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The Knicks Strengthen Title Hopes with Villanova Reunion

The night before the NBA draft, there was a blockbuster trade for those whose notifications are silenced or who live under a rock. That’s right, there was a Woj bomb. 

The Brooklyn Nets traded Mikal Bridges to the New York Knicks for Bojan Bogdanović, five first-round picks, one second-round pick, and a 2028 pick swap. After playing hardball for over a year, the Nets finally traded Bridges, which means they are committing to a complete rebuild.

Bridges was part of the trade that sent Kevin Durant to the Phoenix Suns last year. So, the Nets’ final haul in the aftermath of trading Durant is Cam Johnson (also from the Suns-Nets trade), eight unprotected first-round picks, one protected first-round pick, a 2028 first-round pick swap, a 2028 unprotected pick swap, and three-second picks.

But the real story of the blockbuster trade is college teammates reuniting. Mikal Bridges, Jalen Brunson, Josh Hart, and Donte DiVincenzo played for the Villanova Wildcats basketball team, winning national championships in 2016 and 2018. Hart was not a part of the 2018 team, as he was already in the NBA. The other three declared for the 2018 draft. Professional athletes rarely get to be on the same team as their college teammates, but somehow, the Knicks got it done. It is only fitting that the reunion is recognized.

Jalen Brunson

Brunson was taken by the Dallas Mavericks with the 33rd overall pick in the 2018 draft. He was the sixth man during his first three seasons with the team. He became a starter in the 2021-22 season, increasing his average in almost every statistical category.

It was only in the postseason that he started to emerge as the second option alongside Luka Doncic. While Luka was out for the first two games in the first round, Brunson stepped up and scored 24 points and 41 points, respectively. He is a big reason why Dallas made it to the conference finals.

Brunson signed a four-year, $104 million deal with the Knicks during the 2022 offseason. He led them to their first playoff series win since 2013. He has emerged as a superstar, making the Knicks genuine contenders in the Eastern Conference.

Josh Hart

The Los Angeles Lakers selected Josh Hart with the 17th pick in the 2017 draft. After playing with them for two seasons, they traded him to the New Orleans Pelicans as part of the Anthony Davis deal. He became a consistent role player for the Pelicans, playing with them for two and a half seasons. 

At the 2022 NBA trade deadline, the New Orleans Pelicans traded Josh Hart to the Trail Blazers. Exactly one year later, the Trail Blazers traded him to the New York Knicks, making his time with them short-lived. This trade reunited him with Brunson. 

He immediately became a massive piece for the Knicks, especially in the postseason. After the 2022-23 season was over, he signed a four-year, $81 million extension. He has emerged as a cornerstone piece for the franchise and continues to get better on both ends of the floor.

Donte DiVincenzo

The Milwaukee Bucks selected DiVincenzo with the 17th pick in the 2018 draft. DiVincenzo was a consistent scorer off the bench but struggled with injuries. He became an NBA champion after the Bucks defeated the Suns in six games in the 2021 NBA Finals.

He was traded to the Sacramento Kings as part of a four-team trade at the 2022 NBA trade deadline. DiVincenzo Signed with the Golden State Warriors prior to the 2022-23 season and found a consistent role on the bench and in the starting lineup. 

Declining his player option, he tested free agency. Then signed a four-year, $50 million deal with the New York Knicks. He was coming off the bench before critical injuries put him in the starting lineup.

He averaged a career-high in points per game and three-point shooting percentage. Not only has his scoring been lethal, but he has also improved defensively. This was also the healthiest season he has had in his career, playing 81 games in the regular season. His improvement on both ends of the floor is why he is a crucial piece of the team. 

Mikal Bridges

The Philadelphia 76ers selected Bridges with the 10th pick in the 2018 draft, then immediately traded him to the Phoenix Suns for Zhaire Smith. He became the starting small forward and established himself as one of the best defenders in the league.

He became a key player for the Suns, especially during their run to the 2021 NBA finals. The entire NBA world has praised his defense, and he was runner-up to Marcus Smart for the 2022 DPOY. That same year, he earned his first All-Defensive First Team selection.

He was traded to the Brooklyn Nets as part of the Kevin Durant deal. He emerged as a star with the Nets, averaging 26.1 ppg during the second half of the season. His scoring went down during the 2023-24 season, but he was still putting up great numbers.

On June 25, the team traded Bridges to the New York Knicks, completing the missing piece of the Villanova squad. The Knicks now have a two-way player in Bridges, who has yet to miss an NBA game. He currently holds the record for the most consecutive games played, which is helpful for a team that dealt with many injuries.

True Contenders?

Trading for Mikal Bridges puts the Knicks at the top with the Boston Celtics. They have the potential to compete against them in the Eastern Conference finals and maybe even make the NBA Finals. 

The move helps the team and puts pressure on other title contenders, such as the 76ers and Bucks. Watch out for the New York Knicks this upcoming season; they are in win-now mode.

Photo Courtesy: @bballforever_/X

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