How Mikal Bridges landed with the Suns and changed the course of the 76ers future: ‘The plan changed’ (2024)

Three years ago, the course of two franchises changed in roughly 40 minutes. At about 8:30 p.m. on June 21, the 76ers took Mikal Bridges with the 10th pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. By 9:15, news had broken that they had traded him away to the Suns.

In real-time, the sequence lit up the league, as a national audience watched Philadelphia trade away a hometown kid who reveled in the idea of playing for the same organization that employed his mom. While the personal drama of it all consumed fans — Bridges walked around Barclays Center in a Sixers hat while the world already knew of his next destination — the transaction itself would shape the futures of Phoenix and Philadelphia. At that moment, Bridges could only grasp the change that just took place.


“I didn’t … I didn’t know what they were saying,” he said that night of being told about the deal. “I was confused when they told me. I was like ‘Oh it’s time to get ready for Phoenix.’”

Now, however, he is a foundational part of a team that stands two wins away from the NBA Finals. The Suns hold a 2-0 lead on the Clippers in the Western Conference finals, thanks in part to the 14 points Bridges scored in the Game 1 win. While he continues to flourish in his third professional season, the 76ers will watch from home after losing to the Hawks in the second round in seven games.

Today, that deal is more fascinating than it was at the time it was made. In acquiring Bridges, the Suns added a high-level 3-and-D wing to put next to Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton, who they took No. 1 on the same night. In trading away Bridges, Philadelphia took the more open-ended path, adding Zhaire Smith with the No. 16 pick and the rights to an unprotected Heat first-round pick in 2021. It was a juxtaposition of needs. Phoenix saw the perfect fit for its current roster; Philadelphia wanted an asset it could use to acquire its next star.

“It’s a night that’s turned into one of these recrimination nights,” one person with knowledge of the trade said. “But actually, no, everyone did a good job.”

While the fallout from the trade was bizarre to watch as it played out, the deal itself was odd too. The 76ers had no intent to trade Bridges when they drafted him, according to multiple league sources.

They entered the day with Bridges and Smith next to each other on their draft board. Bridges, a lithe 6-foot-6 wing with a 7-1 wingspan and a sweet jumper, had just won two NCAA championships at Villanova; he was the favorite of the coaching staff. Smith, an athletic 6-3 guard from Texas Tech, was preferred by the team’s scouts. After their pre-draft discussions, the organization settled on Bridges as the better option of the two on its draft board.


That set them up for draft night, which was sure to move quickly, especially for a franchise that had just seen a seismic front office change after general manager Bryan Colangelo resigned following a bizarre set of circ*mstances that revolved around burner Twitter accounts. Head coach Brett Brown took over as the lead decision-maker, though minority owner David Heller reportedly had a strong influence, and managing partners Josh Harris and David Blitzer ultimately signed off on the trade.

Bridges had been a natural fit for Philadelphia. He played some of his games in college at their arena, his mother worked as an executive for the club, and he had the exact skillset the team needed as it built out its roster around Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. When he received a call from a member of the front office after Philadelphia took him at No. 10 overall he received no indication he would be playing anywhere but in the same city he had played high school and college ball.

The Suns, however, hoped to still make a deal for him. They had made calls earlier to teams in the second half of the lottery to gauge their interest in trading down. The Cavaliers at eight said no, so did the Knicks at nine. The 76ers did too but their denial was softer, which gave Ryan McDonough, the Suns general manager at the time, the thought that there might still be a door open.

Phoenix tried to use its No. 16 pick to try to trade up as the lottery preceded with two players in mind: Bridges and, according to league sources, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. They had held a private workout for the Kentucky guard and were impressed by personality and testing. Gilgeous-Alexander went 11th to the Hornets and was then traded to the Clippers, while Phoenix could not find a willing trade partner.

“It was dead or done,” McDonough said.


Bridges had grabbed Phoenix’s attention because of his college resume and his snug fit on the young roster McDonough was building. The team’s director of scouting at the time lived in Philadelphia and also gotten an up-close appreciation for him, along with the intel to back it up.

