Mikal Bridges Holds Key To Brooklyn Nets Future

After a trade request from Kyrie Irving, which was quickly reacted to, the Brooklyn Nets finally took control of their own future when they followed up the Irving trade by shipping Kevin Durant to the Phoenix Suns for one of the greatest hauls in NBA history.

The key piece coming back, Mikal Bridges, holds the key to both Brooklyn’s immediate and long-term future, and in more ways than one.

Let’s dig into how.

Bridges as a player

This season, Bridges has taken a substantial leap in his offensive production, playing like a borderline All-Star. The 26-year-old averaged 17.2 points in 56 games for the Suns prior the trade, up from 14.2 the year before, and showcasing more on-ball creation than ever before.

It’s clear Bridges is evolving into more than the 3&D player he’s long been pegged as, adding a quality playmaking element to his game, as he’s sporting 3.5 assists per game, also a career-high.

The long-limbed wing offers incredible positional fluidity, including the ability to play both shooting guard and power forward, one of the rarest combos in the game. By adding a reliable scoring component to his 6’7 frame, Bridges is putting himself in a position where he’s likely to make several All-Star games in the future.

This, obviously, will help the Nets on the court, assuming they wish to stay competitive and not bottom out. We’ll get to that later.

Brooklyn now has a player who might be one of the best plug and play options in the NBA due to his ability to play elite defense, and play off the ball offensively. Bridges can act in a supporting role, just as he did in Phoenix next to Devin Booker and Chris Paul for years, or he can function as a featured player without taking up a ton of possessions.

Bridges as a trade chip

The Nets received four unprotected first round selections from the Suns (scheduled to convey in 2023, 2025, 2027, and 2029) as well as a 2028 first round pick swap option. That’s obviously a major haul, but what if the Nets were to willingly bottom out entirely, using Bridges as a means to further stock their draft pick cupboard?

ESPN’s Zach Lowe reported on his podcast, The Lowe Post, that there was an offer for Bridges that consisted of at least three fully unprotected first round selections, and possibly a fourth pick with protections on it.

Essentially, if that package is still available this summer, the Nets could sell high on Bridges and ultimately end up with seven unprotected picks, one protected, and a pick swap, all via Durant originally. And that’s before exploring the market for Cam Johnson, who was also included in the trade.

Bridges, who’ll be 27 before the beginning of the 2023-2024 season, will be in his prime and the timing probably couldn’t be better in regards to optimizing a trade return for him. Perhaps, if Bridges is to keep exploring his on-ball creation, the Nets could even seek additional compensation, if by then Bridges looks like a clear-cut star instead of a high-utility role player.

So, what should the Nets do?

Opinions will be split, as several arguments can be made for both. However, given the roster currently around Bridges, it’s fair to wonder how far exactly the Nets can go without significant roster upgrades.

A roster of Bridges, Johnson, Nic Claxton, Cam Thomas, Spencer Dinwiddie, Dorian Finney-Smith and what has been a severely limited Ben Simmons isn’t likely to go far anytime soon, and the age alignment is all over the place.

Further complicating matters is that Claxton will be an unrestricted free agent after next season, which means the Nets will have to make a call on his future soon as well.

By leaning into a full-on rebuild, the Nets could pivot off Bridges, Johnson, Claxton, Finney-Smith, and Dinwiddie, load up on future selections and young players to pair with Thomas, and not having to worry about attaching picks to get off the contract of Simmons. Instead, they can simply wait it out, as they would be years away from being competitive.

By accumulating a war chest of assets, the Nets also determine their own future, instead of putting it in the hands of established superstars, who insisted on wanting to run the show.

Building through the draft should give the Nets a better chance at maintaining control of their own process, while building a window that’s open for longer.

Unless noted otherwise, all stats via NBA.com, PBPStats, Cleaning the Glass or Basketball-Reference. All salary information via Spotrac. All odds courtesy of FanDuel Sportsbook.

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