Knicks must go all out to land Jalen Brunson

We can debate all day and all of the night what the Knicks crave at this point in their existence, and it’ll be a lively and long deliberation. A team that wins only 37 of its 82 games and finishes a full six games out of the NBA’s 10-team Eastern Conference tournament is in no way only one piece removed from glory.

But, as ever, the building block for this argument settles in the same place.

The Knicks need a point guard.

The Knicks have needed a point guard, in truth, since Charlie Ward’s last effective season, which was 2003. That’s 19 years ago.

The Knicks have had a few fleeting hopes — Stephon Marbury came home but never truly worked out. Raymond Felton was terrific, then traded, then terrific after being reacquired and then ate himself out of New York. Jason Kidd and Derrick Rose provided hints of what they once were, but they arrived a little long in the tooth. And, of course, there was this season’s calamitous partnership with Kemba Walker.

For a franchise that once boasted Dick McGuire, Clyde Frazier, Sugar Ray Richardson, Mark Jackson, Doc Rivers and Derek Harper, it has been an awful long time between reliable drinks of water.

“What the Knicks need, more than anything, is an undisputed leader on the floor, a classic point guard,” Jeff Van Gundy mused not long ago. “That ought to be priority one.”

Jalen Brunson
Jalen Brunson will be a free agent this offseason.
NBAE via Getty Images

In a perfect world — which is to say, a Knicks-centric world; which is to say, a world that hasn’t existed in decades — there is a perfect answer: Jalen Brunson. Brunson had a breakout year this year in Dallas. He has blossomed into a star, leading the Mavericks to the Western Conference finals. He is a free agent to be.

“He is everything you ask in a player,” his college coach at Villanova, Jay Wright, said last year. “He’s selfish. He cares about both ends of the floor. And he’s obsessed with winning. Why wouldn’t you want Jalen Brunson on your team?”

As he has become an essential part of the Mavs’ success, it’s going to be harder and harder to pry him away from Mark Cuban, even if Brunson’s agent is CAA’s Sam Rose, who happens to be the son of the Knicks’ president.

A few years ago, prior to the 2020-21 season, the Knicks had a similar choice to make, when Toronto’s Fred VanVleet entered free agency, but they chose not to muscle up and outbid the Raptors — or even challenge them — preferring to remain “flexible” for last summer, which yielded a haul of Walker and Evan Fournier. That decision speaks for itself.

And it should speak, loudly and clearly, as to what Sam’s pop, Leon, needs to do. Rose was hired, after all, with the idea that his string of basketball relationships and an innovative mind could clear the Knicks’ path back to relevance. His relationship with the Brunson family dates to his old man, Rick, being Leon’s first-ever client. That part is secure.

Now, he needs to figure out a way to clear the decks and do what’s necessary to, at the least, make Jalen Brunson’s decision a little harder and allow the Knicks to make a competitive offer that’ll grab Brunson’s attention. If that involves including draft capital in order to lure someone to take Fournier or Nerlens Noel off their hands, so be it. Get it done.

Jalen Brunson
Jalen Brunson has elevated his game in the playoffs.
Getty Images

The Knicks have already forfeited their best opportunity to find a foundational point guard in the draft. In 2020, they took Obi Toppin with the eighth pick in that summer’s draft. While Toppin is certainly an intriguing player whose late-season surge opened some eyes, that meant bypassing both Tyrese Haliburton (picked by the Kings at 12 before being traded to Indiana last year) and Cole Anthony (the Magic took him at 15).

if the Knicks stay put at 11, that could yield TyTy Washington Jr., who showed promise as a freshman at Kentucky last year, and the Knicks have never been shy about collecting Wildcats on their roster. And, look: Sometimes, you get lucky. The Knicks found Jackson at 18 back in 1987, and he won Rookie of the Year.

But Leon Rose wasn’t hired because he owns a lucky horseshoe. He was hired because of who he knows and what he knows. And what he needs to know is this: If the Knicks are serious about taking a serious step forward, they need to keep after the best point guard available until they’re told he’s no longer available. That’s Jalen Brunson.

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