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Trade for Bridges made Suns GM feel like ‘Grinch’; McDonough talks cost

The Philadelphia 76ers selected Mikal Bridges 10th overall in Thursday’s NBA Draft thinking they’d keep him.

The Villanova player and Philly native was long rumored to be a favorite of the Sixers, and it was a nice — albeit short — storyline that Bridges’ mother is the team’s VP of human resources.

Then, the Suns traded the 16th overall pick (Zhaire Smith) and the 2021 unprotected pick owed to them from Miami to acquire Bridges.

“I feel like the Grinch. That was a tough call to Mikal but he was great,” Phoenix general manager Ryan McDonough told Doug & Wolf on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station. “I talked to him late last night. It was, shoot, probably after 1 o’clock in the morning on the East Coast and he was fired up, I could hear the excitement in his voice.

“Mikal is like the prototypical 3-and-D guy for me,” the GM added. “I don’t want to limit him and put him in that box and say that’s all he can do. He also plays well off the ball. He doesn’t need the ball a lot, he doesn’t dominate the ball a lot.”

The Suns appeared lined up to select at No. 16 before Philadelphia came back to Phoenix late on the clock to propose the Bridges trade.

John Gambadoro of 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station reported that the Suns were set on drafting Villanova guard Donte DiVincenzo before the 76ers came calling. So who would have Phoenix selected at 16 if they stood pat?

“I will say generally that in the draft last night, we really liked a few of Mikal’s teammates,” McDonough said.

Villanova point guard Jalen Brunson, who went 33rd to the Mavericks, was likely the other candidate considering team need (Villanova big man Omari Spellman also went 30th to the Atlanta Hawks).

About that 2021 pick

It’s a putting-all-the-chips-in-the-pot move for McDonough to trade the 2021 Heat pick.

It’s unprotected, and Miami’s outlook doesn’t look spectacular with aging starters and not too many assets to trade.

ESPN’s Zach Lowe also reported the league could ditch its one-and-done rule by the 2021 draft, thereby making it essentially a double class including the best college freshman and high school seniors.

“I think that’s unlikely and that’s not what I’m hearing at this point,” McDonough said. “That pick is valuable or has a chance to be very valuable. We looked at Miami’s draft history, where they’ve picked. We looked at their records. We think it’s a very stable organization from the top on down with ownership, management, coaching. We also factored in, truth be told, they’re in the Eastern Conference and they’re in a destination market that historically has attracted players, especially star players.

“The pick could be great. That’s the risk we run. That was our calculation.”

McDonough added that the Suns ultimately hedged that using the 16th pick Thursday and the 2021 pick — both pieces from the Goran Dragic deal of 2015 — ultimately netted them a very good prospect in Bridges.

“Another thought that crossed our mind — and this may be the wrong way to look at it but it did factor in, the way we got those two picks — was trading Goran Dragic with two months left on his contract (with a player opt-out).

“We said, ‘Geez, at the time if you put a gun to our head and you could turn that into a top-10 pick for a player you loved three years from now, would you take that deal?’ Obviously we would have taken it that night.”

The move also had another odd connection: The 10th pick Philadelphia drafted Bridges with was traded by the Suns in the 2015 deadline-day deal — the same day as the Dragic trade — to acquire point guard Brandon Knight from the Milwaukee Bucks.

Phoenix originally acquired it from the Lakers in the 2012 trade that sent two-time MVP Steve Nash to Los Angeles.

Ayton likes Bridges, too

“Who do you like in this draft?”

That’s the question the Suns ask draft prospects to gain a better appreciation of their peers.

“The first player that Deandre Ayton said is ‘Mikal Bridges,'” McDonough said of the Suns first overall pick out of Arizona. “That’s obviously not why we made the decision but we kept that in mind.”

Ayton and Bridges spent time together in the pre-draft circuit, and McDonough said Ayton spoke of a casual shootaround on a court where Bridges couldn’t miss a shot as making an impression on the Suns’ franchise center.

Next steps

(Matt Layman/Arizona Sports)

Free agency is coming up fast, and McDonough said he expects it to be a buyer’s market, a good thing for the Suns who at present could have from $15-20 million in cap space.

“We kind of stood pat and bided our time over the last two summers. That was kind of hard, especially when the losses piled up on the court,” McDonough said.

Now, he hopes that patience will pay off.

Don’t sleep on Knight

McDonough is hopeful point guard Brandon Knight can return next season with gusto after struggling with minor injuries, getting benched and then tearing his ACL over his three-plus-year run with the Suns.

Word on the street from players, agents and others who have seen Knight work out in South Florida this summer have mentioned the point guard to McDonough.

“Just when, unsolicited, you have a number of people telling me, you know, don’t sleep on this guy, he’s going to bounce back next year and help you guys, that’s encouraging,” McDonough said, adding that Knight has been graciously inviting Suns teammates to work out with him on in Florida.

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