The Phoenix Suns were one of the best teams in the entire NBA last season, buoyed partially by the MVP-caliber play of point god Chris Paul and partially by the natural development of the young players on the roster who had suffered through a ton of losing before finally putting it all together.
Mikal Bridges is one of those young players who elevated his game as the stage lights got brighter. He was always one of the league’s best defenders, but in his third NBA season his offense became more forceful and impactful.
In 2020-21, Mikal’s notched career highs in scoring (13.5 points per game), shooting (42.5% on threes, 54.3% overall), field goal attempts (9.3), free throw attempts (1.8), rebounds (4.3), assists (2.1) and blocks (0.9) while lowering his turnovers (0.8) and personal fouls (1.6) to career lows.
Quite frankly, Bridges is now one of the league’s very best “4th man”, right behind All-Stars Chris Paul and Devin Booker and fellow 2018 draftee Deandre Ayton, who had a bigger playoff impact and is just a little closer to All-Star status than ‘The Warden’.
Bridges may never become an All-Star, which is tilted to the league’s best scorers, but he could be a 10-year staple on league ‘All Defense’ teams and could even win a Finals MVP award some day because of his all-around impact on winning.
On a lesser team, Bridges could be a 20-points per game scorer but he much prefers staying with the Suns so he can win lots of games without having to be the alpha dog.
Now the question is how much to pay Bridges in an extension of his rookie deal, which would kick in a year from now.
Is he worth more than small forward OG Anunoby got a year ago from the Raptors, which was 4 year, $72 million deal ($18 million per year on average)? Probably. He is a more consistent and at least as good if not better on defense.
Is he worth more than small forward Aaron Gordon, who just signed an extension with the Nuggets last week for 4 years at $92 million ($23 million per year on average)? Probably. Like the Anunoby comp, Bridges is a more consistent offensive player and probably as good on defense. Gordon got $20 million more than Anunoby because he is more actualized in his role, while Anunoby was relatively unproven at the time he signed.
Both Gordon and Anunoby are bulkier players than Bridges, allowing them to handle the more physically imposing offensive wing players, while Bridges’ length and speed allow him to focus on the league’s more dangerous back court scorers.
Bridges’ offensive consistency and smart decision making are what set him apart as well.
So now the Suns and Bridges have a tough decision to make. As the team’s fourth best player, and considering salary cap implications, the Suns simply cannot offer anything close to a max extension this fall ($29.75 million to start, with a $30+ million average over 4-5 years) and still hope to field a deep, competitive roster beyond those four players a few years down the road.
But they need to offer at least what Aaron Gordon got, at the $23 million average salary.
Zach Harper of the Athletic and Sirius XM radio thinks Bridges is worth $25-30 million per year on an extension.
“He was so good in college and he’s so good in the NBA,” Harper says. “You see what he does to people every single night. I feel like, with Bridges, it’s not ideal to pay a guy like that the max. I also think he could justify a max deal, in that first extension. I think he’s worth 25-30 million dollars.”
When pressed, Harper even thinks Bridges’ camp should wait until next summer if necessary to get that max deal.
“I think what you’re probably going to see,” Harper says. “They go through the season, they go into restricted free agency, doesn’t even come down to an offer sheet. Just, we’ve worked out a deal for you for five years, $120 million or $125 million. [The Suns] get the benefit of no-max, but you’re still paying him more than you wanted to.”
Our resident insider on all things Suns, Flex from Jersey shared what he’s heard about Mikal’s negotiations on the latest Solar Panel podcast.
Watch it here, starting at the 6:57 mark after I played the Zach Harper bit.
To sum it up, Flex is confident that Mikal and the Suns will agree to an extension before the deadline, which is about month away from now. He says they’ve been talking about the numbers for the past few weeks, and will come to an agreement before the season starts.
And that extension will likely be about $95-100 million over four years (Flex thinks $95), an average annual value of $24-$25 million per year.
“He’s ready to be a Phoenix Sun for a long time,” Flex says. “He loves it here.”
You can listen to both the Zach Harper and Flex interviews, in their entirety, as podcast episodes on your favorite podcast app, or right here:
That would make Mikal Bridges the 10th highest paid ‘small forward’ in the league, according to how spotrac.com splits the players by position, and the 17th highest paid forward overall, which includes ‘power forwards’ in the mix as well.
Sounds about right to me!