At least the Knicks will have one Brunson on their payroll.
Rick Brunson, father of point guard Jalen Brunson, is expected to join Tom Thibodeau’s coaching staff to fill the vacancy left when Kenny Payne departed to take the head coaching job at Louisville, an NBA source confirmed.
The elder Brunson was on Thibodeau’s staff in Chicago and Minnesota and was Knicks president Leon Rose’s first client when Brunson played guard for the Knicks from 1998-2000.
One source said Thibodeau, who was hired by the Knicks nearly two years ago, wanted Brunson on his staff from the get-go, but there was concern from some in upper management about his controversial departure from the Timberwolves. Brunson resigned after he was accused of improper conduct toward women while he was working for the organization. Brunson’s attorney said his client had done nothing wrong.
Before his time as an assistant at Minnesota, Brunson was acquitted of charges he had sexually abused a massage therapist in 2014 near Chicago.
Another league source said Brunson turned down a position with the Knicks two years ago because he wanted to wait until his son was settled on his second NBA contract after Jalen was paid the minimum as a second-round pick of the Mavericks in 2018.
The younger Brunson, an impending free agent, is weeks away from landing a potential $100 million contract, though the sense is Dallas will re-sign him after its successful run to the Western Conference finals. A source who recently spoke to Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said he’d be shocked if the club didn’t re-sign him.
Whether his father joining the Knicks is enough to get Jalen to change his mind and come to New York for less money is unclear, but it at least gives Thibodeau another ally on the staff.
Rick Brunson told a confidant recently he just wants his son to sign the fairest deal representative of his market value.
Knicks senior executive William Wesley previously forced Thibodeau to hire three assistant coaches: Mike Woodson, Payne and Johnnie Bryant. While Thibodeau knew Woodson and respected him, he was completely unfamiliar with Payne and Bryant. Bryant is speculated to be Thibodeau’s successor if he gets bounced next season.
The Knicks recently hired another coach Thibodeau is unfamiliar with, DeSagana Diop, who used to work for the Jazz with Bryant. Diop, for now, is serving as the Westchester Knicks G-League coach.
Rick Brunson appeared on a Dallas telecast in late April and was asked if his son would return to the Mavericks.
“We all give our opinion, but Jalen makes the final decision,” he said. “I know he loves it here and know he enjoys it here. If he decides to stay here, we’re going to be happy. I don’t see him looking to go anywhere. But one never knows. It’s a business.”
Brunson’s relationship with his son is complicated, as depicted in a 2015 Sports Illustrated story. Rick said he was worried about his relationship with his son because he knew how hard he had been on him as he crafted his basketball career.
In an anecdote from the piece, Rick said he once walked onto the court during a friendly pickup game he son was playing in and chewed him out.
“None of these people came here to watch you play by yourself,” Rick said he told Jalen. “Pass the ball or get out of the gym.”
The younger Brunson playfully prodded his father’s journeyman career during the West finals. When asked if he had surpassed his father as the best player in the family, Jalen said, “My dad wasn’t even a player compared to me …”
The Knicks don’t have cap space and the Mavericks have an edge by being able to add a fifth season — likely at $20 million plus.
One bright spot is Jalen’s agent at CAA is Leon Rose’s son, Sam Rose.
The Knicks could agree to a deal and worry about clearing cap space later. Alec Burks, Nerlens Noel, Kemba Walker, Derrick Rose all have expiring contracts that might be easy to dump — even if it’s for a trade exception. Taj Gibson’s $5 million pact is not guaranteed.
That threat could force the Mavericks into a sign-and-trade. It would be a mathematical impossibility, however, for the Knicks to include free agent center Mitchell Robinson in a Brunson sign-and-trade because both are base-year compensation players.