Mikal Bridges trade grades: Knicks make high-risk, high-reward move as Nets’ draft-pick haul expedites rebuild

Written by on June 26, 2024

The New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets went more than four decades without making a trade, but their first one since 1983 was worth the wait. Mikal Bridges will be joining former Villanova teammates Jalen Brunson, Donte DiVincenzo and Josh Hart on the Knicks. Brooklyn has recovered a monster haul of draft picks including two of their own picks from Houston as well as five total first-rounders from the Knicks plus an unprotected swap. Joining in on the fun, the Rockets took in control of two Suns first-round picks that they hope to redirect for Kevin Durant.

It’s all right to be a little confused, guys. Trades of this magnitude are rare, especially between two teams from the same city. So let’s sort through the wreckage here and figure out where each team stands. Here are our grades for Tuesday night’s blockbuster:

New York Knicks: B+

Let’s get this out of the way. This is a risk. Giving away control of five of your own first-round picks in a seven-year span leaves you incredibly vulnerable. If this goes wrong for whatever reason, there’s no pivot here for the Knicks. Tanking isn’t an option. The roster that is constructed this offseason will be the team for the next handful of years, and there will probably be a few lean years afterward. The Knicks didn’t give all of this up for Kevin Durant, like Phoenix did a few years ago. They gave it up for a player in Bridges who has never been an All-Star. This is an entirely reasonable criticism. This isn’t a perfect trade for the Knicks.

But think about the Boston team that just won the championship. It did so with wings and shooting everywhere. More importantly, think about the teams that have beaten Boston in the recent past. The Celtics struggle with physicality. They historically haven’t done a great job of playing dirty. Time and time again, the Miami Heat have dragged matchups against the Celtics into the mud and beaten them down there. Boston is the standard right now. Beating the Celtics is the goal every team is trying to achieve.

And the Knicks have somehow built a roster that both emulates the Celtics and is designed to exploit its weaknesses. Bridges and OG Anunoby, assuming he is re-signed, give the Knicks two All-Defense wings to throw at Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. Bridges is an elite shooter who has grown significantly as an individual creator thanks to his time in Brooklyn. Josh Hart, Donte DiVincenzo and Deuce McBride might be the best trio of bench wings in the NBA. But this is still a Tom Thibodeau team. They’re still going to out-rebound everybody. They’re still going to out-physical everybody. Julius Randle is, for the time being, still on the roster. Presumably at least one of Mitchell Robinson and Isaiah Hartenstein will be as well. That’s sheer strength that Boston’s frontline lacks. The Knicks can make things as dirty for Boston as Miami has. Jalen Brunson can match Tatum and Brown shot-for-shot. 

Getting Bridges should ease the minutes load on everybody else, potentially keeping them healthier down the stretch. Bridges has never missed an NBA game. All four Villanova players are still in their 20s, so this is going to be a multi-year run. Bridges still has two years left on an extremely cheap rookie extension he signed in Phoenix, giving him one of the best value contracts in the NBA.

There are still questions here. For now, the reported version of the trade hard-caps the Knicks at the first apron. There are easy tweaks that can raise that bar to the second apron, which would give New York roughly $57 million in spending power to finish the roster, though Anunoby will take up most of that money. Someone from last year’s roster will be sacrificed to the CBA gods. Leon Rose isn’t done building yet, so there’s some measure of uncertainty here.

But this is why you hoard picks. The Knicks likely would have reached the Eastern Conference finals if they had stayed healthy in the playoffs. Now they are substantially better with a roster suited to challenge the reigning champions. Nothing is guaranteed in the NBA, and giving up all of this capital for a non-All-Star certainly won’t change that. But the Knicks have a chance to win the whole thing. That hasn’t been true in decades. The risk is considerable. The reward is greater. No matter how this plays out, it was a worthy gamble for New York.

Brooklyn Nets: A+

The Nets obviously didn’t get a Shai Gilgeous-Alexander-caliber young player back in this deal, but the only real analogue in terms of value is the Paul George trade between the Thunder and Clippers five years ago. This deal has a chance to be utterly transformative for Brooklyn, taking an otherwise hopeless era and setting the foundation of one of the NBA’s most promising rebuilds.

At the deadline, it was reported that the Rockets were willing to give the Nets control of the first-round picks they acquired in the James Harden trade back to get Bridges for themselves. Many observers argued that Brooklyn should do this. No picks are more valuable in the NBA than your own. Controlling your own picks opens the door for tanking. The Nets held firm then. They got two of the three picks they owed to Houston back in this deal, giving Brooklyn a two-year window to be bad and benefit. That is especially important with a loaded 2025 draft class coming.

