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Brooklyn Nets’ Mikal Bridges embraces the Kevin Durant trade

Veteran forward has gone from role player to potential face of the franchise: ‘It’s kind of cool to me, honestly, just see what you’re made of’

NEW YORK – Mikal Bridges could easily be bitter.

But with one particular quote from his former Phoenix Suns coach Monty Williams in mind, the new Brooklyn Nets forward is amazingly positive about his abrupt life change and stunning trade.

“It’s kind of cool just be part of this and go through that whole trade process,” Bridges told Andscape before the Nets’ 124-106 loss to the New York Knicks on Feb. 13. “Just midseason going to a whole other team, different concepts, people are different. It’s just a whole other city. It’s kind of cool to me, honestly, just see what you’re made of. I know it’s not easy and I’m not going to be the person that dwells on it and [is] upset about it. I just want to take action. I know times get tough with moving around, trying to find a spot. I feel I can just show that a person, like myself, when the going is tough, I’ll go for it …

“I always preach what Monty always preaches, ‘You ain’t getting sent off to war.’ So, I always have that mindset. Just like life goes on, it’s part of it.”

On Feb. 7, Bridges had no idea that his Suns life was ending after he scored 21 points in a 116-112 win against his soon-to-be Nets in Brooklyn. After the game, Bridges playfully joked with teammates Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton and Cameron Johnson in the visiting locker room of Barclays Center. On Feb. 9, in the early morning, a blockbuster headline arrived announcing the trade of NBA superstar Kevin Durant to the Suns along with forward T.J. Warren in a three-team deal.

The Suns immediately raised their hopes for a first NBA title by adding Durant to a talented roster that also included Booker, Ayton, and Chris Paul. Meanwhile, the Nets landed Bridges, Johnson, forward Jae Crowder (now with the Milwaukee Bucks) and four unprotected first-round picks.

Bridges was in his hotel room in Atlanta when he got word of the life changing trade from Booker.

“It was late, late and that’s when DB called me at, like, 1:30,” Bridges said. “He said he just saw the news and I saw it right after. I was just sitting in my hotel room, honestly, just chilling. The Suns called me probably two minutes after it came out. [Suns general manager] James Jones called me.”

Phoenix Suns forward Mikal Bridges (right) plays defense on Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Dončić (left) during Game 3 of the 2022 NBA Western Conference semifinals on May 6, 2022, at the American Airlines Center in Dallas.

Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images

Bridges finished second in the 2022 NBA Defensive Player of the Year voting and was an NBA All-Defensive First Team selection. On offense, he was often viewed as the fourth wheel behind Booker, Ayton, and Paul. But for anyone listening before the Suns’ Feb. 7 game in Brooklyn, Williams raved about how Bridges played offensively during Booker’s recent 21-game absence. From Dec. 26 to Feb. 6, Bridges averaged 19.3 points, 4.9 assists and 4.0 rebounds.

Now with the Nets, Bridges went from a major role player to a potential face of the franchise. The 6-foot-6, 209-pounder scored a career-high 45 points, including 15 in a row, as the Nets beat the Miami Heat 116-105 on Feb. 15 in the final game before the NBA All-Star break.

“Mostly I’m just being aggressive, which is how I kind of was when Book [Booker] or C [Paul] was out when I was on the Suns,” Bridges said. “Just the same situation. Just be more aggressive. There’s more than just shooting, as well. Still defending and still finding your teammates to try to make the right play every single time, honestly, that’s kind of my mindset on it.”

Said Nets coach Jacque Vaughn: “That last month when Booker was out [Bridges] really took a step in his game that, I’m going to be honest, I didn’t know he had in him with his ability to shoot the ball off the bounce and his ability to play pick-and-roll. We did a little bit of that the first game he was with us. We really think he can initiate some offense, play pick-and-roll, and push the pace himself. I’m impressed with what he has done so far and think he can do more.”

Perhaps a year from now Bridges could be an NBA All-Star candidate with a heightened role in Brooklyn.

“I’m not really thinking about becoming an All-Star. I am just trying to get better, honestly,” Bridges said. “Just each year, [I] try to get better and if that happens, it happens. I try to do everything just to get better and try to help the team win.”

The Nets also have a legitimate shot at making the postseason even without Durant. With 24 games remaining, Brooklyn will return to action following the NBA All-Star break with a 34-24 record, good for fifth in the Eastern Conference standings. Brooklyn has a 2.5-game lead on the Heat, who are the seventh seed.

Bridges says building chemistry quickly will be the key for Brooklyn to make the postseason.

“Other teams have been together so long. So, I’m kind of excited to just keep getting better and keep just trying to build chemistry with the team,” Bridges said. “We all want to win, and I just feel like as time keeps going, we are going to keep getting better. We need to make the playoffs and just be a scary team.”

Brooklyn Nets forward Mikal Bridges (left) celebrates with center Nic Claxton (second from left) during the second half against the Miami Heat at Barclays Center on Feb. 15 in Brooklyn, New York.

Sarah Stier/Getty Images

The Nets’ nine-day layoff for the NBA All-Star break came right on time for Bridges.

Bridges had been away from Phoenix since Feb. 2. He was able to return to his home in the Phoenix area after the All-Star break to pack up, visit with some friends and most importantly see his beloved retriever and lab mix named Sonny, who he deeply missed. Bridges plans to move Sonny to New York once he is settled in his new home.

“It’s actually helpful that it did happen before the All-Star break because at least I have some time to go back and pack up some stuff I really need and see some of my friends, say goodbye for now and, say, ‘I’ll see you guys later,’ probably in the summer or something like that,” Bridges said. “Yeah, it’s crazy. It’s part of the game, you see trades happen all the time.”

More positive news for Bridges is that he has also returned back to the Northeast.

Bridges grew up in the Philadelphia area, where he starred in high school at Malvern Great Valley High and at Villanova University, where he was a two-time NCAA champion. Two of his old college teammates and good friends, Jalen Brunson, and Josh Hart, are just down the street playing for the Knicks. Bridges was uncertain where he was planning to live before the NBA All-Star break, but he hinted about a possible move to Manhattan.

“It’s definitely cool. I’ve got a lot of people I know out here,” Bridges said. “I’ve always loved New York. Always wanted to live in ‘The City.’ So, that helps a lot just knowing that I always wanted to, and it’s a good situation now with being in Brooklyn and they’ve got their facility and their arena downtown, so that makes it easy. That’s dope. Living in the city, I’m a people person.”

Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for Andscape. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.