ESPN analyst rips Knicks’ blockbuster trade for Mikal Bridges: ‘Not the missing piece to win a championship’

Mikal Bridges, Knicks
Credit: Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Knicks added a fringe All-Star in Mikal Bridges to their mix without giving up Jalen Brunson, Julius Randle, or OG Anunoby, but one analyst does not see the deal moving the needle for them next season and beyond.

On Wednesday’s airing of First Take, ESPN commentator Mike Russo had this to say about the impact Bridges will have on the Knicks’ championship efforts moving forward (h/t Jeremy Brener of Fan Nation’s All Knicks):

“He is not the missing piece to win a championship,” Russo said. “Does he make the Knicks marginally better? Absolutely! Are the Knicks a team right now that can win 53, 54 games? Absolutely! Does [Tom] Thibodeau have any problem with the Villanova guys to coach? No way! … They got marginally better. He’s a nice player.”

Is Mikal Bridges not a good enough star to catapult the Knicks to a title in 2024-25?

Jan 23, 2024; Brooklyn, New York, USA; Brooklyn Nets forward Mikal Bridges (1) talks to New York Knicks forward OG Anunoby (8) during the first quarter at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Many bearing witness to the “Mad Dog’s” assessment of the 27-year-old could retort with an “au contraire monfrair.” Bridges was instrumental in helping the Phoenix Suns impose themselves as a top team in the Western Conference between 2020-21 and 2022-23 as their No. 4 offensive option.

Bridges brings the goods on both ends of the floor. He is as reliable as they come in nailing catch-and-shoot corner threes. He also runs well in transition and finishes when attacking the rack or trailing. Bridges’ unfathomable 7-1 wingspan helps him play exceptional on-ball defense. He has the energy, focus, and skill to pick up ball-handlers 94 feet and also execute in zones and special defensive sets.

There was no case against him being a legitimate No. 3 or 4 option on a title-worthy team. His 26.1 points per game in 2022-23 after getting traded from the Phoenix Suns to the Brooklyn Nets proved that he could carry an offense on his shoulders, even if it was only for 27 games.

Bridges could help the Knicks chase a championship like several underdogs did before them

New York Knicks forward Julius Randle (30) high fives guard Josh Hart (3) in front of Brooklyn Nets forward Mikal Bridges (1) during the fourth quarter at Barclays Center
Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Superstars do win championships in the Association, but that’s not the cookie-cutter recipe for success every year out. There have been teams like the 2004 Detroit Pistons, 2011 Dallas Mavericks, and the 1979 Seattle SuperSonics who won titles with a combination of All-Stars and quality role players but one or no MVP candidates leading their charge.

In a perfect world, the Knicks could keep Bridges and Anunoby and form the best defensive lineup at forward in the entire league. The former was All-Defensive First Team and runner-up for the Defensive Player of the Year in 2022 while the latter took home All-Defensive Second Team honors in 2023 along with the steals title. Brunson appears to be a 25 PPG franchise player moving forward. Behind him, Randle can potentially thrive in a secondary or tertiary role if he remains healthy for a full 82 games.

What Bridges does for the Knicks is he gives them a player who can spell for Randle in the playoffs as their second guy. Randle has had his share of postseason struggles throughout his Knicks tenure. Bridges is a player that can put up 20 points nightly at a high-efficiency rate and is not afraid of big moments either. This is the biggest X factor that he presents for the ball club.

Additionally, it’s no coincidence that once New York started Donte DiVincenzo and changed their approach to a faster, ball movement-centric offense, they saw their best scoring and winning outputs since the days of Carmelo Anthony. Bridges is cut from the same cloth as DiVincenzo in that regard and would allow the Knicks to play even faster in 2024-25 without compromising their elite defense.

“Mad Dog” may be looking at the glass half empty, seeing New York as needing a top 10 player to truly contend. However, all that Bridges brings to the table makes him perfect for their team and allows Knicks president Leon Rose to explore moving some of his other role players to bring in yet another All-Star caliber talent and stack their deck.

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