Philadelphia 76ers: Trading Mikal Bridges for Zhaire Smith never gets easier

Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports /

For the better part of an hour, Mikal Bridges was a member of his hometown Philadelphia 76ers and life was good.

He was visibly happy, his team’s employed mother was over the moon, and fans like yours truly who’d watched the spaghetti-armed winger win a pair of championships on the Mainline looked forward to cheering on the Philly native as he would add some Sixers red to his Villanova blue and whites.

And then, well, general manager Brett Brown happened.

Whether because Ryan McDonough saw an opportunity to take advantage of an interim GM or because Brown genuinely believed that Zhaire Smith was the second-coming of Kawhi Leonard despite sharing almost no physical or stylistic resemblance to the two-time Finals MVP, the Sixers shipped Bridges out west before draft night was even over in a move that now looks downright foolish.

Bridges would have been a perfect fifth starter on this Philadelphia 76ers squad.

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Recontextualizing any trade, especially ones that involve multiple players, teams, and picks, is hard.

If, for example, the Sixers opt not to trade Mikal Bridges to the Suns, what picks would they attach to Landry Shamet, Wilson Chandler, and Mike Muscala to procure Tobias Harris, Mike Scott, and Boban Marjanovic from the Clippers? Would such a deal even go down? Or, would the Sixers have instead had to trade one of their own picks to procure Harris’ services, forfeiting a player like Tyrese Maxey or Matisse Thybulle in the process?

Would the Sixers have even picked Thybulle if they already had Bridges as a two-way 3-and-D winger, or would they have instead opted to select a player like Brandon Clark (assuming they still had the pick) to finally address their bench 3 point shooting from the power forward position once and for all?

See what I mean? Things rapidly devolve into a Butterly Effect-style monstrosity in no time.

But, for the sake of argument, let’s say we could just magically transplant Bridges from the Suns to the Sixers. How would the Philly prospect fit on his hometown team?

Like a darn glove.

Measuring in at 6-foot-6, 209 pounds, Bridges is a 2-3 guard/forward who is nimble enough to guard opposing point guards and long enough to switch onto undersized power forwards without surrendering too much size. Through the Suns’ first 24 games of the 2020-21 NBA season, Bridges has started every game at small forward and is averaging 14.5 points and 5.5 rebounds while draining 39.7 percent of his shots from beyond the arc – all of which are career-highs.

Bridges also ranks 15th among all small forwards in defensive +/- with a .90 and is one of only 24 small forwards with a positive overall +/- (1.13).

Sub Bridges in for Green in the Sixers’ starting five and the team would not only have one of the most formidable frontcourts in the league but do so while having another sub-25-year-old building block from which to further establish a longstanding regime in South Philly.

*sigh* but instead, the Sixers have nothing.


Okay, technically that isn’t true. The Sixers were ultimately able to flip Smith’s contract to the Detroit Pistons for the contract of Tony Bradley, but he’s on the final year of his rookie deal and has only appeared in 10 of a possible 27 games and is averaging 4.3 points and 5.6 rebounds in 12.8 minutes of action a night. Though he too could be on the wrong side of a trade out of the City of Brotherly Love, as his $3.5 million contract is valuable for salary cap matching purposes, it’s hard to see such a hypothetical player coming even remotely close to matching the impact Bridges would have had on his hometown team.

Bridges, on the other hand, already had his fourth-year option picked up for the 2021-22 season and will surely earn a handsome pay raise for his efforts not too far down the line, maybe one in the $15 million per year range a la another 3-and-D winger, Danny Green.

Hmm, didn’t Brett Brown coach Danny Green during his time as Greg Popovich’s top assistant? Why would he pass that guy up for a 6-foot-3 college power forward who at best projected out as a similar defender to Bridges without his outside touch?

Yeah, this one is never going to get easier.

Next. Acquiring Nemanja Bjelica would right Brett Brown’s wrong. dark

In the NBA, mid-first round picks are far from a lock to succeed. For every Donovan Mitchell who shocks the world and becomes an All-Star before he turns 25, you get a Trey Burke who bounces around the league before maybe, just maybe, finding a long-term home in his eighth NBA season. While no one could fault the Philadelphia 76ers for making a bad pick, especially considering the circumstances, what really stinks about this situation is that Brett Brown actually made the right pick only to screw it up after the fact. Assuming the Sixers don’t pick in the top-10 again for the foreseeable future, missing out on adding even a rotational piece in 2018 will be a black eye on the organization for some time, especially as Bridges continues to shine in the desert.