In his first comments since leaving Dallas for the Knicks, Jalen Brunson framed the move as being about family, not finances. The 25-year-old point guard — who has familial ties to the coaching staff and familiarity with the front office — said the Garden just felt like home.
“Yeah, I’m excited. I’m very excited. It’s like a whirlwind of emotions for me. Just a lot. This building is very special, and hopefully we create some new memories here,” said Brunson, whose father, Rick, was a Knicks player in the late 1990s and was hired as an assistant coach last month.
“It brings everything full circle. I remember seeing the guys in the locker room when I was a kid. It’s crazy sitting here right now. I don’t want to say it’s emotional, but it just brings back a lot of memories, and it makes me feel like I’m supposed to be here and I’m just very excited to get things going.”
Rick Brunson played for the Knicks from 1998-2000, and again in the 2000-01 season. He was the very first client for then-agent Leon Rose, who is now the Knicks president and at one point represented Jalen as well.
The elder Brunson served as an assistant for mentor Tom Thibodeau in Chicago, Minnesota and now again with the Knicks. And that comfort level with not just his father on staff but Rose and even William “World Wide” Wesley made it easier for the younger Brunson to leave a Mavericks team he thought he’d retire with.
“It’s family. It’s a comfort level to this, and something I just couldn’t turn a blind eye to. I knew that these guys have my best interests at heart. They’ve known me since … I think Leon probably saw me before my dad did,” joked Brunson, speaking a fan event closed to the media. “It’s just it’s just one big family for me, and I’m just super excited.”
Of course the money didn’t hurt.
An undersized second-round pick who has worked himself into being a standout player, Brunson declined Dallas’ four-year, $55.5 million contract extension offer after the trade deadline, banking on himself in free agency.
Brunson averaged 16.3 points and 4.8 assists in his breakout campaign, giving the Mavericks a second option to superstar Luka Doncic. And despite questions about his height, he landed a four-year, $104 million deal with the Knicks, who’ve struggled to land top free agents in spite of their prime location.
The Knicks have just one postseason berth and no playoff series wins in the past nine years. But Brunson — who won a pair of Big East championships at the Garden with Villanova — lauded the electric environment and hopes to experience it on a winning Knicks team.
“This place has an atmosphere about it that’s just unmatched,” said Brunson. “And whenever we play in this arena, you feel the energy, since I can ever remember and the energy has been the same since I was a little kid. So it’s just the energy here is … I mean, it’s unreal.”
Brunson’s father was on the last truly successful Knicks squad, reaching the 1999 NBA Finals and then getting back to the Eastern Conference Finals the following season. Getting the Knicks back to that level, and delivering winning basketball to the long-suffering fans in the Garden, would be extra special to him.
“It’d mean a lot,” Brunson said. “It’d mean a lot, and I think the city deserves that. They deserve a team to get back to that. They deserve that. I mean, it’s definitely a process, and as long as we’re taking everything day by day, focused on getting better every single day and with the end goal in mind, but we’ve got to focus on one day at a time, and I think that’s the best way you can get better.”