Brunson was lost for words to describe the collapse of the team he left behind, which he helped advance to the Western Conference Finals last season.
“I am surprised. I honestly have no comment about that. It’s definitely surprising,” Brunson said.
The Mavericks (37-42) have lost seven of their last eight games to drop out of the play-in picture. They are trailing the Oklahoma City Thunder (38-42) by half-game for the final play-in spot with three games left in their schedule.
In New York, Brunson’s star turn this season is one of the biggest reasons why the Knicks have defied the preseason odds to return to the postseason after missing out last year.
Brunson is having a career season on the first year of a four-year, $104 million deal he signed with the Knicks last summer which is turning out to be a bargain.
The 26-year-old guard is jusy hitting his prime. He is currently averaging 24.0 points, 6.2 assists and 41.6% from deep, all career highs.
On the flip side, his absence is one of the major reasons the Mavericks are sinking.
Not even the arrival of Kyrie Irving at the trade deadline could turn their fortunes around. Instead, they became worse.
Their current state has led to the Mavericks contemplating shutting down their stars to enhance their lottery position, according to The Athletic’s Shams Charania.
“I’m told that the organization is seriously considering shutting down those guys. They have a top-10 protected pick. So being out of the play-in race, it behooves them not to try to keep their pick,” Charania said on FanDuel TV’s Run It Back April 3 episode.
If they push through with the plan, the top-10 protected first-round pick they owe the Knicks (via the Kristaps Porzingis trade in 2019) is unlikely to convey this year, leaving Brunson’s current team without a selection in the upcoming NBA Draft.
The Knicks have already traded away their own first-round selection to the Portland Trail Blazers in the Josh Hart trade. At the same time, their other first-round picks from Detroit Pistons (top-18 protection this year) and Washington Wizards (top-14 protection this year) will also not convey this year as both teams are lottery-bound.
Luka Doncic Misses Jalen Brunson
Mavericks star Luka Doncic didn’t mince words when asked how much they miss Brunson this season.
“A lot,” Doncic said. “Amazing guy, amazing player, for sure.”
Brunson was Doncic’s sidekick and the Mavericks’ top player when the latter was injured at the beginning of the playoffs last season.
But the Mavericks twice fumbled their chances to lock up Brunson to a much lower price, a four-year extension worth $55.5 million, according to Bleacher Report.
Knicks Lock up 5th Seed
The Brooklyn Nets’ 107-102 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday (April 24) paved the way for the Knicks to lock up the fifth seed.
The Nets can still catch the Knicks at 46-36, but the Knicks hold the tiebreaker.
Assuming the Nets sweep their remaining three games and the Knicks lose theirs, they will end up with identical regular-season records and records against Atlantic Division teams (8-8) and Eastern Conference teams (31-21).
The Knicks, however, would have a better record (10-9) against Eastern Conference playoff teams, while the Nets could only end up with a 6-13 slate.
The Cleveland Cavaliers clinched the fourth seed with a 117-113 win in Orlando also on Tuesday, setting up the stage for a first-round showdown against the Knicks.