In light of this move, let’s step back and examine the facts:
Brunson signed a big deal that will pay him a lot of money in
2022-23 and beyond. Additional details about salary have not yet
been announced, but regardless of the annual breakdown, is a deal
like this warranted?
That depends on how you view value.
Objectively, the Knicks probably overpaid, as least in terms of
production. In total, 13 point guards were scheduled to be paid
more than $26 million next season as of June 30, 2022: Stephen
Curry ($48 million), Russell Westbrook ($47 million), Damian
Lillard ($42.5 million), Trae Young ($37 million), Luka Doncic ($37
million), Kyrie Irving ($36.9 million), Ben Simmons ($35.4
million), Jamal Murray ($31.6 million), D’Angelo Russell ($31.3),
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander ($30.9 million), De’Aaron Fox ($30.3
million), Chris Paul ($28.4 million) and Kyle Lowry ($28.3
For what it’s worth, the players just behind Brunson are Mike
Conley ($22.6 million), Malcolm Brogdon ($22.6 million), Terry
Rozier ($21.5 million), Fred VanVleet ($21.2 million), Spencer
Dinwiddie ($20.1 million), Lonzo Ball ($19.5 million) and Eric
Bledsoe ($19.3 million).
Most NBA experts can find a few guys on that list that Brunson
is probably better than, including Russell, Brogdon, Rozier,
Bledsoe — and probably Ball too.
Considering that each team is at a different place in its
development, it’s harder to rank starting point guards. But it’s
fair to say that there are 11 point guards across the league who
the Knicks would prefer over Brunson — Curry, Doncic, Lillard,
Young, Jrue Holiday, Ja Morant, Gilgeous-Alexander, LaMelo Ball,
VanVleet, Darius Garland and Cade Cunningham. They might also
prefer Dejounte Murray, Paul, Fox and Lowry as well, depending on
who you ask.
So, an objective review of production from the point-guard
position reveals that Brunson might not be an elite producer,
yet. Granted, defining point guards is difficult, so bear
In 2021-22, Brunson was tied for the 16th-highest scoring
average among point guards (16.3 points per game). He was also 23rd
among the position in assists per game (4.8), 16th in total
rebounds per game (3.9) and 25th in Defensive Box Plus-Minus
Brunson’s production was matched or bettered by a few point
guards making less than he is set to earn, including Cole Anthony
(rookie deal), VanVleet ($21.2 million) and Dinwiddie ($20.1
But production is also about opportunity, and Dallas used
Brunson in a specific way. The fact of the matter is that Dallas
already has its lead guard, and it’s a no-brainer when choosing who
should be the primary creator between Doncic and Brunson. The idea
that Brunson will have more opportunities in New York should be
exhilarating to Brunson and his believers.
Further, it’s easy to overlook the idea that teams invest in
players’ futures. Sure, most fan bases celebrate signing proven
players. But some of the best contracts are those given to players
on the verge of breaking out, and that could be precisely where
Brunson is in his career.
Brunson’s contract was created by optimists who know and love
him. Leon Rose, Brunson’s former agent, simply believes that giving
Brunson the keys to the castle will make him better; the adage of
“yesterday’s price ain’t today’s price” feels eerily relevant. It
certainly is for the Mavericks, as they could have signed him for
significantly less just a few months ago, and it could be for the
Knicks too, if Brunson outperforms this contract.
This deal was also a must-have for the Knicks because not only
have they failed to land a major free agent since 2010 — at which
point Amar'e Stoudamire was more of a consolation prize than a home
run — but they’ve also been desperate for a starting-caliber point
guard for what feels like ever.
Don’t believe me? Here’s a look at the Knicks’ opening-night
starting point guards for the past 13 seasons: Chris Duhon, Ray
Felton, Toney Douglas, Felton (again), Pablo Prigioni, Shane
Larkin, Jose Calderon, Derrick Rose, Ramon Sessions, Trey Burke,
Allonzo Trier, Elfrid Payton and Kemba Walker.
So, it’s been a rough, rough stretch.
But that’s not all. Brunson turns 26 in August, meaning he’s an
ideal match for the Knicks' young core. RJ Barret is just 21,
Julius Randle is 27, Mitchell Robinson (a candidate to re-sign in
New York) is 23, Obi Toppin is 23 and Immanuel Quickley is 22.
Now, back to that list of higher-paid point guards: Only seven
of the 13 point guards set to make $26 million or more next year
are under 30 years old.
Knicks fans are fractured over the idea of paying Brunson, but
if not him, then who?
This league has proven time and again that market size does not
explicitly matter, and the idea that free agents will be
intoxicated by all that is New York is a dated concept. Culture and
success matter more. And if that’s the case, and you choose to
forego signing Brunson because it’s too much money, you’ll be stuck
in a chicken-and-the-egg situation pertaining to the team’s culture
and success for even longer.
And then, there’s the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) and
salary cap to consider. Both the owners and players can technically
opt out of the current CBA this December. More importantly, the
NBA's television deals expire after the 2024-25 season, and the
league is allegedly expecting a “huge increase” in rights fees,
according to ESPN.
CNBC reported last March that the league will seek a new
television contract in the range of $75 billion, up from $24
billion, and league revenue obviously impacts the salary cap. This
is relevant because, in 2022-23, the salary cap will be $123.6
million, with the tax level coming in at $150.2 million. Forbes’
Morten Jensen reported last September that the cap could jump to as
much as $171 million by 2025, assuming no cap smoothing after a new
rights deal and CBA.
Brunson’s deal works out to an average annual salary of $26
million, or 17.3% of the full 2022-23 cap. If it does, in fact,
jump to $171 million in 2025-26 (and assuming the Knicks have a
team salary of $171 million), Brunson would represent only 15% of
the team’s cap in the final year of his deal — and the Knicks will
have his Bird rights, allowing them to exceed the cap in re-signing
It's worth mentioning that Brunson's deal allegedly has a player
option in its final year, meaning he can opt out before
2025-26. But at the very least, an increase in the salary cap in
2025-26 would offset re-signing him to a bigger deal, assuming he
deserves one. For reference, Curry accounted for 28% of the
Warriors' 2021-22 salary. Not that we're comparing Brunson and
Curry, but $26 million per year isn't as harmful as it used to
So, as much as it may feel arbitrary, and even irresponsible, to
hand out a deal like this to a non-All-Star, I ask you this: At
what point should the Knicks give out a big contract? And who would
agree to come to New York?
Brunson might not be Curry or Lillard, but he’s the best player
the Knicks have enticed to join them in a long time. And he might
be even better than anyone knows.