Mikal Bridges could be ideal final piece as Knicks chase a championship

Even after acquiring OG Anunoby and running through the league with a 14-2 January, the general consensus on the Knicks’ championship hopes is that they’re still one piece away from truly contending.

Many expect them to pursue that final addition this summer, likely by trading their host of draft picks and some salaries for a top-tier star who can get them over the hump.

It’s hard to consider what names might become available without seeing who washes out of the first round or becomes disgruntled first, but some of the popular ones are Joel Embiid, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Devin Booker. These names - among others - are all lead-option-on-a-contender talents who have strung together consecutive playoff losses, have ties to Knicks management, and would be worthy trade targets should the opportunity arise.

That said, the possibility of any becoming available and being dealt to New York could be extremely slim, and they each come with drawbacks. There are injury and age concerns with Embiid and Antetokounmpo, adding Booker to a backcourt with Jalen Brunson will be a defensive challenge, and all three are established alphas who could potentially upset the specifically curated culture that’s revitalized this franchise.

That last point can’t be so easily brushed aside. Knicks fans need only look across the East River for a perfect case study of how selling the soul of your team in exchange for wins can quickly turn badly. 

For that reason, maybe the team should look in that direction in search of their missing piece. Perhaps their best final move isn’t trading for a 1A, 30-PPG megastar at all, but for Mikal Bridges.

Yes, the Knicks and Nets haven’t traded with each other since 1983, and Brooklyn reportedly turned down a pick-heavy trade offer for Bridges before the trade deadline. Chances are an Embiid-level player may be a more realistic target for the Knicks.

But should things change, there’s a strong argument for Bridges being the player who takes New York over the top. 

Unlike trading for a superstar, a Bridges acquisition wouldn't upset the current Knicks hierarchy or culture. Brunson would remain the top-scoring option, aided by Julius Randle, with both able to drop 30 on a given night.

Bridges and Anunoby would create the most talented wing role-player duo in the league, and none of those who turned the Knicks from an ailing franchise to a perennial playoff team are lost. Bridges doesn’t need to shoot 20 times a game or operate from specific points on the floor, and would mesh well with the hard-working, defense-first culture established by Tom Thibodeau.

Of course, he’d also add to the ‘Nova Boys dynamic, having shared the court in college with Josh Hart, Brunson and Donte DiVincenzo. He would no longer be the Squidward enviously watching from behind a window as his friends have fun torching the league, as Hart so artfully described.  

Adding Bridges to this rotation would also be what both parties need at this juncture. The Bridges as a first option experiment has looked rough, and despite what the talking heads might say, the Knicks already have theirs. 

Brunson is more than capable of being the lead scorer on a championship roster. If 79 points over two consecutive elimination games against a Finals team last year and is averaging 28.8 points and 7.0 assists per game in 2024 with half of a supporting roster can’t convince you, little will.

Randle’s postseason performances may have left more to be desired, but come with some asterisks, and his healthy regular season play has been monstrous. With Anunoby in tow, the Knicks don’t need to uproot their offense as much as they need another complement to this roster who can provide some added scoring to bench units.

Who better than Bridges, who can seamlessly start at the two guard and be that ideal compliment? Prior to his trade to Brooklyn, he was an elite 3-and-D player, turned promising yet ultimately disappointing lead scorer as a Net. In New York he can find the sweet spot in between.

It’s hard to call him an upgrade over DiVincenzo when strictly weighing this season, but context is needed. Bridges was considered a top young defender prior to taking on a massive offensive load, so moving down to the third option (who would guard the second-best perimeter player) could reignite that part of his game.

He has the tools to be better than DiVincenzo defensively - he’s 6-foot-6 to Donte’s 6-foot-4, with five extra inches of wingspan. Bridges spent multiple seasons as Phoenix’s top perimeter defender, helping them make a Finals run in 2021.

Offensively, he’s not the shooter DiVincenzo is this year, as the current Knicks shooting guard is lacing 40.4 percent of his catch-and-shoot threes to Bridges’ 37.7 percent. But Bridges' career averages hover a touch higher, and he’d be expected to improve with easier looks and better teammates.

That extends to the rest of his offensive game. His isolation and pick-and-roll numbers have suffered under the weight of Brooklyn’s lost season, but if Bridges can bring more of that late 2022-23 sauce to bench lineups, he could be a vital spark to New York’s offense.

Bridges is also chronically available, the NBA’s reigning iron man, missing zero games due to injury in his career. And at 27 years old, he’s no neophyte but fits perfectly on the Knicks’ timeline. 

Dealing for Bridges would also cost less for the Knicks than a comparative trade for a bigger name. Instead of losing much of their rotational depth and future draft capital, they could feasibly add him while still maintaining much of their core pieces and even some leftover picks. 

Fantasizing over what a star addition could bring to the Knicks has been and will remain a dream - especially so in Bridges’ case. But when considering what dream scenario to pursue, it’s hard to ignore his case as a potential better fit than what a traditional top-15 player might bring.