Did the Knicks Just Get Fleeced on the Most Expensive Reunion Ever? (2024)

It’s fair to wonder whether the value of a draft pick has ever been higher than it currently is. Thanks to the onerous demands of a new CBA that was explicitly written to punish big spenders and effectively repress continuity, having players who are young, talented, and paid significantly less than they could otherwise earn on the open market really matters.

On Tuesday night, less than 24 hours before the NBA draft was scheduled to begin in Brooklyn, the New York Knicks spit on this theory. As a franchise that spent the past few years refusing to part with any of its own first-round picks, laying in wait for the next stranded superstar to come along, the Knicks made a sudden, shocking pivot to acquire someone who is … definitely not that.

The time for prudence in New York is over. To land Nets wing Mikal Bridges, the Knicks surrendered four unprotected first-round picks (2025, 2027, 2029, 2031), a top-four protected first-round pick from the Bucks (2025), an unprotected pick swap (2028), one second-round pick (2025), and veteran Bojan Bogdanovic. On its face, that is a preposterous and risky move—a delayed “hold my beer” directed at Tim Connelly after he mortgaged Minnesota’s entire future for Rudy Gobert.

To put it in perspective, when the Nets traded 34-year-old Kevin Durant to the Suns in 2023, Phoenix gave back … four unprotected first-round picks plus a pick swap (along with Bridges, Cam Johnson, and Jae Crowder). Durant is one of the 15 greatest players of all time. We’re talking about a two-time Finals MVP and four-time scoring champion who’s made 11 All-NBA teams. In other words, the type of player you go all in for.

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And then we have the 27-year-old Bridges, a versatile defender with ascending offensive skills who has never made an All-Star team. Last season, Bridges’s PER was 14.9, and his true shooting percentage was below league average on a team that won 32 games. His career scoring average is 14.3 points per game. He is not one of the 15 greatest players who’s ever lived. (A few days ago, all the Oklahoma City Thunder had to give up in a trade for Alex Caruso was Josh Giddey. Bridges is definitively better than Caruso, but not five first-round picks better!)

Every trade must be framed by the context in which it was made. Five first-round picks, one second-round pick, and a pick swap is not something a rational franchise should ever put on the table unless the return can virtually guarantee perennial championship contention. Coming off their most magical season in generations, the Knicks clearly believe Bridges (whose iron-man mindset will be truly tested—and beloved—by Tom Thibodeau) is the missing piece in their banner-raising puzzle.

There’s a world in which they could be right. While criticism is plenty fair, so too is praise for their prioritization of fit over pure talent. Championship-caliber chemistry is baked into the calculus. Bridges won two national titles at Villanova with Jalen Brunson, Donte DiVincenzo, and Josh Hart as his teammates. On the one hand, draft picks are über-valuable. On the other, behind Boston, the East may be wide open. Pretend you’re Leon Rose for a minute. If not now, then when? And for whom?

If the Knicks re-sign OG Anunoby, don’t lose too much size (i.e., Isaiah Hartenstein, who could be a financial casualty from the Bridges trade), and stay healthy, they can combine one of the NBA’s best defenses with diversified shot creation and plenty of 3-point shooting. Brunson, who will turn just 28 in August, will enter next season as a borderline top-10 player with insatiable scoring prowess. His usage will dip (a very good thing), and every offensive possession won’t hinge on his ability to create separation against the opponent’s best defender or a dropping big. Blitzing Brunson consistently will no longer be a viable option. He’s surrounded by too many guys who can attack a closeout and either score or create another advantage. (They can’t go five out like the Celtics but will have lineups that can drive-and-kick opponents to death.)

When surrounded by other awesome players, Bridges knows how to complement them. He can space the floor but also generate efficient looks off a ball screen or dribble handoff. When Brunson sits, Bridges can step in as the lead or secondary ball handler. He shined at times in Brooklyn as a top option and made real strides creating for himself, but too much playmaking responsibility weighed Bridges down. That won’t be an issue in New York, where his role will fall somewhere between the deferential 3-and-D duties he had on the Suns and the permanent green light he had on the Nets, which led to him ending the 2022-23 season with a staggering 30.3 usage rate. Assuming the Knicks extend Brunson and Bridges as soon as they can, this team is set to benefit from real continuity in a league that’s doing everything it can to make long-term familiarity obsolete.

This brings us to an overlooked question mark. Lost amid all of New York’s shiny new toys is Julius Randle, the team’s highest-paid player and previous no. 1 option—before Brunson learned how to walk on water. He will be eligible for an extension on August 3, simultaneously complicating and augmenting New York’s fervor. There are so many questions regarding Randle, some in direct conflict with each other. Should the Knicks trade him? Where? For whom? Does he bestow enough of a physical edge over every other team in the Eastern Conference to make moving him too painful?

If Randle stays, how does he fit in after watching the Knicks go on a playoff run without him last season? Does he take more off the table than he puts on, especially if they re-sign Anunoby? If you have Brunson, DiVincenzo, Hart, Anunoby, Randle, and Bridges—who comes off the bench? Who’s sacrificing minutes and touches?

These are ultimately good problems to have. The Knicks are loaded with talent. Whether it’s enough to dethrone the Celtics is a completely different question. The Knicks are theoretically built to slow the Celtics down with a slew of tenacious on-ball defenders, but that’s easier said than done for a variety of reasons that can’t fully be explored until we know who’s on both teams.

Mystery abounds. With Bridges, is New York clearly better than the Indiana Pacers, Cleveland Cavaliers, or a healthy iteration of the Milwaukee Bucks? What about a revamped, completely unknown Philadelphia 76ers roster that currently consists of two players? The Orlando Magic are coming, and the Miami Heat refuse to leave.

The Knicks still own a couple of protected firsts, but for most intents and purposes, they went all in on a team that just ran out of gas in the second round. It’s an ambitious, gutsy call. If it works, we’ll talk about this group for the rest of our lives. If they continuously get to the playoffs and can’t defeat any teams that employ superstars better than their own, they may come to regret pushing all their chips in on a pretty good player who, um, definitely isn’t Kevin Durant.

Did the Knicks Just Get Fleeced on the Most Expensive Reunion Ever? (2024)


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