The Knicks agreed to a four-year deal worth $104 million with Brunson, the standout Mavericks point guard who averaged 16 points, five assists and four rebounds alongside Luka Doncic last season, in the hours after free agency kicked off on June 30. But there were breadcrumbs suggesting the Knicks were preparing to make such a move long in advance of the deal being announced: They feverishly created cap space for a max contract offer by trading Alec Burks and Nerlens Noel. They also hired Jalen’s father, Rick Brunson, as an assistant coach on June 2.
Knicks GM Leon Rose also represented the younger Brunson as his agent before assuming the front office role in New York. Reports leaked months in advance of free agency suggesting the Knicks were all-in on Brunson. Despite his success with the Mavericks, Brunson never gave Dallas a formal meeting when free agency began. He quickly agreed to a deal with the Knicks.
But it’s difficult to prove tampering even when there are such breadcrumbs that might suggest it actually occurred.
Last season, the NBA forced both the Chicago Bulls and Miami Heat to surrender second-round draft picks after both were found guilty of tampering: In the Bulls’ case, with free agent guard Lonzo Ball; and in Miami’s, the acquisition of All-Star guard Kyle Lowry. One of the more notable cases of tampering occurred two seasons ago, when the Milwaukee Bucks agreed to a sign-and-trade with Sacramento Kings for guard Bogdan Bogdanovic, only for that trade to fall apart because it occurred earlier than league rules permitted. The Bucks, too, were only fined a second-round pick.
As of 2019, however, tampering penalties have higher penalty ceilings. Teams can be fined up to $10M, team executives can be suspended, draft picks forfeited and contracts can be voided, though according to ESPN, voiding a contract is “seen as a virtually non-existent threat.”
The NBA is also investigating whether or not the Philadelphia 76ers tampered in their off-season acquisitions of both PJ Tucker and Danuel House, two former Houston Rockets with ties both to Sixers GM (and former Rockets president) Daryl Morey and James Harden. The league is also investigating whether tampering has already occurred in the form of an under-the-table handshake agreement between the 76ers and Harden, who agreed to a two-year deal but could have a longer deal in the future already in place.
Acquiring Brunson was the highlight of a Knicks offseason that also included retaining Mitchell Robinson and signing back-up big man Isaiah Hartenstein. The Knicks finished fourth in the Eastern Conference two seasons ago but ended last season outside of the Play-In Tournament with a 37-45 record, good for 11th in the East.
The Knicks opted not to make Brunson available to the media for his introductory press conference.