30 Teams in 30 Days | 2022

30 Teams in 30 Days: Knicks bank on Jalen Brunson and RJ Barrett

New York fans may have wanted Donovan Mitchell, but the addition of Jalen Brunson could bring a steadying influence at point guard.

The Knicks missed on adding Donovan Mitchell, but locked up Mitchell Robinson and RJ Barrett to long-term deals.

New York Knicks

2021-22 record: 37-45

Key additions: Jalen Brunson, Isaiah Hartenstein (free agency)

Key subtractions: Alec Burks, Nerlens Noel, Taj Gibson, Kemba Walker (trade)

Last season: Troubled by injuries and underperforming players, the Knicks backpedaled from a year ago when they reached the playoffs. This time, Julius Randle, an All-Star then, didn’t bring the same pop and nobody in the rotation was either consistent or solid enough to take command. And when RJ Barrett finally found his groove, it was too little, too late to salvage the season. As a result, the Knicks won just 37 games and missed the cut-off for the Play-In Tournament. The coaching staff and front office survived the setback, but clearly went into the offseason searching for answers if only to save their own jobs and avoid a repeat.

Summer summary: If Brunson as a teenager could look into the future, he’d be amused if not surprised by what he saw. Who knew that someday he’d not only be targeted as a critical piece for one of the NBA teams his father played for, but also be playing for the same guy who served as an assistant on those Knicks teams and later hired said father on the coaching staff?

When Brunson left a very good Dallas team to join the Knicks this summer, it proved two theories true. One: Money talks. Two: Family blood is thick. Both were major factors in saying goodbye to Luka Doncic and hello to Randle.

Brunson was very effective with the Mavericks last season, when his timing was perfect; not only did he enjoy a breakout season, he hit the market as an unrestricted free agent and the Knicks, after some maneuvering, had the means to pay him. His father, Rick, joined the Knicks’ staff just before the free-agent period began and head coach Tom Thibodeau, who knew Jalen as a kid, is like family. Oh, and Brunson’s agent is the son of Knicks president Leon Rose, once a former agent himself.

It all tied together, then. The Knicks spent $104 million over four years for a clever point guard at age 25 who brings great character and leadership, can create for himself off the dribble (16.3 points), was solid in relief of Doncic when the latter briefly missed postseason games because of injury, and is a solid (though not superb) passer.

What he isn’t, though, is a superstar savior. Hopefully, for his sake, starved Knicks fans are smarter than that and will keep his arrival in perspective. Brunson is a good addition, but just a piece of the puzzle that can get the Knicks back among the respectable in the East.

And then there’s also whom the Knicks didn’t get this summer. Donovan Mitchell was raised in nearby Connecticut, played summer ball in Harlem and other hoop hot spots as a teenager, and still keeps a connection to the city where his father worked with the Mets.

When the Jazz essentially launched a rebuilding plan by dealing away Rudy Gobert, it all but began a countdown for when Mitchell would get traded, too. Danny Ainge, the new GM in Utah, received a ransom for Gobert, which meant he wanted just as fancy a package, if not a bit more, for Mitchell.

Funny thing: If Mitchell was born and raised in St. Louis, for example, would Knicks fans and social media have him so hotly targeted to New York? Some of this knee-jerk-ism stems from provincial ties. That, and the Knicks are obviously hungry to give Brunson more to work with next season.

Oh, well: Mitchell went to Cleveland instead, allowing the Knicks to keep Barrett, Quentin Grimes, Obi Toppin and a boat-load of unprotected first-rounders stretching from here to Buffalo.

Barrett was extended at four years and $120 million and Mitchell Robinson at four years, $60 million. That’s not a hefty price for a starting center, but the Knicks need to see more growth from Robinson. At just 24, he’s a good shot blocker, a decent rebounder, but offensively he’s all dunks. The hope is Robinson will develop a pick-and-roll bond with Brunson and adds that as a weapon.

The Knicks achieved their primary goals of the summer by getting Brunson and extending Barrett. But without Mitchell, the offseason felt incomplete.

Up next: Boston Celtics | Previously: Portland Trail Blazers

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Shaun Powell has covered the NBA for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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