If there is one former player in the last 10 years that Phoenix Suns fans have a particularly soft spot for, it is Mikal Bridges. The excellent two-way player an important part of the Suns team that made it all the way to the 2021 NBA Finals.
Alongside Cameron Johnson - or "The Twins" as they became affectionately known - Bridges endeared himself to an organization and its fans that traded for him on the night of the 2018 NBA Draft, and which didn't have a lot to cheer about when he showed up. Bridges also more than deserved the tribute video he received from the Suns on his return there this season.
But with Bridges now a member of the Brooklyn Nets and tasked with being their best player as well, do Suns fans actually overrated how good he is?
It is hard for fans in The Valley to be impartial on this one. After all, when we asked who the most popular Suns player of all-time was last year - not of a particular era, but all-time - Bridges actually received some votes. Beating out Steve Nash, Charles Barkley, Amar'e Stoudemire and even Shawn Marion in any category is no joke, much less a popularity contest.
Bridges was also the best player the Nets got in the trade that sent Kevin Durant to Phoenix, although that deal was as much about future draft picks then it was getting a player back that was even close to equal value. For better or for worse though, Bridges has been viewed as the biggest get for the Nets in that deal, and so he may be getting judged differently for that reason.
Also not helping Bridges here is the fact Michael Scotto of Hoopshype recently claimed that the Nets had turned down a monster package of four first-round picks from the Memphis Grizzlies to secure the services of Bridges in the past. It is not known if those picks had protections, but four firsts is the going rate these days to get into the conversation to try and secure a star player.
So if another franchise in the Grizzlies is treating Bridges like a star, and the circumstances that landed him in Brooklyn make it look like he should be a star, perhaps Suns fans are right to look on with rose-tinted glasses and wish he was still a part of their team. Timing and location are everything in the league though, which is where Bridges begins to get picked apart.
Suns fans long for Bridges because he is exactly what their current roster needs to contend at the highest level. An elite defender who makes the life of Devin Booker easier. Back when he was on the team though, fans could have only dreamed of having a superstar like Durant suit up for them. So it is case of the grass always being greener.
The Grizzlies too were likely willing to part with a war chest of picks because they already have a superstar in Ja Morant, and the most recent Defensive Player of the Year winner in Jaren Jackson Jr. Adding Bridges to that would be like the Suns adding Bradley Beal to their team, having a third option that is over-qualified for the position.
So the Grizzlies weren't trying to trade for Bridges in the expectations that he would turn into a superstar, but rather saw him as the final piece of their championship puzzle. At 27-years-old though, Bridges likely is who he is going to be in this league, and right now that doesn't feel like the first option on a title winning roster.
He began life with the Nets in scorching form, and in his first 27 games put up 26.1 points on 37.6 percent from deep. His career scoring average though? That would be a much more modest 14.1 points per game, albeit on similar shooting from beyond the arc, and the feeling is that the true landing spot for Bridges here is somewhere in the middle of those two numbers.
Defensively his abilities have never been in question, and he can make a difference to a team that has a star in place much like Pascal Siakam is trying to do with the Indiana Pacers, and OG Anunoby certainly has done since landing with the New York Knicks. Right now the second best player on the Nets is former Sun Johnson? Spencer Dinwiddie? The recently returned Ben Simmons?
The reality here then is that yes, Suns fans are right to miss Bridges. He had a special bond with fans, and right now would solve so many of this current roster's problems. If he was here in place of Beal, the starting five would have a better balance to it, and head coach Frank Vogel could use Bridges in many ways defensively.
But that's not how the league works - and in order to get a player of Durant's talent - you have to give up something good as well. Any fan that says they'd undo that trade if they could need only look at how competitive the Western Conference is, and more importantly how good Durant has been, to realize that is a mistake. Overrated sure, but missed more and more each day is Mikal Bridges.