Not only had Bridges ended up high on the Suns’ draft board, but also McDonough recognized that he would be among the last of the players available who the front office had assessed with a high-to-mid lottery grade. The gap between Bridges and the players who would be available to Phoenix at No. 16 made the general manager push to try to swing a trade for him.

“A number of things about him stood out,” McDonough said. “He’s really intelligent. He’s got off-the-chart character, work ethic. Everybody at Villanova raves about him. He’s a winner as a human being and as a player. He had a tremendous amount of success at Villanova. We saw how much he improved playing at Villanova for Jay Wright… We were looking for —I don’t want to pigeonhole Mikal — with a 3-and-D wing but somebody who could do that plus other things.”

But the Suns re-engaged in trade talks with the 76ers toward the end of the lottery. Bridges seemed to be available. Initially, the Suns offered the No. 16 pick and more, but did not include the rights to the 2021 Heat pick, which they had acquired in a 2015 trade when they sent Goran Dragic to Miami.

The 76ers didn’t budge. They were in search of a third star player and set their sights on Miami’s unprotected pick. During pre-draft meetings, as team brass brainstormed the type of assets they could acquire to help them land one, the Heat pick was identified as the best one they could realistically land.

“If second-round picks are cigarettes in prison,” the person said, “unprotected picks are conjugal visits.”

As talks continued, the Suns prepared for two scenarios. In one, they would send a pick into the league office for themselves; in the other they would send one in for Philadelphia.


“We had to be prepared for both of those,” McDonough said. “It gets a little bit tense at times sometimes when you’re on the clock because you can’t tell the NBA ‘I need more time’ or ‘We’re waiting on the 76ers to tell us.'”

Finally, the Suns acceded and the deal was reached with less than a minute remaining before the pick was due. McDonough asked a 76ers exec who they wanted to pick and found it was Smith.

The circ*mstances around the trade had been peculiar. It’s rare for a trade to happen on draft night after the original pick had already been made.

“It doesn’t,” one league source said. “Usually it’s pre-arranged; 95 percent of the time it’s pre-arranged.”

The choice to deal Bridges was an alteration in the franchise’s original course. The 76ers had taken a two-track approach that day, first deciding what to do with their lottery pick, and then in search of another piece that could help them land another star player in the future. The answer to the first decision led them to Bridges, the answer to the second led them to trade him away.

The weight of it was clear when Brown called a member of Bridges’ camp later. But without the draft pick they acquired, the 76ers likely would have been unable to trade for Tobias Harris the following January, when they sent the Heat pick, another future first, Landry Shamet, and more to the Clippers.

The Suns got exactly who they wanted. Bridges has become a key part of the team, slotting in as the unsung star for a franchise on the rise.

“When Mikal got that hat and walked across the stage I think he thought, and the 76ers thought, that he was going to be a Philadelphia 76er,” McDonough said. “That was the plan at the time. But the plan changed.”

(Photo: Mike Stobe / Getty Images)

How Mikal Bridges landed with the Suns and changed the course of the 76ers future: ‘The plan changed’ (1)How Mikal Bridges landed with the Suns and changed the course of the 76ers future: ‘The plan changed’ (2)

Mike Vorkunov is the national basketball business reporter for The Athletic. He covers the intersection of money and basketball and covers the sport at every level. He previously spent three-plus seasons as the New York Knicks beat writer. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeVorkunov

How Mikal Bridges landed with the Suns and changed the course of the 76ers future: ‘The plan changed’ (2024)


What did the 76ers get for Mikal Bridges? ›

After selecting him with the 10th-overall pick, the Sixers, in one of the team's most infamous draft day decisions, traded Bridges to the Suns on draft night for Zhaire Smith and a 2021 first-round pick (that was later sent to the Clippers in the Tobias Harris trade).

How did Mikal bridges get to the Suns? ›

Mikal Bridges was involved in a blockbuster trade that sent him from Phoenix to Brooklyn, where he plays now. However, that was not the only trade he was part of because he was involved in a draft-night deal that sent him from the Philadelphia 76ers to the Suns.

