August 12, 2022

The Knicks are allowed to employ Jalen Brunson on Wednesday, the first day free agents can officially sign, and when the deal closes, quite a few New Yorkers will raise a glass in response. The city has always been madly in love with point guards, and it’s been a while since the Knicks had a youngster worth their while.

They’ve been looking for another Walt Frazier for as long as the Jets have been looking for another Joe Namath, and while we’re talking about the local quarterbacks, here’s an interesting question to ask and answer:

If you were to invest in a local business over the next four years, would you invest your money in Brunson, Zach Wilson or Daniel Jones?

I would probably bet on Brunson, because he’s the QB who has already proven he can score a lot of points with some playoff performances. After his Mavericks lost to eventual champion Warriors in the Western Conference Finals, it was pretty clear that Brunson was going to lock down Dallas for his father’s old team in the big city – now managed by the former agent of his father, Leon Rose, father of Jalen. current agent, Sam. The Knicks have dispelled any doubts by hiring Rick Brunson as an assistant coach.

Falsification? The whole fucking league has been faking for decades. The Knicks once lost Pat Riley and the prospect of winning multiple championships to Heat tampering. All these years later, they’ll pay the fine or spit out the second-round pick or do anything for Jalen Brunson and move on.

Jalen Brunson
Jalen Brunson
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A two-time national champion at Villanova, Brunson is the ultimate crafty southpaw, an athlete who makes up for his lack of high-level athleticism by playing angles, seeing things his opponents don’t, and using his squatty 6 -foot- 1 body like the hammer needed to create its workspace. Among NBA guards last season, Brunson had the fourth-best shooting percentage in the paint (51.4), fifth-best in the restricted area (67.2), eighth-best on shots from mid-range (47.3) and third best on corner 3s (50.0). The guy can play.

And now the bad news. (It’s the Knicks, remember? There must be some bad news.) This time around, even after Rose delivers Tom Thibodeau a player he actually wants, the Knicks don’t seem like a safe bet to return to the main draw playoffs next. season after completely missing the playoffs last year. They should get past the unraveling Brooklyn Nets and maybe outrun another team or two in a busy Eastern Conference. But barring a big summer move coming up, the additions of Brunson and backup center Isaiah Hartenstein and the re-signing of Mitchell Robinson leave the Knicks looking like a play team.

That’s not ideal in Year 3 of Thibodeau’s program, especially after the eye-popping breakthrough in Year 1 suggested the Knicks could be much closer to a legitimate claim than that.

Of course, it might have been a different conversation if Rose had traded for Dejounte Murray, acquired instead by Atlanta, the very playoff opponent that bounced the Knicks off in the first round in 2021. Murray and Brunson in the backcourt would have caught the attention of people in the East. Conference venues that matter.

Jalen Brunson
Jalen Brunson
Getty Images

But now, it’s hard to see how the Knicks have gained ground over the somewhat improved conference champion Celtics (via Malcolm Brogdon and Danilo Gallinari), and the Miamis, Milwaukees, Phillys and Torontos. Kevin Durant could find himself on one of those teams, negating the benefits the Knicks thought they would derive from the Nets’ implosion.

Those 11 first-round picks over the next seven years? Rose needs to figure out how to convert these assets into top players as soon as possible. None of his top three Knicks — RJ Barrett, Julius Randle and Brunson — are good enough to be a franchise contender’s first player or to be a championship team’s second-best player.

That doesn’t mean the Knicks are completely lost — they’re not. Barrett could become a consistent force, and Randle could shake off a disappointing season, anyway, and get back to something approaching his most improved player form. Thibodeau could also have a rebound year, and his new point guard — the son of his former assistant in Chicago and Minnesota — could make his four-year, $104 million deal look smart.

While Brunson has clearly benefited from Luka Doncic’s unearthly presence and all the attention Luka has commanded, he isn’t simply a creation of the partnership. Brunson has shot better than 50 percent from the field in each of the past two seasons and averaged 21.6 points in the Mavs’ 18 playoff games. At 25, he could be a very good long-term NBA starter, but probably not a great one. I could see him as another Fred VanVleet, an opportunistic winner who will make two or three All-Star teams.

All in all, the Knicks could do a lot worse than that. They’ve gotten better, finally, in the place New Yorkers care about more than any other; their romance with this traffic cop spot inspired Mr. Durant, of all filmmakers, on the run in Brooklyn, to produce a Showtime documentary titled “NYC Point Gods” airing later this month.

But ending a drought at this position doesn’t mean the Knicks are significantly closer to ending a much bigger drought. Unless Leon Rose has a big summer move coming out of left field, the Knicks will start next season as another barely relevant club.