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June 26, 2024

Knicks trade for Mikal Bridges, raising the stakes for Sixers in pivotal offseason

How does the Knicks' stunning acquisition of Mikal Bridges impact the Sixers moving forward?

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Mikal Brunson 6.25.24 Brad Penner/USA TODAY Sports

Former Villanova teammates Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges are among four Wildcats who will suit up for the New York Knicks next season.

An absolute stunner broke late Tuesday night, with fewer than 24 hours remaining before the start of the 2024 NBA Draft: the New York Knicks will acquire Mikal Bridges from the Brooklyn Nets in exchange for a package including four unprotected first-round picks, a lightly-protected first-round pick and a future first-round pick swap, as was first reported by ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski.

Already referred to by many as the "Villanova Knicks," New York now has four former Wildcats set to be critical pieces of their rotation moving forward: Bridges, superstar guard Jalen Brunson, sharpshooter Donte DiVincenzo and do-it-all wing Josh Hart.

With the Boston Celtics firmly cemented as the Eastern Conference's best for the time being, the Knicks have chosen Bridges as the piece worth cashing in the vast majority of their assets for in hopes of catching up to defending champions. And now, there is more than one team that is head and shoulders above the Sixers in terms of present day talent.

Perhaps the most obvious ripple effects this move has on the Sixers are that there is another team in their conference with the potential to seriously contend for a championship, and that Bridges — seen by many as an ideal fit alongside Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey — is officially off the table.

The intrigue of these four storied college teammates joining forces in the pros is fascinating, and the Knicks are filled with great players who are likable characters. But it is fair to wonder if four unprotected picks and several other assets for a player who has yet to make an All-Star team is the right path forward. Bridges is tremendous, and will fit like a glove in New York, but is he good enough to warrant a collection of draft choices like this? For what it's worth, this archetype of trade has come back to bite the team acquiring the "star" more often than not.

But, to be fair, with the Celtics not going anywhere, New York doing all they can to maximize their championship window now that Brunson has emerged as a full-fledged superstar is understandable, and to a degree, even commendable.

Bridges, who the Sixers infamously drafted in 2018 before trading him to the Phoenix Suns during his introductory press conference in which he donned a Sixers hat, has become one of the most respected two-way wings in the entire NBA, and since being the centerpiece of the Kevin Durant trade that sent him to Brooklyn, he has made major strides as a scorer. He was overtasked as a go-to scorer in Brooklyn, and that will not be an issue anymore as he reunites with Brunson.

The next domino to fall here is the status of soon-to-be Knicks free agent OG Anunoby. As recently as Tuesday evening, it appeared Anunoby had enough negotiating leverage to receive just about any contract he desired from New York this summer. Now, with Bridges in the fold, the Knicks are not exactly desperate to bring Anunoby back. 

If the Knicks were to let Anunoby fetch offers elsewhere and contemplate leaving New York, the Sixers loom as a potential fit for the acclaimed two-way wing.

Early indications are that the Knicks will prioritize reaching a deal with Anunoby in the near future, which would signal the exit of incumbent starting center Isaiah Hartenstein. But it is not difficult at all to imagine a world in which the Knicks —with DiVincenzo, Bridges, Hart and Julius Randle all under contract moving forward — opt not to give Anunoby the massive deal he is seeking and instead solidify their center position by bringing back Hartenstein.

As for the Nets, this was the right move: Bridges is a tremendous player, but was not leading the Nets anywhere promising in the near future given his lack of support. Accumulating as many draft picks as possible and accelerating the team's rebuild was always the right call, and they furthered those goals by promptly trading a few of Phoenix's future picks to the Houston Rockets to regain some of the draft capital they sent Houston when they acquired former Sixer James Harden a few years back. Word quickly trickled out that Houston wants to offer those picks back to Phoenix to try to get Durant.

We have reached maximum levels of chaos, and tonight I am grateful I do not cover the Brooklyn Nets or Houston Rockets.

Another question: how does all of this impact the free agency of Paul George? First the Sixers seemed like a very possible destination for the nine-time All-Star, then they were out, now there are conflicting reports regarding their interest in the star wing who has yet to strike a deal with the Los Angeles Clippers. Over the last few days, there was steam behind the idea of George forcing a sign-and-trade from the Clippers to a contending team without the requisite cap space to sign him on their own — perhaps using the threat of heading to Philadelphia as leverage to force the Clippers' hand — but many speculated that destination would be New York. They are almost certainly out of those talks now (if they ever took place to begin with), which could reopen the George-to-Philadelphia door.

If the events of late Tuesday night are any indication, nobody actually knows what is in store over the course of the coming days and weeks. But it is going to be madness, and the Sixers could end up being right at the center of it all.

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