It can be argued, even among NetsDaily writers, what kind of season Mikal Bridges is having, after shocking NetsWorld last year with his 27 games of highly productive basketball. Take this contretemps on New Years Eve...
Mikal Bridges has been quite disappointing this year. Would be unfortunate if the Nets ended up trading him for less than what was available last year.— Alec Sturm (@Alec_Sturm) January 1, 2024
Yeah I disagree. He's a better player than he was last year— Lucas Kaplan (@LucasKaplan_) January 1, 2024
Indeed, some of his numbers are down but Lucas argues that his off-ball offense and defense have made him a better all-around player. “Real improvements going to the rim and as a passer. A lighter primary load also means the D and off-ball O in particular have resurfaced,” he wrote when fans asked him.
His scoring at 21.1 ppg is down from his 26.1 ppg in those 27 games as a Net following his trade from Phoenix His shooting percentage overall and from three are down too. And despite putting up three 20-point games in the last five, he’s only averaging 16.6 points over the last 10 when the Nets are 2-8. And we haven’t even talked about how he and Cam Thomas are still working things out. But his rebounds and assists are at a career highs, the playmaking a priority he embraced during the summer.
Moreover, he remains the most durable player in the NBA with his consecutive game streak now at 425. Although he’s only sixth in minutes at the moment after leading the league the last two seasons, it is January 1, not April 1. That reminder also applies to his other statistical comparisons.
Yes, yes, the Nets — his Nets — have disappointed thus far and there are calls from some less-than-knowledgeable fans that the Nets should go back to the Memphis Grizzlies, hat in hand, and ask if their (reported) deadline offer of four first-rounders, not further described, is still available. That of course would signal a total rebuild and the Brooklyn Nets are not going to do that because they are three games under .500 and their franchise player may be in a slump.
Moreover, and this is important, he IS the face of the franchise and under contract through 2025-26. He is who they are building around, whether or not they acquire a superstar or not, and the reason lies in his leadership and his personality, “eternally chill” as GQ.com put it recently, but tough when he needs to be ... as he was the other night when asked about the team’s decision to “punt” the Bucks game. “Not a fan,” he answered. He does not shy away from leadership, from being HIM.
“Who wouldn’t want this? Who wouldn’t want this type of pressure, this type of expectations?” Bridges said in preseason, when asked about the challenges he faced with the new-look Nets. It was Bridges, in case you forget, who offered public off-season support to Ben Simmons and Cam Thomas, dismissing any doubt about either. They were, he said of both, “my guy.” That mattered too.
There’s something else that came out of the GQ (what used to be known as Gentleman’s Quarterly) interview that is different from his predecessors in the role of franchise player going back a generation. He’s accessible, approachable, which if you’re a ticket sales rep (or an owner,) you know has great value. He is decidedly normal and he likes it that way.
“The thing is, I just try to normalize myself so much,” he says. “I don’t try to picture myself as an NBA player, like this guy. To myself I’m like, ‘Damn, man, I’m getting bothered.’ But like, okay, be real with yourself. I know I’m trying to make myself as normal as possible, but it’s not normal. I think the world doesn’t help. Being on the internet, it doesn’t help. But I just try to be as low-key as I can. Not low-key, like, normal.”
Normal, like without baggage, or controversy while doing his job. He isn’t above having fun, either. He is willing to troll everyone either with his social media, as Cam Johnson, his “twin” revealed to GQ writer Matthew Roberson.
“He’s goofy as heck,” Johnson said. “He’s always playing around. First of all, he’s always tweeting something low key—almost controversial—because he understands he has the power to do so. He understands that people are going to read deep into anything he tweets because he thinks it’s funny. He’s like, They’re gonna love this.”
But he also hates losing as anyone who’s been in the team locker room post-game or watched him talk on YES. He gets down. He takes it deadly serious.
“I’ll get frustrated for sure, especially if someone’s not doing the right things. I get frustrated if we’re bullshitting out there, because I know what it takes to win,” he told GQ. “You don’t know unless you’re in it. I’ve definitely been blessed.”
No, you don’t trade that for four first rounders, protected or unprotected, Along with his basketball skills (which some would like to dismiss or forget because he isn’t currently performing to their vaunted standards.) Not to mention he’s 27, that sweet spot where you still have your athleticism as well as the wisdom acquired by experience. He can hang with Donovan Mitchell or Sabrina Ionescu. Mikal Bridges is franchise gold.
Moreover, the big bosses, the ones with the ultimate power to make or take calls on his fate — Joe Tsai and Sean Marks — love Bridges, part because of who he is but also who he isn’t. He does not and almost certainly will never possess the talent that God graced the “Big Three,” but he is more fully rounded, grounded, able to help the franchise achieve normalcy. Fans can dismiss that if they wish, but those in charge as well as other players do not.
As Adrian Wojnarowski reported Wednesday “The Nets have no intention of trading Mikal Bridges, Brooklyn wants to continue to add talent around Bridges as a foundational piece to their roster.”
So, expect the brass to be patient and dismiss calls for him to be launched into some franchise-altering trade as “noise,” one of their favorite words.
“You see it in a lot of ways,” Jacque Vaughn told GQ’s Roberson about Bridges ability to connect, to lead. “Subtleties. He has a special handshake with every single guy on the roster. Little things like that go a long way.
“During shootarounds, when we’re talking about how we’re going to guard pick-and-rolls, he has a response that he’s able to communicate to the group. Those little opportunities for leadership, he’s slowly but surely stepping into. It is a tall task to do it every single night in this league at both ends of the floor, and we’re asking him to do that.”
And no doubt that will continue.