NBA Free Agency Report: Phoenix Suns Sign Mikal Bridges To Rookie Scale Contract Extension
Bridges get much-deserved contract extension
He may be one of the most underrated players in his draft class back in 2018, but there is no doubt that Mikal Bridges has become a valuable cog in the Phoenix Suns’ success last year and for the years to come. The Suns front office put an exclamation point on that argument as reports have it that they have signed the young small forward to four-year, $90 million contract extension, as per Sam Goldfeder and Jordan Gertler of Excel Sports, the two agents of Bridges.
On top of that hefty long-term partnership, it was also reported that the contract is indeed fully guaranteed, which is another indicator of how much the Suns front office and coaching staff trust their versatile small forward. Bridges was selected 10th overall in the 2018 NBA Draft, a tremendous class that included two All-Stars in Dallas Mavericks’ Luka Doncic and Atlanta Hawks’ Trae Young, as well as other good players such as Deandre Ayton, Wendell Carter Jr., Collin Sexton, Mikal Bridges, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Miles Bridges, Michael Porter Jr., Donte DiVincenzo, Kevin Huerter, Aaron Holiday, Anfernee Simons, Landry Shamet, Robert Williams III, Devonte’ Graham, Mitchell Robinson, and Gary Trent Jr.
Bridges, who just turned 25 years of age last August, was also a key cog in the Suns’ unprecedented playoff run last season. He was the starting small forward of a Suns squad that did not only defeated LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and the 2020 world champions Los Angeles Lakers, but also crowned themselves as the Western Conference champions and made it all the way to the 2021 NBA Finals. During that playoff run, Bridges put up a decent stat line of 11.1 points, 4.3 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.0 steals, and 0.7 blocks per contest, while also producing a good set of shooting percentages that include a 48% overall clip from the field, a 37% clip from the three-point line, and an 89% clip from the free throw line.
As per a column written by Dave King for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun, Bridges admitted that waiting for the contract extension really gave him a lot to think about each day, but that his coaches and teammates did a good job of assuring him that the day would eventually come. The day did come, and the young forward is now very happy that he will be with this team for the years to come.
“We’re humans obviously. I try not to think about it, but at the end of the day we’re human beings and when stuff like this comes up you can’t just push it to the side. But them guys, coach Monty, my teammates and everybody on that staff and in the training room, the chefs, they don’t make me think about it as much. I come in here every day, I’m in the Suns facility, and I think about James and Sarver and everything, but these guys here they keep me down. And my family at home, my mom, they keep the pressure off me and I don’t think about it as much. I just go out here and just have fun, laugh it up, and try to get better every day. Obviously, I want to be here. I love the city here. You can see it on my twitter I talk about it all the time. I might not like the Cardinals (he’s a Rams fan!), but I love it here man.
We’re going to do what’s best for me. We all know we want to be here. And it’s time. You know, I just sit there and just wait every day, and keep improving and don’t let it get to me. Just got to wait. I just want to be here, man. That’s what the whole thing is. I just want to be here. The deadline’s close so we’ll see and wait. We want to be here. It’s plain and simple, man. We love this team. We love this organization and what’s it’s done for us, especially what its done for both of us. You know, I’d never take this for granted, man. They just turned me into a better person and player. So, obviously, we want to be here more than anything.”
Bridges, who is now entering his fourth year in the league, is coming off a productive season in which he put up a stat line of 13.5 points, 4.3 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.1 steals, and 0.9 blocks per contest. His shooting percentages last season were also off the charts, as evidenced by his excellent 54% overall clip from the field, his tremendous 43% clip on the 4.4 three-point shots he attempted, along with an 84% clip from the free throw line.
Heading into his rookie year with the Suns in 2018, many people believed that he is going to be a good defensive player in the NBA. However, one thing that impeded in his progress to be an effective player in today’s positionless basketball is his ability to shoot from the outside. During his rookie year, Bridges came up with averages of 8.3 points, 3.2 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.6 steals, and 0.5 blocks per contest, but he only shot a measly 33% clip from beyond the arc.
But despite his paltry three-point shooting during his first year in the league, it is also true that he has a good shooting form and that there is no doubt that he can still improve his efficiency on that area of his game. Sure enough, Bridges continued to increase his shooting efficiency rate year after year, and he made 43% of his 4.4 three-point attempts last year, establishing himself as one of the best young 3-and-D wing players out there.
In a column written by Jonathan Tjarks of The Ringer back in 2018, he pointed out that Bridges does not project much star potential, but that his unique and versatile skill set will help him thrive and be of utmost value for any team in the NBA. That deemed to be true as Bridges now finds himself as a key cog in an NBA team that is just coming off a deep playoff run that resulted in a coveted Finals stint.
Bridges’s skill set means he’s one of the few young players who can not only earn minutes immediately on a good team, but also make that team better. The tag of a player who makes teammates better is usually given to shot-creators who can attract defensive attention and kick the ball out, but they still need teammates who can knock those shots down while handling defensive responsibilities. The mere presence of a good 3-and-D player improves those around them on both sides of the ball. OG Anunoby, the no. 23 pick in last year’s draft, is still a relatively unfinished product, but he’s been one of the keys to Toronto’s transformation this season precisely because he can fill the 3-and-D role.
