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Paying Jalen Brunson whatever it takes makes sense for the Mavericks

The Mavericks have few ways to replace Brunson, if that’s even possible

2022 NBA Playoffs - Dallas Mavericks v Golden State Warriors Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

If the options come down to letting Jalen Brunson walk to the New York Knicks or overpay him, the answer is to overpay him. If Dallas is a serious organization with championship aspirations then the only recourse is to pay market value. Even if the market is being set by Jalen’s dad and godfather.

A lucrative sign and trade to New York is not happening. It’s been detailed how difficult that is to do here, but it’s worth repeating that a sign-and-trade is an extremely low probability given the Mavericks cap situation.

I’ve seen people posting potential sign-and-trades where the Knicks give the Mavericks good players and picks. I feel safe predicting that this is not happening. With the Knicks clearing actual space there is no reason for them to do a sign and trade.

There are plenty of real reasons the Knicks won’t do a sign-and-trade with real assets going to the Mavericks:

  • They don’t need the Mavericks’ help to sign Brunson
  • There is NO monetary benefit for Brunson to do a sign and trade.
  • Some people keep thinking that since teams can give their own free agents five years that naturally the Mavericks could sign and trade him for five years. This is incorrect. In a sign and trade the contract rules mirror the rules for signing with another team. A four year max with 5% max raises. Only signing AND STAYING with your incumbent team with bird rights allows you to sign for 5 years with 8% raises.
  • Brunson would want whatever team he’s on to have the best team. He wouldn’t intentionally make the Knicks give the Mavericks good compensation. If he’s signing there then his main priority is the Knicks… not the Mavericks.
  • IF there is a sign-and-trade it would be the Mavericks wanting it just so that it would create a TPE. The problem is that the Base Year Compensation rule (BYC) problems as noted in my sign-and-trade piece cut Brunson’s outgoing salary in half. So if his first year was $25 million our TPE would only be $12.5 million.

Overpaying older veterans is an issue. Sometimes they age gracefully and other times they drop off. Paying too much for Brunson would not fall into this category. Brunson will be 26 all of next season. If you sign him to a four year deal you’ll be getting the BEST of his prime years. No reason to suspect decline, I would bet bigger on seeing improvement. Overpaying for a promising player’s prime years has very little downside.

If Brunson walks to the Knicks there are fans saying that would be a fine outcome. Dallas will benefit in using that slot for other players somehow. There’s no clear way to replace his level of talent and production. Let’s look at the Mavericks Cap Sheet for the next couple years and go year-by-year.


The Mavericks wouldn’t gain any mechanism this offseason if Brunson leaves into the Knicks cap space. Dallas is way over the cap. It could help the Mavericks to avoid the tax apron. They would still need to shed more salary but getting below would be easier when you minus what would have been Brunson’s $20 million or more salary. That could open the door for receiving a free agent in a sign-and-trade but the Mavericks would have to send out assets to shed the extra money and it might prevent them from being able to use their MLE.


Dallas will also not be a cap space team in 2023 so the benefit of Brunson leaving wouldn’t be anything substantial. It could allow the Mavericks to have the Full MLE rather than the Taxpayer MLE depending on who they re-sign out of Maxi Kleber, Christian Wood, Dwight Powell, or Frank Ntilikina.


The Mavericks project to potentially have $45 million in cap space, right! However, that’s with only 4 salaries. They will surely add salaries in the future that push them past the point of having usable cap space. The point is, if you have a supermax guy like Luka Doncic and want to remain competitive, you generally won’t have cap space.


This is the year where it IS possible the Mavericks could have cap space because their books are pretty clear now. The new TV deal kicks in that year and the Mavericks have a few contracts expiring that summer: Davis Bertans, Tim Hardaway, and maybe an opt-out Dorian Finney-Smith. So signing Brunson COULD block our potential cap space then EXCEPT he’d be 28 and with the cap going up would likely opt out himself!

Brunson signing for an uncomfortably high amount would not impair the Mavericks in any way. However not re-signing him would yield very little in terms of helping Dallas with team building while also making the Mavericks substantially worse for Luka’s young prime.

It would be a huge mistake to let Brunson walk to save a potential $5 million and would be dumb according to their cap sheet and the CBA. Even if you gauge his initial value at $18 million, paying an $18 million dollar player $25 million (or even $27 million) would be a better outcome than hunting for his replacement using the same $6.392 million taxpayer MLE we already have.

If Brunson comes out at his hypothetical Knicks press conference and says something like “The Mavericks offered me more money but I wanted to be with my dad and Leon in the Big Apple” then we would reasonably blame Donnie Nelson for signing him to a non-guaranteed 4th year instead of a team option AND Nico Harrison for not signing Brunson to an extension when it was possible.

It’s true that the Luxury Tax is a real threat this season and I have pegged their tax being over $80 million if they re-sign Brunson and use the Taxpayer MLE. They might get some relief next year with Powell and Wood expiring, but having a supermax top five player means Dallas will be in the tax if they want to complete for a championship. Since Luka has stated his goal and Cuban has said keeping Luka is job number one… I don’t see letting Brunson walk as a possibility.