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Derrick Rose’s value may go beyond what he can produce on the floor for the Knicks. His presence alone could contribute to landing their priority in free agency.
The veteran guard is yet another link between the Knicks and coveted point guard Jalen Brunson, their bond tracing back to Brunson’s formative years in Illinois when Rose was the Bulls’ star point guard and Brunson had dreams of playing in the NBA one day.
“Jalen would go over to the Bulls facility and practice with the Bulls players,” Pat Ambrose, Brunson’s coach at Adlai Stevenson High School who remains close to him, told The Post in a phone interview. “That’s where he became good friends with Derrick Rose. So your story gets deep with the Knicks. Derrick saw that young Jalen was a very, very good player and Derrick was a Chicago kid, and really started to mentor Jalen basketball-wise.”
Back then, Brunson’s father, Rick, was an assistant on coach Tom Thibodeau’s staff, the same role he now has with the Knicks. It’s yet another layer, on top of Brunson’s relationship with Thibodeau, president Leon Rose and executive William Wesley — in addition to the fact Rose’s son, Sam, is Brunson’s agent — that may work in the Knicks’ favor as they look to land the talented 25-year-old who is coming off a career year.
They began to create salary cap space on Thursday to pay Brunson big money, trading out of the first round and dealing Kemba Walker to the Pistons, creating what is now $18 million of room. There is still work to be done, with Alec Burks and Nerlens Noel potentially getting moved, so the Knicks can make the former Villanova star an enticing offer. Brunson grew up in southern New Jersey before moving to Lincolnshire, Ill., for middle school and still has roots in the area, owning a home on the Jersey Shore. His mother, Sandra, is a big Giants football fan.
“I’m sure Leon Rose will play up all those ties,” Ambrose said. “I would not be surprised [if he wound up with the Knicks]. … The positive thing for the Knicks is he chose to go back home one time [for college] and there was success. Maybe he chooses to go back home again.”
The coach later added: “He likes Dallas, I know he likes Dallas. But he’s a [New] Jersey/New York guy.”
Brunson’s priority remains to be seen. In picking a college, he opted for Villanova over Michigan State and Illinois for multiple reasons, according to Ambrose. As his coach said, Brunson liked the idea of returning to the northeast and joining a winning program. It didn’t bother him that as a McDonald’s All-American he initially would take a backseat to Ryan Arcidiacono and not have the ball in his hands from the jump, as he would’ve at other schools. That unselfishness could work against the Knicks, since they will be selling the two-time national champion on the opportunity for a bigger role.
The Mavericks, meanwhile, are in a far better spot as a franchise after reaching the Western Conference Finals with Brunson playing a major role, albeit as Luka Doncic’s wingman.
“Being the man I wouldn’t say would be a top thing for him,” Ambrose said. “Putting the ball in his hands, any NBA player wants that, but he wants to win. I know winning is important to him and I know that something he really prides himself on is causing wins and making wins. That’s always his focus.”
There obviously remains a lot of uncertainty a week before the start of the free agency period. The Knicks still need to clear more cap space. Though Ambrose said he wouldn’t be surprised if Brunson winds up a Knicks, his former star player also enjoys playing for the Mavericks, who can offer him five years compared to the Knicks’ four. In Dallas, the former second-round pick has developed into a strong NBA player and is coming off a long playoff run in which he was somewhat of a breakout star, averaging 21.6 points per game.
It is also unclear how much money the Mavericks are willing to pay to keep Brunson, if they would go the extra yard like the Knicks appear primed to do.
“Not so much that money talks, but how much more money?” Ambrose wondered. “If Dallas slightly insults him with a low ball offer and New York shows it really, really wants him, it could change things.
“He’s also a young man that knows that he can help build a winner, he can work on that, and the future in the NBA can be pretty fleeting, whether it be an injury or drafts and things like that. He obviously knows Tom Thibodeau real well and knows that guy knows how to build winners.”
The Knicks have reportedly added a second player on an Exhibit 10 contract in forward Garrison Brooks. The 6-foot-9 Brooks spent this past year at Mississippi State, where he averaged 10.4 points, 6.6 rebounds and shot 34.2 percent from 3-point range. He previously attended North Carolina.
Thursday night, the Knicks signed guard Jean Montero to an Exhibit 10 deal. The 6-foot-2 Montero comes from the new high school league, Overtime Elite, that pays players. An Exhibit 10 contract includes an invite to training camp and summer league.