The impact of a player like that is most felt in their absence. The best have on-court/off-court numbers as good as most stars. The 76ers have a net rating of plus-7.2 when Covington is in and minus-5.5 when he’s out, giving him a total differential of plus-12.4. That’s the second-highest on their roster, behind only Joel Embiid at plus-15.9. It’s the same story for Porter in Washington. The Wizards have a net rating of plus-5.7 with Porter and minus-5.6 without him. His total differential (plus-11.3) is higher than either Bradley Beal (plus-7.5) or John Wall (plus-5.0). It’s the highest on their entire roster.
But of course, this Suns squad is boasting its deepest and most talented lineup since the historic and offensive-minded days when they were led by head coach Mike D’Antoni and two-time Most Valuable Player Steve Nash. These are unprecedented days for the Suns franchise, and they have the vision and the right arsenal to make another trip to the Finals and finally win it all this time around. It will be hard, especially in a talented conference, but they already have the experience of reaching that stage, and it is without a doubt that they can do it again.
This is a team that is led by Chris Paul, one of the best floor generals that ever took an NBA court. Despite the fact that he already turned 36 years of age last May, it is without a doubt that Paul is still at the top of his game. He is coming off another All-Star appearance last season, which is the 11thoverall selection of his very productive career. In his first year with the Suns, Paul put up an incredible all-around stat line of 16.4 points, 4.5 rebounds, 8.9 assists, and 1.4 steals, including a tremendous set of shooting percentages that included a 49% overall clip from the field, a 39% clip from beyond the arc, and a league-best 93% clip from the free throw line.
On top of all those numbers, Paul also took his play to another level in the playoffs. His scoring increased by three points, and he made a lot of clutch and crucial plays that proved to be of utmost importance for a young team like the Suns. After his very productive first year with the Suns, the team brought him back for the foreseeable future and signed him up to a four-year, $120 million contract that will last until he is 39 years of age.
In an article written by Paolo Uggetti for The Ringer, he pointed out why and how Paul has been very effective even at these latter stages of his career. He is indeed a true and proven competitor, and his basketball intelligence and brilliance have helped him thrive and even excel in today’s modern and positionless type of basketball.
As a player and a competitor, Paul’s résumé is unimpeachable. He has performed at an All-Star level throughout his career, and has remained unabashedly himself no matter the team or situation. Yet to this point, his teams have lacked that tricky combination of talent, chemistry, and luck necessary to reach—and win—the Finals.
Phoenix has so far presented him with the perfect canvas to create a masterwork. The Suns entered the season with the talent to rise above empty stats. And with this team, Paul’s not only found an ideal version of himself, but also a choir ready to back him up and carry him when needed, like they did in games 1 and 2 of the Western Conference finals when he was out due to health and safety protocols. The kicker, which often feels like it should be the headline, is that Paul is having one of his most successful seasons in his 16th year in the league, at 36 years old. And now, thanks to a combination of youth and experience that’s worked out better than almost anyone could have imagined, he’s just one game away from his first NBA Finals.
Along with Paul, the Suns are also boasting one of the best young duos in the league right now. Devin Booker, their star shooting guard, has been an All-Star in the past couple of years, and averaged an excellent stat line of 25.6 points, 4.2 rebounds, 4.3 assists, and 0.8 steals per game. His 34% clip from beyond the arc may need improvement, but it is also true that he shot a decent 48% overall clip from the field, along with an 87% clip from the free throw line.
Aside from the superstar potential of Booker, the Suns also have another up-and-coming star in the frontcourt in Deandre Ayton. The 6-foot-11 Ayton, who just turned 23 years of age last July, is coming off a productive season in which he put up a double-double stat line of 14.4 points, 10.5 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 0.6 steals, and 1.2 blocks per contest. He even turned it up a notch in the playoffs when he averaged 15.8 points, 11.8 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 0.8 steals, and 1.1 blocks per contest, including an outstanding 66% overall clip from the field.
But of course, the issue that the Suns front office is facing right now is that they failed to sign Ayton to a max extension, allowing him to become a restricted free agent next summer. Many people expected that Ayton has done enough to earn a maximum contract extension, including Dan Devine of The Ringer.
I expected Ayton to get the max. Maybe there would be some hardball negotiating about supermax escalators—the ones Doncic and Young got, which would tack on an extra $35 million if Ayton met certain criteria—or whether to include a player option in the final season. And yes, a huge new deal for Ayton would push Phoenix well over the luxury tax line for the first time since 2009. But Suns owner Robert Sarver, in spite of his penchant for penny-pinching over the years, said earlier this summer that he was prepared to pay the tax to contend. Given that, and the postseason that Ayton just put together, and the team clearly being in run-it- back mode after re-signing Chris Paul and Cameron Payne, I figured the Suns would err on the side of keeping a good thing going, and ponying up to pay Ayton in preparation for a renewed pursuit of the first championship in franchise history.
Ayton did, too. And, from the sound of it, so did a heck of a lot of folks around the NBA, who reportedly registered “surprise” with what Woj and Windhorst described as the “value assessment” of Phoenix brass: that “the organization didn’t believe Ayton was a max player.”
The Suns have lost two of their first three games to the season, including lopsided defeats to Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets, and Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum and the Portland Trail Blazers. One positive spot in their current campaign so far is that win against LeBron, Davis, and the veteran Lakers squad.