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The Knicks Spend Five First-Round Picks On A College Reunion

A disconcertingly chipper Drake once said, during the 2019 NBA playoffs, that the Toronto Raptors were "a college sports team, I promise you." The New York Knicks seem to have taken that strange pronouncement as team-building philosophy, essentially becoming the 2016 Villanova Wildcats.

The Knicks advanced their oddly specific agenda Tuesday night by acquiring Mikal Bridges from the Brooklyn Nets, in the first trade the two franchises have completed since 1983. Bridges, who was languishing as the first option on a busted and retrograde Brooklyn offense, will enjoy a much more manageable role playing alongside former college teammates Jalen Brunson, Josh Hart, and Donte DiVincenzo. The trade that was effectively a long-running in-joke for Knicks fans throughout the season has become a reality just days into the offseason. Bridges can't believe it either.

The four fellas apparently got on a call together to celebrate their ongoing college reunion. No word on the whereabouts of fellow former Villanova standout Ryan Arcidiacano, who was waived by the Knicks in February, but not before setting the record for most consecutive NBA game appearances without scoring a point (20). He used his vantage point on the bench to loudly lobby the refs for defensive three-second calls, which he did so well that the team's video coordinators started tallying up the calls he got. Maybe he could take a spot on the coaching staff; they certainly don't have room for him on the roster. The trade will hard-cap the Knicks' payroll at either the first or second apron, depending on how the salary-cap tricks play out, and they have a lot of important players to retain.

As far as a morale boost is concerned, this is perhaps the most advanced maneuver in NBA history. As a piece of pure basketball, it's much shakier, because the feel-good FaceTime came at a severe cost for the Knicks. Aside from Bojan Bogdanovic's matching salary, the Nets pried away a bunch of first-round picks: the Knicks' own unprotected picks in 2025, 2027, 2029, and 2031, plus the Milwaukee Bucks' 2025 picks, plus an unprotected pick swap with the Knicks in 2028. It is easily the biggest-ever pick haul for a player with Bridges's good but sub-superstar résumé. Even after their splashy go-big trade, this team will still have to rely on the creation of Jalen Brunson to make anything happen.

It makes sense for the Knicks to trade their future for the present—they nearly made the conference finals as a ravaged horde—but fans might have been hoping for a player of a different archetype, someone with both wing size and significant scoring juice off the dribble. Duh, everyone wants one of those. That's the most sought-after talent in contemporary roster construction, and there wasn't all that much of it available in free agency or on the trading block, which might explain why even a player of Bridges's caliber came at such a steep price.

Still, what Bridges does gives the Knicks is significant: good spacing, a bit of ball-handling, and a key piece for another psychotic team defense. Freed of his bloated offensive workload, he seems likely to revert back to the defensive genius he was in Phoenix. If the Knicks can re-sign OG Anunoby and Isaiah Hartenstein, they'd be incredibly deep with starter-grade players, deep enough to survive the kind of injuries that blew up this past postseason. But the offseason is still new, and the trade for Bridges creates a new logjam at positions two through four. It's possible the Knicks aren't done making big moves: The talented but perma-injured and somewhat overshadowed Mitchell Robinson has been in trade whispers; even Julius Randle could be shipped out. These are all expendable pawns, anyway, now that the future of the franchise is unadulterated Villanova.

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