. The league will shrug.

The Mavs say they just won't engage in tampering. If that's truly the case, they're lagging behind, very clearly, much of the NBA.

JaVale McGee is a Mav again. That won't excite anyone, but it's also not nothing. He'll be a useful piece for them, supplanting Dwight Powell's role in some form or fashion. Christian Wood's acquisition is legitimate and promising. He figures to be a significant upgrade.

But as of Thursday night, when the most important aspects of NBA free agency have already come and gone, it feels like another belly-up offseason for the Dallas Mavericks.

And after all the promise of April and May, this one will sting Mavs fans even worse.

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