“Sometimes, we are just the collateral damage in someone else’s war against themselves.” -Lauren Eden

 

The quote can easily be applied in the sports landscape when an organization has the opportunity to pull off a “risk-it-all” or “sell-our-souls” level of transaction for a superstar level talent that they believe will take them over the top. Take the Los Angeles Rams and Jared Goff, for example: the Rams believed that merely by going from a serviceable quarterback in Goff, a former #1 overall pick who thrived under Sean McVay, to trading him and the family farm of draft picks for a Pro Bowler in Matthew Stafford to the Lions would put them over the top. It appears worth it as the Rams won a title, but it led to Goff being collateral damage, written off as a throwaway in the deal despite leading the Lions to the brink of the playoffs the following year and the Rams suffering from the largest regression in Super Bowl history with an injured Stafford approaching retirement.

 

While Goff couldn’t bring the Rams glory at the time, his possible success in Detroit being entirely written off was unfair, and he now gets the “they wrote me off” chip on his shoulder for the masses to root for.

 

The same is now going to be said for Mikal Bridges after being sacrificed by the Suns for Phoenix to get Kevin Durant.

 

Bridges came into the league a two-time National Champion out of Villanova, a key cog that embodied team-oriented success despite their loaded roster talent that included other invaluable players like Josh Hart and Jalen Brunson. Coach Jay Wright already ingrained in him and that college roster the nature of selflessness and knowing your role for the betterment of the team.

 

This isn’t his first rodeo with life-altering mindsets; on NBA Draft night, he was selected by his hometown Philadelphia Sixers, the team in which his mother actually WORKED FOR at the time as Vice President of HR, only to be traded immediately during his draft interview to Phoenix for Zhaire Smith and a draft pick. The joy he expressed in his interview and his mother’s reaction is painfully awkward in retrospect, but not as awkward as the probable regret that the Sixers feel now as Zhaire Smith hasn’t played basketball in three years.

 

He continued to know his role.

 

He kept his head down, became a positive influence on and off the court in the environment that traded for him, and understood the cards he was dealt. Bridges went on to be a lock-down three and D wing for the Suns with a game that embodies effort, recording a steal in every game he played in his rookie debut season. His length became a major reason that the Suns went on their meteoric rise from young and promising team in the 2020 NBA Bubble to making the NBA Finals in 2021 as a starter in their lineup, averaging 32.1 minutes per game.

 

However, perhaps his greatest accolade at the moment is what every single old-school coach has timelessly quoted: “The greatest ability is availability.” In a league where there is constant politicking around load management with superstars taking off nights to rest and preserve their body in a meaningless, slog of an 82-game season, Bridges has played in every single game, never missed a game in college, and could potentially play 83(!!!) regular season games this year with the trade from Phoenix to Brooklyn. He is the delightful anomaly that you will be able to watch on TV or at the stadium every single night rather than see them in street clothes after a back-to-back or a night on the town in Miami.

Photo: Associated Press

Yes, if you’re Phoenix you have to make the move for an NBA superstar should he be available and give the positive perception of having the desire to play for your team, as Kevin Durant expressed this summer. However, writing off Brooklyn as an afterthought and Bridges as a mere throwaway is a mistake. They’re still 5th in the East at 34-24 with the Knicks, Heat, and Hawks directly behind them, but Bridges has taken off ever since arriving in Brooklyn and earning the “Brooklyn Bridges” moniker. In his first 3 games as a Net, he’s averaging 25 points, 6.3 rebounds, 3 assists, 1.3 steals, 1 block with 54% FG, 57% 3P, and 86% FT, including a career-high 45 point game in a win against the Heat. The championship-or-bust mindset regarding this Brooklyn team is gone as they’re regrouping following trading Kyrie and Durant, but maybe taking a year to build around a team full of young wings, reset with less pressure, and accumulate long-term assets isn’t so bad.

 

In a league of superteams, load-management, and player empowerment, Bridges and his demeanor, availability, and character arc has made him the individual underdog narrative that the NBA viewer can root for as he defies the norm in his new location. Don’t forget about him as collateral damage.

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