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Mikal Bridges on his Nets bosses — ‘great people’ — All-Defense and Cam Johnson

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Philadelphia 76ers v Brooklyn Nets - Game Four Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

In a wide ranging interview with Spencer Davies, writing for Hoops Herald, Mikal Bridges spoke about his love for Brooklyn — and his bosses — but also admitted that his incredible stretch of games, minutes and miles played has had its costs.

The interview also touched on which teammate he’s already created chemistry with and who he’d like to connect with more, how he understands his All-Defense snub but not Nic Claxton and how he believes his “twin,” Cam Johnson will be back in Brooklyn if the money is right.

In talking about Brooklyn, the Tsais and Sean Marks, the 26-year-old (with three years left on his contract) called ownership and management “great people,” despite some bad buzz.

“Joe Tsai’s a nice guy. His family’s sweet. I love his wife [Clara Wu Tsai]. His kids are really cool. They’re great people, man,” said Bridges. “They love the city of Brooklyn and they just want to do whatever it takes for the fans. They’re just great. They welcomed me with open arms and it’s been literally ever since.”

“Sean Marks is a really good dude. I like ’em a lot. I don’t know, you hear the whole thing about what’s going on in Brooklyn and how people don’t like this and that. But I’m just like, these people are great. They’re great people.”

“It’s cool. I like the city a lot,” he added.

On his noticeable fall-off at season’s end, Bridges attributed it to the combination of his new role on offense and desire to keep up his defensive reputation.

“Just the stamina. And I think just being in shape. I think that’s the biggest thing, just the whole stamina aspect, especially doing what I do on the other end defensively,” Bridges said. “I think towards the end, I kinda just was lacking to it and obviously, I wasn’t happy about that. And I know coming this year that I’ll be way better and more in shape to do both.

“You know, people don’t want to. Some people don’t. They only do it on one end. But that’s not the type of player I am and person I am. So just trying to be able to do it on both ends.”

After finishing second in the Defensive Player of the Year balloting in 2021-22, Bridges didn’t make either the first or second All-Defensive team this season.

“For me personally, for switching teams and stuff, I think my defense wasn’t at an elite level like where it was last year, but my role grew even bigger and it was just different,” Bridges told Davies.

As he often does, Bridges preached about the importance to defense in general and to the Nets.

“You know, the highlight, the big thing is scoring, and that’s what kids love,” Bridges said. “A lot of kids that are watching are not gonna be these types of guys ’cause only a couple of teams have ’em. You’re more likely to be growing up maybe a role player and evolving from there, and defense should be a main thing that should be talked about,”

As far as the All-Defensive Team, Bridges said honoring only the top ten defenders and by position can skew things. (Next season, the All-Defensive team will be position-less.)

“So I think they should also have three teams, and that kinda inspires kids to just know that, ‘Okay, I can make it to the league just not having to score 30 points a night.’ And I think to add another team, it’ll just help,” he told Davies. “But I’m not over here fighting for my life. I just think it could be [beneficial], thinking about how many players could’ve made the All-Defensive Team.”

He noted how Celtics guard Marcus Smart didn’t make either first or second team this year after being DPOY last year. He and Smart would have been third team selections if there was such a thing.

“The man just won Defensive Player of the Year and he plays defense. You know on that team they’re on in Boston… I just don’t understand,” said Bridges.

“I just think maybe it’s because they’re like, ‘Okay, we gave him the trophy and that’s okay. Now we can think of other guys.’ But that don’t make sense. You’ve gotta kinda keep it how it is. If he’s doing it every year and is consistent, I don’t know why he just doesn’t keep making ’em.”

Bridges also didn’t understand how Claxton got snubbed, noting he and Jaren Jackson Jr. lead the NBA in “stocks,” the combination of steals and blocks. Bridges also said he wants to develop better chemistry with the Nets center.

“That’s one person I kinda just want to ball with, just playmaking-wise and rewarding dudes like him that just play so hard, especially on the defensive end,” Bridges admitted. “And just having that connection with him and knowing that if I’m not getting to a shot and they’re playing 2-on-2 in the pick-and-roll, he knows I’m looking for him. And just finding that little baby rhythm to where I just throw it to the rim and he go get it and get up two points just to reward him. I think [with] Clax, it’s something that we’ve built on.

“I tried to tell him that in the season, like, I get upset missing him on lobs and stuff because I don’t have that chemistry with him, and he deserves it, man. He works so hard and he plays so hard on both ends. He deserves it.”

As for Johnson, Bridges offered some positives about the 6’8” forward returning. Johnson who showed a much bigger game in Brooklyn than in Phoenix, is a restricted free agent, meaning the Nets can match any offer an opponent might make him.

“I do definitely want him back. I hope so man. I think so,” Bridges said. “It’s just hopefully the money’s right, and I know he wants to stay here. And we need him and he’s been hooping man. He’s been healthy. But I definitely want him here, man. Hopefully, they get the deal done. I know he has to think about it, but I just want that to be over with (laughs).”

Johnson turned down a four-year, $72 million extension last summer and the market now looks more like $90 million if not more.

After the adjustment going from Phoenix to Brooklyn — and a featured role in the Nets offense, Bridges has increasingly generated buzz around the league. We know now that Damian Lillard and he are close and that Lillard considers Bridges the best small forward in the league.

He has embraced Brooklyn as this ESPN video from 11 days ago shows...

Even in Chicago, at the Draft Combine, his name has come up. Fellow Villanova alumni Cam Whitmore, Iowa’s Kris Murray and France’s Rayan Rupert have all mentioned they’re big fans of his with Rupert saying he watched Brooklyn more than any other NBA team because of his admiration for Bridges.