How the Knicks convinced the Nets to trade Mikal Bridges

The Empire State Building lit blue and orange Tuesday night, officially celebrating a Mets victory. But the lights sparked into those same colors for the Knicks mere minutes after news broke that New York sent a staggering five first-round picks across the East River in order for Brooklyn to finally part with defensive stalwart Mikal Bridges.

Rival teams were sensing Brooklyn’s growing willingness to part with Bridges in recent days, league sources told Yahoo Sports. Utah and Houston were two of the other teams league personnel had mentioned were actively involved in pursuing Bridges. The Nets had swept away offers for Bridges in previous transaction cycles that compiled as many as four first-round picks, sources said. And through Monday, none of Brooklyn’s conversations with those three teams or others were considered anything close to serious, sources said. That is until the Knicks came back with four unprotected first rounders — beginning in 2025 — plus a protected first-round pick from the Bucks, and then the rights for Brooklyn to swap firsts with New York in 2028, league sources confirmed to Yahoo Sports.

It all equates to six total years of draft capital, one of the largest — if not the largest — returns for a player never to be named an All-Star in NBA history. Bridges is arguably worth more to the Knicks than any other team, a chance to bring a fourth Wildcat from Villanova’s three-year run behind Jalen Brunson that netted national titles in 2016 and 2018. Bridges also marks as one of the best options New York could have found to counter Boston’s lineup of two-way wings that just claimed this year’s championship. Bridges always had an eye for 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.

Bridges, however, did not request a trade this week, sources said. If anything, this is an indication that Brooklyn surveyed the marketplace for possible additions this summer and didn’t find the star running mate Nets personnel long hoped Bridges would help entice to Brooklyn. Damian Lillard surely had an eye for the Nets last summer, but he ended up in Milwaukee. The whole league is preparing for Donovan Mitchell to sign an extension with Cleveland. And hiring Jordi Fernandez – the highly regarded Canadian national team head coach who last served as an assistant for Mike Brown – to the Nets’ sideline brought Brooklyn a first-year bench leader with the experience to vie for the postseason and the youth and openness to build a program, compared to a merely contending-focused head coach like Mike Budenholzer.

The Nets, of course, were always aware of Bridges’ interest in joining New York. The Knicks, sources said, upped the ante Tuesday with a significant offer that Brooklyn simply could not refuse, marking the first time these two neighboring franchises have struck a deal since 1983. That synergy alone was a shock to many veteran observers of the league. Back when Kevin Durant first requested a trade from the Nets during the summer of 2022, various Brooklyn personnel swore the club would never send the All-Star to Madison Square Garden. The Knicks going all in, mortgaging five of their available eight first-round picks that New York once determined was too much for Mitchell, was clearly enough for the Nets to warm to working across the bridge.

Things are much different above Penn Station, of course, since those New York talks with Utah broke down. Brunson has since emerged into a bona fide MVP candidate, one of the most vaunted playoff scorers in the league. New York came inches from the Eastern Conference finals, and a healthy Knicks team had convinced plenty of league figures that it posed the biggest threat to challenge Boston in the East. Adding Bridges likely cements that notion, even if Philadelphia can succeed in stealing away Paul George from the Los Angeles Clippers. All signs point to New York re-signing OG Anunoby as well, and you’ve got quite the foil to Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown on the defensive side of Boston’s drives and kicks.

This is all one hell of an argument for Brunson to sign the four-year, $156 million extension he’s eligible to sign July 12. For all that money, it would still mark a massive underpay for an All-Star fresh off a fifth-place MVP finish. In what could be a key moment in the NBA marketplace, Brunson actively choosing over $100 million less than what would be available to him next summer would be a seismic sway from players of his caliber commanding absolute top dollar for the past decade-plus. That’s been a course correction ever since LeBron James about-faced from his days of pay cuts in Miami. The finances, though, would be far more challenging for New York to build a long-lasting winner, and the Knicks already appear likely to forfeit Isaiah Hartenstein to unrestricted free agency due to cap restrictions following the deal for Bridges.

The Nets are still likely to re-sign Nic Claxton, despite what bills as a clear pivot toward a rebuild. Brooklyn received Bojan Bogdanović as the salary match for Bridges, and the veteran could have some immediate re-trade value for the Nets. Bogdanović is expected to return by October from season-ending foot and wrist surgeries, sources said. If you need further evidence of Brooklyn’s pivot, the Nets swung a subsequent deal with Houston after landing their Bridges blockbuster. In short, Brooklyn had been discussing various frameworks with the Rockets since the trade deadline about sending the Nets’ picks back to Barclays Center. Which all adds up to Brooklyn being able to directly benefit from its own plummet down the standings — and not award the No. 3 pick to Houston again.

The Nets got back pick swaps they’d previously sent 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 from the Durant-to-Suns trade at last year’s deadline, plus other Suns swaps. The full terms, per source:

  • Houston relinquishes 2025 right to swap HOU/OKC first-round pick for BKN first-round pick

  • Houston acquires 2025 right to swap HOU/OKC first for PHX first

  • Brooklyn acquires 2026 BKN first

  • Houston acquires 2027 PHX first

  • Houston acquires 2029 more favorable of DAL first & PHX first, and Houston acquires 2029 right to swap HOU first for less favorable of DAL first & PHX first (stated another way, Houston receives/retains the two most favorable of DAL, HOU & PHX first, and Brooklyn receives/retains the least favorable of DAL, HOU & PHX first)

For weeks, the NBA has been labeling George’s decision to remain in Los Angeles and test the open market — or perhaps opt in to the final year and near-$50 million on his contract and request a trade — as the key domino of this offseason. His outcome impacts so many teams’ potential outcomes and cap space, and therefore so many players who could stand to benefit or lose options of their own. Bridges to New York directly impacts Hartenstein, but could its greatest ripple effect be the further instigation of teams willing to trade for a final piece that could put them over the hump?

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