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Fresh off a breakout 41-point performance in the Dallas Mavericks’ Game 2 win over the Utah Jazz, Jalen Brunson’s free-agency stock is rising.
Marc Stein reported the Indiana Pacers are expected to be among the teams to pursue the impending free agent this summer. Pacers coach Rick Carlisle was instrumental in Brunson’s development during his time leading the Dallas bench.
Brunson emerged as a full-time starter in 2021-22, averaging 16.3 points, 4.8 assists and 3.9 rebounds per game. He’s been the spark behind the Mavericks offense through their first two playoff games without Luka Doncic, who’s been out with a calf injury, pouring in 65 points while destroying the Utah defense with a series of dribble drives.
Mike Conley, once one of the NBA’s premier defenders, seemed completely at a loss Monday night as Brunson pierced into the middle of the defense. That would force Rudy Gobert to step in and help, leaving Maxi Kleber (25 points) open to knock down a series of wide-open threes.
“The telltale is we can’t have Brunson have the night he had and also be able to kick the ball out for those looks,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder told reporters. “And when those passes are kicked out, I thought we weren’t as sharp mentally in our ability to rotate. And that’s something that we’ve done before.”
The Pacers are already loaded in their guard rotation, with Tyrese Haliburton, Malcolm Brogdon, Buddy Hield and T.J. McConnell all under contract for next season. Brunson could be an option if Indiana unloads the long-term contracts of Brogdon or Hield in a trade. The Pacers have been mentioned as a potential Russell Westbrook trade partner for the Los Angeles Lakers, though Westbrook’s time in Indiana would likely be a pit stop.
If Brogdon and Hield are still on the Pacers roster by the start of free agency, it’s hard to see a scenario where Brunson rejoins Carlisle.