The 2018-19 season can’t come soon enough for the Phoenix Suns. Not since the tail end of the Mike D’Antoni era has the team garnered as much attention as they do now. For the first time in the franchise’s history, the Suns landed the number one pick in a loaded draft and ultimately selected University of Arizona big man DeAndre Ayton. Armed with Ayton, the team is equipped with a talented center with enormous potential. Having Ayton decreases pressure on Devin Booker who has been far and away the best player on the team for some time but has been without the type of surrounding talent to make the Suns a threat to make the playoffs. The Suns also made an offer that veteran swingman Trevor Ariza couldn’t refuse (one year, $15 million) nabbing him from the contending Houston Rockets.
On draft night, the Suns also took a big gamble and traded the No. 16 pick and a 2021 first-round pick (from the Miami HEAT) to acquire Villanova Junior Forward Mikal Bridges, who had been selected No. 10 by the Philadelphia 76ers. Basketball Insiders caught up with Bridges at the Las Vegas Summer League where he spoke about his first taste of NBA basketball and some of his frustrations.
“It’s tough you know. Coming in mentally, you don’t know what the coach is going to do and how they are going to play you,” Bridges said. “Couple of games, not playing as much as I thought I was going to be [playing]. Just staying mentally [tough], going through that.”
While Bridges may not have enjoyed his entire summer league experience, that shouldn’t be too much of a concern. Bridges comes to the NBA after shooting 43.5 percent from three his junior year and standing 6-foot-7 with an athletic build. He remains a highly regarded rookie who may develop into one of the most valuable roles in the modern NBA — a reliable 3-and-D wing. With Booker and Ayton as the foundation, Bridges projects to also become a critical piece for the team one day. For now, Ariza fills that role and could actually serve as a valuable mentor to Bridges.
We are still months away from the start of the regular season, but Bridges already laid out some goals for himself.
“Just keep maturing as a player, especially defensively knowing our terms and being in the right spots. I think that’s going to help me out throughout this whole process,” Bridges stated.
The maturation process started quickly for Bridges who technically began his career briefly as a member of the 76ers, which would have had him playing in his hometown and for the team that already employs his mother. Instead, Bridges was acquired by the Suns, who were very excited to get him.
“Mikal [Bridges] is a player that we targeted, that we were chasing but the teams in the top 10 were unwilling to move,” Suns general manager Ryan McDonough said. “I asked [the Philadelphia 76ers] who they were taking, they said Mikal Bridges. I said that’s the guy [the Suns] wanted. If anything changes let us know. We are coming back again with the 16th pick and I think what happened is the 11th [through the] 15th went by. They liked Zaire [Smith]. We were willing to step up and put the 2021 Miami first in play and that’s ultimately how the deal got done.”
While Las Vegas may one day have an NBA team, for now, the summer league stands as an annual celebration of young talent for out of town and local fans. Las Vegas Summer League fans show extra appreciation to the Suns every year, as a de facto home team of sorts, and this year was no exception. Bridges may have been understandably unhappy having only scored 6.2 points and playing 20 minutes a game but made it clear that the experience was also enjoyable.
“It’s cool. A lot of people come out and watch, watch us play. It’s cool to see them come out here and root for us,” Bridges stated.
To start the season, Bridges likely won’t play heavy minutes considering the mix of young talent the Suns have been developing and veteran players who also need playing time. The Suns still have Marquese Chriss, Josh Jackson and Dragan Bender as young players that have potential warranting playing time in the front court that may come at Bridge’s expense initially. Add to that, veteran forward T.J. Warren and Ariza will presumably soak up most of the minutes at small forward. Speaking about himself, Bridges demonstrated the right attitude that will serve him well as he waits for his turn and a chance to help improve the team’s outlook.
“You know, it’s tough. We practice, had some practices together. But it’s going to be a long season and we’re going to get better,” Bridges stated.
With LeBron James joining the Western Conference, the competition to grab a playoff seed in the West is as stout as ever. While the franchise hasn’t won more than 24 games in any of the last three seasons, times are changing. The team has two very talented core players under contract for the foreseeable future, multiple young players that continue to develop, veterans to help lead the way and the promise of brighter days ahead.
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