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Don’t believe the (tampering) hype

The NBA hasn’t said boo about the Knicks and Brunson.

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

In an article that appeared in The Athletic yesterday, Knicks beat writer Fred Katz started a small firestorm by stating the following about Jalen Brunson’s recent deal with the New York Knicks:

From what I’ve gathered, the Mavericks are quite frustrated with the Knicks — and not just because reports of a finished deal came out before New York was even allowed to speak with Brunson (though I am not sure how tampering rules account for father-son relationships, and this situation involves two of those). Dallas wasn’t thrilled about Knicks executive William “World Wide Wes” Wesley showing up courtside to a Mavs-Jazz playoff game, either.


People I talk to around the league expect the Knicks to get dinged for tampering. They started dumping salary for Brunson on draft night. They continued their offloading five days later, 48 hours before free agency even began. They had let go of almost $33 million by the time they could talk to Brunson.

Despite silence from the NBA on the issue, multiple outlets have taken Katz’s quote and run with it. posted, “Report: Knicks expected to get penalized for tampering with Jalen Brunson.” ran, “REPORT: Knicks expected to be punished for Jalen Brunson signing after deal leaks before free agency.” had the piece, “NBA World Reacts To Knicks Free Agency Punishment News.”

To reiterate, the NBA has released no official statements about the situation.

Could there have been tampering? Who, us? The 6’1”, 190 lb. point guard’s personal ties to the Knicks’ organization are well-documented: his dad’s an assistant coach, the head coach and team president are nominal uncles or godfathers, the team president’s son is Brunson’s agent, etc. Frankly, not signing Brunson would have been considered one of the all-time Knicks’ follies (and there have been plenty). You bet it’s possible that Rick Brunson, Jalen’s dad, mentioned the Knicks while passing the mashed potatoes at Sunday dinner. If Rick didn’t, why’d New York hire him to be an assistant coach in the first place?

No doubt, Dallas wants to save face. For an organization that claimed to prioritize their budding star, botching the Brunson deal looks like a major gaffe on Dallas’ part. As explained by Marc Stein in the September 29th episode of The Mismatch, the Mavs came into this season knowing that Brunson was eligible for a four-year extension, with compensation up to $56 million. Dallas chose to wait and see if a trade involving Brunson to upgrade their roster would be possible.

Both the trade deadline and the playoffs came and went without an extension. According to Stein in the podcast, Rick Brunson reassured Dallas during the playoffs that Jalen was still amenable to the extension deal. Still, Dallas would not commit. Finally, the exceedingly patient Brunson decided to test the open market, and wisely so, given that he’ll now earn almost double the amount for which Dallas could have locked him in.

So, the Mavs blew it, and now they want to redirect the narrative. Let them try. Tampering happens all the time in today’s NBA, and, as Masai Ujiri once remarked, “It’s incredible how every NBA team has a deal done by 6:02.” We’ll have to wait and see if Adam Silver thinks the Knicks did anything especially egregious to get their man. I’d bet he doesn’t.