On Monday night, Mikal Bridges was announced as a starter at the Wells Fargo Center.
The Villanova product and Philadelphia native, clad in Phoenix Suns purple and orange, played in front of friends and family in a 119-114 loss to his hometown 76ers, the team that drafted him and traded him.
Bridges isn't playing for the team he thought he would be on. Instead, he's on a team with a 3-13 record that is last in the Western Conference. But, he might be better off with Phoenix than he would have been had the Sixers kept him.
June 21, 2018 is not a date Bridges or his family is likely to forget.
"We thought he was definitely going to be with the Sixers," Bridges father, Jack, said Monday night.
There was no reason to think otherwise. They picked him.
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Two championships in three seasons at Villanova sent Bridges from the Main Line to the main stage. He was selected No. 10 overall by the Sixers, the team that his mother, Tyneeha Rivers, works for; the team he grew up loving. He spoke to reporters about how blessed he was to be a Sixer.
What happened next was a whirlwind. The Sixers took an offer they couldn't pass on, sending Bridges to Phoenix for the 16th pick, Zhaire Smith, and an unprotected 2021 first-rounder.
"The business of the NBA," Jack Bridges said. "We learned it first hand in that moment."
"It was all excitement and hugs, and then it was a bummer when we heard about the trade," