How Are 76ers Impacted by Blockbuster Trade Sending Mikal Bridges to Knicks?

How Are 76ers Impacted by Blockbuster Trade Sending Mikal Bridges to Knicks? Brooklyn, New York, USA; Brooklyn Nets forward Mikal Bridges (1) talks to New York Knicks forward OG Anunoby (8) during the first quarter at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Knicks sent shockwaves around the league Tuesday night when they acquired Mikal Bridges from the Brooklyn Nets.

While five first-round picks is a hefty price, acquiring Bridges undoubtedly made the Knicks a better team. Bridges joins a core already consisting of fellow Villanova teammates Jalen Brunson, Donte DiVincenzo and Josh Hart. New York now has the second best team in the Eastern Conference behind the reigning champion Boston Celtics. Giving up that amount of draft capital presents obvious risks. However, the Knicks viewed Bridges as the piece who can push them to compete with Boston.

From the Philadelphia 76ers’ perspective, there are now two teams clearly ahead of them in the Eastern Conference. The Bridges trade also takes a player who would have fit perfectly in Philadelphia off the board. However, the Sixers still have significant draft capital available to trade and roughly $65 million in cap space to make moves to improve the roster this offseason. While the chances of acquiring Paul George are dwindling, trading for New Orleans Pelicans forward Brandon Ingram appears to be a feasible option.

There are a few important ways the Knicks’ Bridges trade can affect the Sixers’ plans this offseason. What impact does acquiring Bridges have on OG Anunoby’s free agency? The 26-year old, as expected, declined his $19.9 million player option with the Knicks, making him an unrestricted free agent. Prior reports indicated it was still likely he would remain with New York after receiving a significant pay raise. However, rumors began to pop up in recent days stating Anunoby was unhappy with the money the Knicks were offering.

Before the Bridges trade, Anunoby possessed a ton of leverage to get New York to up their offer. However, things could be different after New York’s blockbuster trade. If Anunoby is considering offers from other teams in free agency, the Sixers would loom as a threat to sign him. Philadelphia has significant interest in Anunoby along with the cap space to offer him a contract worth up to four years, $181.9 million.

However, reports coming out of New York indicate the Knicks are still making re-signing Anunoby a top priority. To do so would require salary cap maneuvering along with some other potential moves. The Knicks, post-Bridges trade, have about $41.6 million in space under the first luxury tax apron. The Bridges trade, as currently constructed, would leave the Knicks hard capped at the first apron.

With the trade not yet league-official, the Knicks can make alterations to the trade in order to avoid being hard capped at the first apron. However, even if they can add a bit more outgoing salary in the deal, they will still be hard capped at the second apron ($189.5 million). Paying Anunoby around $40 million per season would put the Knicks right up against the first apron. Re-signing Isaiah Hartenstein, their starting center, would then be out of the question unless they made another move (trading Julius Randle?) to create a big chunk of salary cap space. Given the constraints involved with re-signing Anunoby at that price point and the duplicity of his game next to Bridges, the Knicks could elect to move on from Anunoby. The door is left open for a team like the Sixers to sign the two-way forward in free agency.

The Bridges trade to New York also eliminates the Knicks as a potential landing spot for George. The idea of the nine-time All-Star orchestrating an opt-in and trade scenario picked up steam throughout the past week. Many speculated the Knicks as a potential suitor for George if he went that route. After trading for Bridges, New York can essentially be eliminated from the George sweepstakes. The Sixers now have one fewer team to compete with in their efforts to pursue George.

The NBA offseason is heating up, with the first round of the draft beginning at 8 p.m. EST on Wednesday. Free agency kicks off at 6 p.m. EST on Sunday. Whatever Philadelphia ends up doing this offseason, the Bridges trade puts more pressure on president of basketball operations Daryl Morey to improve the Sixers’ roster.

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