Mark Cuban: Mavericks didn’t get shot at re-signing Jalen Brunson

Mark Cuban: Mavericks didn’t get shot at re-signing Jalen Brunson
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DALLAS – During an unscheduled pregame media availability Wednesday evening, Mavericks governor Mark Cuban blamed Jalen Brunson’s father for the point guard’s departure from Dallas and declared that re-signing Kyrie Irving would be the franchise’s top offseason priority despite the team’s lackluster results since the blockbuster trade to acquire the All-Star guard.

The Mavericks are nearing the end of a “very disappointing season,” in the words of Luka Doncic, the face of the franchise, with slim odds to qualify for the play-in tournament after advancing to the Western Conference finals a year ago. The loss of Brunson in free agency last summer has been a devastating blow for the Mavericks, who are 38-42 and in 11th place in the Western Conference after Wednesday’s home win over the Sacramento Kings.

Cuban adamantly disputed that Brunson was willing to sign a four-year, $56 million extension with the Mavs as late as early January last year, which Jalen’s father, Rick, and Jalen have both said was the case, and insisted that the Mavs weren’t given an opportunity to negotiate before Brunson signed a four-year, $104 million deal with the New York Knicks in free agency.

“Where it went south was when Rick took over, when the parent took over, or parents took over,” Cuban said.

Cuban read reporters text messages that he said were sent by Mavs general manager Nico Harrison and Brunson’s agent Aaron Mintz in late January and early February 2022. One of the texts from Harrison stated that Rick Brunson indicated that Jalen expected to receive a contract with salaries in the range of $18-23 million per year.

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The Mavs were limited to a four-year, $56 million extension unless they made a trade to create salary cap space, which they could have used to negotiate a larger extension for Brunson and which Cuban said was what Brunson’s agent and father indicated was their preference.

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“‘We aren’t gonna make a decision on JB based on what Aaron says his dad wants in July,'” Cuban said, quoting a text from Harrison. “And Nico back then is saying – this is in February – ‘I agree with you, but I think just the New York thing is too tied to their family to overcome.'”

Leon Rose, the Knicks’ president, is Brunson’s godfather and was his first agent. Rick Brunson, Rose’s first player client, was hired by the Knicks as an assistant coach prior to free agency, the third time he has worked for New York head coach Tom Thibodeau. Despite the strong ties to the Knicks, Cuban said the Mavs were optimistic they could re-sign Brunson when he became an unrestricted free agent.

“We thought that we could turn him around,” Cuban said when asked why Dallas didn’t trade Brunson before last season’s deadline. “We wanted to re-sign him and we wanted to keep the season going together. We thought, ’cause JB kept on telling us he liked being here. JB never gave us an indication. It was only the parents that were the issue. Even the agent said, worst case, we can do a sign-and-trade.”

The Mavs, who possessed Brunson’s Bird rights, could have offered significantly more money than the Knicks and a fifth year on the contract. According to Cuban, the Mavs were not given that opportunity.

“We didn’t know what the bid was,” Cuban said, speaking to the media a day after Doncic said the Mavs missed Brunson “a lot” and bemoaned the decline of Dallas’ chemistry this season. “They never gave us a number. Knowing the numbers now, I would’ve paid it in a heartbeat, but he wouldn’t have come anyway. There’s just no possible way that it was about money.

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“I mean, there was no negotiation. They didn’t give us a number. I mean, you would think that when you’re the incumbent team and you can match anything, that’s the way it works. Right? You have a relationship with the agent and they want to at least give you a chance because you helped develop the player. You had him for four years. OK, let’s work together.”

Brunson has thrived with the Knicks, averaging 24.0 points and 6.2 assists per game for a New York team that has clinched a playoff spot. The Mavs attempted to fill the glaring void left by his departure by trading for Irving, sending the Brooklyn Nets two starters (Dorian Finney-Smith and Spencer Dinwiddie) and an unprotected 2029 first-round pick.

While the deal hasn’t paid dividends – Dallas is 8-15 since Irving joined the team – Cuban expressed a strong desire to keep Irving in Dallas.

“I’d love to have him stay for sure,” Cuban said. “I’d love to have him. I want him to stay for sure, and I think we have a good shot. I think he’s happy here. He tells me he’s happy here, and I get along great with him. I think he’s a good guy. All I can tell you is everything I thought I knew about Kyrie because of everything I read was 100% wrong.”

The Mavs can offer Irving as much as $272 million over five years, more than any other team due to possessing his Bird rights. But Cuban was noncommittal when asked if the Mavs could be outbid for Irving in free agency this summer.

“I don’t know,” Cuban said. “I guess there’s always too high a price, depending, but now with the new CBA, it’s a different world.”

Cuban mentioned the upcoming new collective bargaining agreement again when pushed on the Mavs’ ability to make the largest offer to Irving.

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“That’s not the point, if you can’t improve your team,” Cuban said. “You’ve gotta be able to improve your team. Right? You have paid attention that there’s a new CBA coming, right? You’re aware of that. Right? And you’ve read some of the things that have been reported about team building and those types of things, right?”

Doncic, citing the Mavs’ struggles and issues in his private life, recently said that he’s as frustrated as he’s been in his five-year NBA career. Cuban said such frustration is common in the NBA when teams deal with adversity.

“Every team that’s had a player for five years has not always just been great, right?” Cuban said. “Look at the Warriors. They had guys hurt and they lose two seasons basically, more than two seasons. You can point to teams – the Hawks, everybody – where there’s frustration. It’s not unusual in the NBA. There’s only one winner and everybody else loses.”

Asked if he gets a sense that Doncic remains optimistic about the Mavs’ long-term future, Cuban said, “Look, players don’t talk like that, just like, ‘Hey, I’m here for the next 17 years.’ He’d like to be here the whole time, but we’ve got to earn that.”

How can the Mavs do that?

“Win championships,” Cuban said. “It’s amazing how that cures all. I mean, before Giannis [Antetokounmpo] won, everybody was like, ‘Where’s he going? Where’s he going? He’s not staying. He’s not staying.’ [Nikola] Jokic, while they haven’t won, da, da, da, da, da. Dirk [Nowitzki] before [the Mavs won the 2010-11 title], right?

“There’s no great player, no superstar, where they don’t question, ‘What are you gonna do if you haven’t won yet?”