The Dallas Mavericks‘ impressive season came to an end on Thursday, when they bowed out of the Western Conference finals with a 120-110 loss to the Golden State Warriors in Game 5. Now, the team must turn its attention to a pivotal offseason as it tries to maintain its place among the Western Conference hierarchy.
On Friday, general manager Nico Harrison addressed the media during the team’s exit interviews and said re-signing guard Jalen Brunson is a “top priority” for the summer.
“We’ve got to figure that out,” Harrison said. “Obviously, we’re not in control of it, but he’s definitely a priority. We want to re-sign him. He knows it. We want him back. He’ll be a big part of our future.”
While Harrison expressed a bit of uncertainty about the situation, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban is confident that Brunson will be back.
“We can pay him more than anybody,” Cuban said. “I think he wants to stay and that’s most important. I think J-Kidd has a big part to play in that. I think JB blossomed as a player as much as anybody on the squad. From where he was last year to how far he came this year is a tribute to Jalen and how hard he worked, and the support he got from his dad and his family and his girlfriend. But also what he was able to learn from J-Kidd. I think he recognizes that and I think he wants to stay.”
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Brunson, for his part, made it clear how much he loved playing with this group and had all of his teammates sign a jersey for him as a keepsake. However, he offered little in regards to the actual free agency process. “Not really worried about it as of right now,” Brunson said. “Just want to relax, reflect and go from there.”
Wherever he ends up signing, it’s clear Brunson is going to earn a serious payday this summer. The Mavericks could have signed him to an extension prior to last season worth $55.6 million over four years, but they did not get a deal done; there’s no chance he’d take such an offer now, and could command more than $20 million per year.
While the Mavs’ run to the conference finals was largely driven by Luka Doncic, he got some major assistance from Brunson. In particular, while Doncic was sidelined with a calf injury in the first round, Brunson stepped up to help the Mavericks jump out to a 2-1 lead over the Utah Jazz. Brunson had a career-high 41 points in the team’s Game 2 win of that series, and for the playoffs averaged 21.6 points, 4.6 rebounds and 3.7 assists on 46.6 percent shooting.
Brunson’s ability to play on or off the ball is crucial to the Mavericks’ success. When Doncic is out, he can take over the offense as the primary ball-handler and excels at getting into the paint to either score or collapse the defense. And when Doncic is in the game, he can space the floor and knock down open 3s — 40.1 percent on catch-and-shoot opportunities this season.
The Mavericks’ front office has made it clear they want to keep Brunson and are willing to pay to keep him. Now, it just comes down to Brunson’s preference on where he wants to be. The Mavericks will give him a chance to compete in the postseason, but he’ll never be the main guy with Doncic in town. If he wants a chance to run his own team, he’ll have to go elsewhere, though that could mean a less competitive situation.