How did Mikal Bridges find out about trade? ›

Speaking with TNT's Jared Greenberg, Bridges told the story of how he found out from Suns guard Damion Lee that he had been traded along with Cam Johnson, Jae Crowder, four first-round picks and a 2028 pick swap to Brooklyn for Durant and TJ Warren.

How long was Mikal Bridges on the Suns? ›

Mikal Bridges
No. 1 – Brooklyn Nets
Career history
2018–2023Phoenix Suns
2023–presentBrooklyn Nets
Career highlights and awards
19 more rows

Has Mikal Bridges ever missed an NBA game? ›

Mikal Bridges has ZERO missed games in his NBA career 🤯

How did 76ers get Embiid? ›

2022-23 NBA Most Valuable Player Joel Embiid has starred for the Philadelphia 76ers since being selected third overall in the 2014 NBA Draft.

Which Suns player is missing a finger? ›

Green was born in Houston, Texas. When he was in the 6th grade, he was involved in an accident that left a significant portion of his right ring finger cut off. He was wearing a ring on his right ring finger when he attempted a dunk on a makeshift basketball hoop.

How good are Mikal Bridges? ›

With an excellent 92 Stamina Rating, he can stay on the floor for an extended playtime. Additionally, his respectable 82 Three-Point Shot Rating makes him a serious threat when shooting from behind the arc especially when left wide open.

What did Phoenix give up for Durant? ›

After three-plus tumultuous years and a second trade request in eight months, All-NBA forward Kevin Durant was traded from the Brooklyn Nets to the Phoenix Suns for a package that includes dynamic forward Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson, Jae Crowder and four unprotected future first-round picks, the team announced on ...

Who did the Suns trade for? ›

It's official: Suns announce trade for Royce O'Neale, David Roddy. The Suns announced the deal on Thursday afternoon, making it official. The Phoenix Suns acquired forward Royce O'Neale from the Brooklyn Nets and forward David Roddy from the Memphis Grizzlies in the three-team trade.

Who got traded to the Suns? ›

Acquired F Royce O'Neale from Brooklyn and F David Roddy from Memphis in exchange for F Keita Bates-Diop, G Jordan Goodwin and three future second-round picks to Brooklyn, and F/C Chimezie Metu, F Yuta Wantanabe and a 2026 first-round pick to Memphis.

Who scored 70 points for the Suns? ›

Devin Booker scored 70 points, becoming the sixth player in NBA history to reach that total, but the Boston Celtics got 34 points from Isaiah Thomas and beat the Phoenix Suns 130-120 on Friday.

Who played the longest NBA career? ›

Vince Carter

Who is the oldest player on the Suns? ›

Kevin Durant, Eric Gordon and Thaddeus Young were tied for the oldest for the Suns this season. They were 35 years old.

Who did the Sixers get in the Jimmy Butler trade? ›

The Jimmy Butler saga appears to have finally come to a close. The Minnesota Timberwolves traded Butler and Justin Patton to the Philadelphia 76ers in exchange for Robert Covington, Dario Saric, Jerryd Bayless and a 2022 second-round pick.

Who did the 76ers trade for Jimmy? ›

Butler and Justin Patton were traded to Philadelphia in exchange for Robert Covington, Dario Saric, Jerryd Bayless and a 2022 second-round draft pick. Butler will be introduced by the 76ers on Tuesday and is expected to debut with his new club on Wednesday at Orlando.

Who did the Sixers get for Charles Barkley? ›

(WHNT) – It's been 31 years since the Philadelphia 76ers shipped Charles Barkley to the Phoenix Suns. Barkley was traded to the Suns in exchange for Jeff Hornacek, Tim Perry and Andrew Lang. At the time of the trade, Barkley was a six-time all-star, four-time first-team All-NBA and a three-time second-team All-NBA.

How much did the Sixers offer Jimmy Butler? ›

One source close to the situation said on Sunday evening that they were willing to offer Butler the full max — five years, $190 million — in order to stay with Philadelphia.


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