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Making Mikal: How Nets understand that he is keystone of rebuild, face of the franchise

Brooklyn Nets v Philadelphia 76ers - Game Two Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

If you had any doubt the Nets were going to rebuild around Mikal Bridges, sit down and read Nick Friedell’s ESPN opus on how Brooklyn sees Bridges: not just as their best player, but a leader and the foundation stone for the franchise’s post-Big Three era ... on the court, and off, the face of the Nets in the public’s mind.

That later point is one that takes up a lot of Friedell’s interviews with Bridges, Sean Marks and Monty Williams, his coach in Phoenix. There’s ample discussion of how the trade went down from Bridges angle and his arrival in Brooklyn, but there’s no doubt they see Bridges not just replacing Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving between the lines, but creating a whole new look, too.

“We had done our due diligence and thought, ‘This is amazing what I’m hearing about him. Terrific,’” Marks said at one point. “And he comes into your building and you go, ‘It’s better than I thought.’ I watch his interactions — not only his interactions with me — I watch his interactions with the ball boys. I watch his interactions with people who can do absolutely nothing for him. And that speaks volumes about who this person is.”

At another point in the story, Marks speaks about how why he thinks the Big Three era didn’t work, admitting he screwed up.

“I think I learned a lot about myself,” Marks told Friedell. “We can’t ever forget it’s a team sport. And one player can make or break you in either way. You can all of a sudden go ‘Wow, we got this guy, he’s going to take us to a championship level.’

“But, at the same time, maybe it doesn’t fit. Maybe this environment isn’t the right one. So you got to do your due diligence, but you have to be willing to have honest conversations, and truth be told — I’ve looked in the mirror and gone, ‘Hey look, I was wrong. I overlooked that. I didn’t see that. Or I should have listened to this particular player.’ That’s why we collaborate the way we do.”

At the same time, Marks said he thinks that with what he got back and what he can build with, things are looking up.

“I don’t know that he knows how good he is and how good he can be,” Marks said. “I know he wants to be great, and he’s going to have an opportunity to prove it...

“We’ve never sort of had a group of young guys before that were under contract, proven, healthy and you can see a pathway of, ‘Hey, I can see what this may look like in two, three years from now.’ ... Not just Mikal, but all of them, where do they all take their games to? Who’s the next person that takes that leap?”

We will see how that works out in the off-season when everyone thinks the Nets will make a big deal ... even though Marks told Friedell, ”We can never be in a hurry to make a trade or make an acquisition, just because it may sound good.” But we do know Bridges will not be part of legitimate trade rumors.

In addition to talk with Nets officials and players about Bridges, Friedell spoke at length to Monty Williams, who admitted he had cried when he learned about the trade, he was that close to Bridges and Cam Johnson as well. Williams compared Bridges work habits to those of Durant and his leadership profile to Tim Duncan’s.

“Tim was like that. The best player on the team, but connected with everybody. And I think part of it with Tim was he never made himself feel or put himself in a position where he was above anything. Whatever the team was doing, he was gonna do it. If everybody got coached, Tim was gonna get coached.

“And Mikal has that. He does everything he’s supposed to and more, and I think it endears him to the whole organization .”

Bridges doesn’t seem to be overwhelmed by the opportunity. He understands it.

“Just a little bit more responsibility,” Bridges told ESPN. “On offense mainly. Being that guy. Having the ball out, making the right decision pretty much every time...

“I didn’t think I would have to become a go-to, go-to guy this quick,” he said. “Phoenix, obviously [Devin] Book was going to be there ... Usually I’m not a guy — I was always allergic to getting kind of 30. I was always like the mid 20s, high 20s, even if I was a go-to guy, it was just how I was.”

Now he will have to be ready to go for 30 (which he’s done 12 times since joining the Nets) or 40 (which he’s done three times) because he has been anointed the one.

“I don’t know that he knows how good he is and how good he can be,” Marks said. “I know he wants to be great, and he’s going to have an opportunity to prove it.”