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Inside the Mikal Bridges trade: What it means for the Knicks and the league as a whole

The Empire State Building lit up blue and orange Tuesday night in honor of the Mets’ official victory. But the lights shined in similar colors for the Knicks just minutes after news broke that New York was sending a whopping five first-round picks across the East River so Brooklyn could finally say goodbye to defensive stalwart Mikal Bridges .

Rival teams sensed Brooklyn’s growing willingness to part ways with Bridges in recent days, league sources told Yahoo Sports. Utah and Houston were two of the other team members the league said were actively involved in pursuing Bridges. The Nets had swept away offers for Bridges in previous trade cycles that yielded as many as four first-round picks, sources said. And through Monday, none of Brooklyn’s conversations with these three teams or others were considered remotely serious, sources said. That is until the Knicks came back with four unprotected first-round picks — starting in 2025 — plus a protected first-round pick from the Bucks, and then the rights for Brooklyn to trade the first-round pick with New York in 2028, league sources confirmed to Yahoo Sports .

It all adds up to a total of six years of draft capital, one of the biggest – if not the biggest – returns for a player who is never named an All-Star in NBA history. Bridges is arguably more valuable to the Knicks than any other team, a chance to land a fourth Wildcat of Villanova’s three-year streak behind Jalen Brunson, who won national titles in 2016 and 2018. Bridges is also seen as one of the best options New York could have. have found a counterbalance to Boston’s lineup of two-way wings that just claimed this year’s championship. Bridges always had his eye on New York, sources said, especially after the Knicks added Donte DiVincenzo last summer following the February 2023 trade deadline deal that brought Josh Hart through the door. These Wildcat connections run deep, and Kyle Lowry has even been mentioned by NBA figures as a target for New York in free agency, sources said.

However, Bridges did not request a trade this week, sources said. If anything, this is an indication that Brooklyn scoured the market for potential additions this summer and didn’t find the star running mate. The Nets staff had long hoped that Bridges would help lure Brooklyn. Damian Lillard certainly had his eye on the Nets last summer, but he ended up in Milwaukee. The entire league is preparing for Donovan Mitchell to be signed with Cleveland. And by putting Jordi Fernandez – the highly regarded head coach of the Canadian national team who most recently served as Mike Brown’s assistant – on the Nets’ sidelines, Brooklyn became a first-year bench leader with the experience to compete for the postseason and the building youth and openness to a program, compared to a purely battle-oriented head coach like Mike Budenholzer.

Of course, the Nets were always aware of Bridges’ interest in joining New York. The Knicks, sources said, upped the ante on Tuesday with a significant offer that Brooklyn simply couldn’t refuse. This marked the first time these two neighboring franchises had made a deal since 1983. That synergy alone came as a shock to many veteran observers of the league. When Kevin Durant first requested a trade from the Nets in the summer of 2022, several Brooklyn personnel vowed that the club would never send the All-Star to Madison Square Garden. The Knicks went all in, mortgaging five of their eight available first-round picks, which New York once determined was too much for Mitchell, and that was clearly enough for the Nets to warm up to take over to work.

Things are of course very different above Penn Station, since the talks in New York with Utah collapsed. Brunson has since emerged as a bona fide MVP candidate, one of the most vaunted playoff scorers in the league. New York was inches away from reaching the Eastern Conference finals, and a healthy Knicks team had many of the league’s players convinced it was the biggest threat to challenge Boston in the East. Adding Bridges likely reinforces that idea, even if Philadelphia can manage to steal Paul George away from the Los Angeles Clippers. All signs point to New York re-signing OG Anunoby as well, and you’ve got quite a bit of resistance against Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown on the defensive end of Boston’s drives and kicks.

It all makes for a compelling argument for Brunson to sign the four-year, $156 million extension he becomes eligible for on July 12. For all that money, it would still be a massive underpay for an All-Star who’s just shy of the fifth-place MVP finish. At what could be a pivotal time in the NBA market, Brunson actively choosing more than $100 million less than what he’d be available to him next summer would be a seismic shift from players of his caliber who have commanded top dollar over the past decade. That’s been a course correction since LeBron James faded after his pay-cutting days in Miami. But the finances would be a much bigger challenge for New York to build a long-term winner, and it already seems likely that the Knicks will lose Isaiah Hartenstein to unrestricted free agency due to cap constraints following the Bridges deal.

The Nets will likely still re-sign Nic Claxton despite what seems like a clear turn toward a rebuild. Brooklyn received Bojan Bogdanović as a salary match for Bridges, and the veteran could have some immediate re-trade value for the Nets. Bogdanović is expected to return in October after season-ending foot and wrist surgeries, sources said. If you need further proof of Brooklyn’s pivot, the Nets made another deal with Houston after landing their Bridges blockbuster. In short, Brooklyn had discussed various frameworks with the Rockets since the trade deadline about returning the Nets’ picks to Barclays Center. Which all adds up to Brooklyn being able to directly benefit from its own drop in the standings – and not re-award the No. 3 pick to Houston.

The Nets got back the pick swaps they previously sent to Houston as part of the January 2021 James Harden trade, got back their own 2026 first-round pick and then sent Houston Phoenix’s 2027 first-round pick out of Durant -to-Suns transaction. at last year’s deadline, plus other Suns swaps. The full terms, per source:

  • Houston waives 2025 right to trade HOU/OKC first round pick for BKN first round pick

  • Houston acquires the right to exchange HOU/OKC for PHX first in 2025

  • Brooklyn first to acquire 2026 BKN

  • Houston first to acquire 2027 PHX

  • Houston acquires the most favorable of DAL first and PHX first in 2029, and Houston acquires in 2029 the right to exchange HOU first for less favorable DAL first and PHX first (in other words: Houston receives/retains the two most favorable of DAL first, HOU and PHX , and Brooklyn receives/keeps the least favorable DAL, HOU & PHX first)

For weeks, the NBA has been portraying George’s decision to stay in Los Angeles and test the open market — or perhaps opt for the final year and nearly $50 million on his contract and request a trade — as the major domino of this low season. His outcome affects the potential outcomes and limits of so many teams, and therefore so many players who could benefit or lose from their own options. Bridges to New York has an immediate impact on Hartenstein, but could the biggest ripple effect be the further incentive of teams willing to trade for a final piece that could put them over the hump?