Knicks dump Noel, Burks to clear cap space for Brunson, rotation logjam

Nov 20, 2021; New York, New York, USA; New York Knicks center Nerlens Noel (3) reacts after being fouled as guard Alec Burks (18) looks on during the second half against the Houston Rockets at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Mavericks’ worst fear came true Tuesday night as the New York Knicks successfully created massive cap space for Jalen Brunson.

The Knicks unloaded Nerlens Noel and Alec Burks’ combined $19.2 million salaries to the Detroit Pistons’ cap space for two second-round picks and $6 million cash as a trade incentive, per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

The trade created roughly $30 million in cap space for the Knicks, clearing the pathway to sign Brunson to a lucrative four-year deal worth over $100 million when NBA free agency begins on Thursday at 6 pm ET. It also eliminated the chance for the Mavericks to recoup something for Brunson in a sign-and-trade with the Knicks.

Tuesday night’s trade was a crushing blow for the Mavericks, who were confident of retaining Brunson until the Knicks made their move starting Thursday’s Draft Night. It was clear that the Knicks were determined to get Brunson without needing the Mavericks’ help when they dumped Kemba Walker’s $9.2 million salary to the Pistons in an earlier deal.

It took the Knicks six second-round picks (four in the Walker trade) to create the necessary cap room to pursue Brunson.

Before the trade, there was a reported growing pessimism around in Dallas that Brunson would return. The Mavericks were only prepared to offer Brunson a five-year deal comparable to the four-year, $85 million deal that guard Fred VanVleet signed with the Toronto Raptors in 2020, per ESPN’s Tim MacMahon.

Dallas could still trump the Knicks’ offer owing to Brunson’s Bird Rights. Still, a $30 million per year to keep Brunson would have cost the Mavericks a total of $130 million in salary/tax in one season for point guard alone, according to ESPN’s front office insider Bobby Marks.

After they land Brunson, possibly as early as Thursday, the Knicks will likely proceed to re-sign Mitchell Robinson using his Bird Rights.

The series of trades did not only open up the necessary cap room for the Knicks to land Brunson but also rotation spots for some of their young players.

With Noel gone, Jericho Sims will likely take his spot in the second unit. The Knicks are reportedly mulling over converting Sims’ two-way contract into a standard deal, per SNY’s Ian Begley. Quentin Grimes, who showed flashes of a solid 3-and-D player in spot minutes last season, will likely take the place of Burks in the rotation.

However, there is a belief that the Knicks have other moves up in their sleeves. Multiple reports have linked them to San Antonio Spurs guard Dejounte Murray as another likely target.

It’s believed that the Knicks could pivot to trying to make a run at San Antonio’s Dejounte Murray via trade or another target of Murray’s caliber using the many draft picks they’ve stockpiled even if Rose, as increasingly expected, secures Brunson’s signature,” Dallas-based NBA insider Marc Stein wrote in his Substack newsletter Tuesday.

“SportsNet New York’s Ian Begley reported Tuesday that the Knicks do not regard Brunson as a player who can thrust them into the East’s elite on his own. Yet I’m told that the Knicks do see Brunson as a source of steadiness they’ve lacked and a player suited to handle the pressures of playing in such a high-profile media market.”

Even if the Knicks do not land Murray, they could still make one more move — flip Cam Reddish into another future draft asset.

The Knicks still have a surplus of two second-round picks in the next seven drafts and 11 first-round picks to dangle in a future trade for a star down the road.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

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