And the Brooklyn picks were only part of the haul here. The Nets also got control of five unprotected Knicks picks (as well as another from the Bucks, though that one will likely be low) in the next seven years. Yes, I know, we just covered why this trade makes sense for the Knicks. But think back historically to how teams have fared trading for Knicks picks. LaMarcus Aldridge was taken No. 2 overall in 2006 with a pick that originally belonged to the Knicks. Joakim Noah went No. 7 a year later with a Knicks pick. Gordon Hayward in 2010? A Knicks pick. Jamal Murray in 2016? You guessed it, a Knicks pick. The James Dolan-era Knicks have practically produced an All-Star team of top draft picks for rivals around the league. This is an organization you want to short. Even if the Knicks are great in the short term, what do they look like in 2031? We have no idea. Eventually, even if this goes right for the Knicks, they are going to get old and they are going to get expensive. These picks carry tremendous upside.

Yes, the Nets did have to give up control of two Suns picks to get their own picks back. One of them is in 2025, when Phoenix is likely to at least try to win. The other in 2027 is more of a crapshoot, but remember, the Nets can’t control how good or bad the Suns will be. They can control how bad they will be. Even if the Suns go belly-up before 2027, the Nets would probably rather have their own picks.

All in all, the Nets turned a player who has never made an All-Star Game into one of the most absurd collections of future draft assets the NBA has ever seen. They now control their own pick in six of the seven drafts between 2025-2031. They have four Knicks picks and one Knicks swap, one Suns pick and one Suns swap, one Mavericks pick and one swap, one Bucks pick and one 76ers pick. I lay out all of those picks in a line not to flex the volume, but the diversity. Those are future picks from five different teams, one-sixth of the entire league. Some of those teams will send the Nets bad picks. But somebody is sending them good ones. The Nets have built a draft portfolio on par with anyone’s in all of basketball, and now that they control some of their own picks as well, they are positioned to rebuild properly for the first time since their ill-fated decision to trade for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce.

Houston Rockets: D

Think back to the last time the Nets were bad while owing another team unprotected first-round picks. That predicament ended with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown on the Celtics. I cannot stress this enough: such a scenario was on the table for the Rockets here. They controlled Brooklyn’s unprotected picks in 2025, 2026 and 2027. If they had just stayed out of this, they would’ve picked up lottery picks in strong classes over the new few years. Without Bridges, the Nets had no short-term path to relevance. It was the Tatum-Brown scenario all over again.

And Houston fumbled it on a wild goose chase for Kevin Durant. Yes, controlling two Phoenix picks would be theoretically helpful if the Suns ultimately do elect to trade Durant for the same reasons that the Nets benefit so greatly from getting their own picks back. But there are several obvious problems here that the Rockets are seemingly ignoring:

  • The Suns have thus far shown no interest in trading Durant. Mat Ishbia has been firm in his desire to keep last year’s roster together and see how it plays under Mike Budenholzer. Considering how many picks he gave up to put that team together, punting on it after a single season just seems enormously unlikely.
  • Let’s say the Suns do elect to trade Durant. Devin Booker is still on the team, so it’s not as though the Suns would immediately go in the tank unless they also elected to move their homegrown 27-year-old star. Does that seem likely? Probably not, right? Therefore, those Nets picks, under these specific circumstances, likely would have been more valuable to the Suns than their own picks will be. They could have sold Booker on the idea of getting two high Nets picks to rebuild around him.
  • Let’s say the Suns do elect to trade Durant and let’s say the Rockets, despite giving away those incredible Nets picks, offer the best package. It doesn’t mean a thing if Kevin Durant himself doesn’t want to go there. The last time he demanded a trade he managed to effectively navigate his way towards his preferred destination, the Suns. What indication do we have that he’d want to be in Houston? As a reminder, he didn’t even take a meeting with the Rockets as a free agent in 2016… when they had prime James Harden, who was his teammate in Oklahoma City and whom he lobbied the Nets to acquire years later. If Durant did involve himself in trade talks, he’d probably want a more readymade contender. Speaking of which…
  • Let’s say the Suns do elect to trade Durant and let’s say Durant is interested enough in the Rockets to let it happen. Would Houston even be among the Western Conference favorites? The Rockets just finished 11th in the Western Conference. Of their six most-used players last season, four were in either their age-20 or age-21 seasons. While Alperen Sengun and Jalen Green are very promising, neither are readymade co-stars yet, and Sengun, specifically, needs to serve as an offensive hub. Would that diminish Durant? Would Amen Thompson learn to shoot quickly enough to help this team? Fred VanVleet, Dillon Brooks and Jabari Smith all fit nicely next to Durant, but the Rockets don’t exactly have the star-studded roster Durant tends to seek out when he moves.

Houston, by and large, is in a strong position. It has a very young and talented roster along with the No. 3 pick on Wednesday. There were paths to sustainable winning that didn’t even involve those Nets picks. But keeping them offered a golden opportunity for Houston to take any sort of approach to building its roster over the next several years that it wanted. To punt all of that on the hope that a player who turns 36 before opening night might be available is downright irresponsible. 

The post Mikal Bridges trade grades: Knicks make high-risk, high-reward move as Nets’ draft-pick haul expedites rebuild first appeared on CBS Sports.

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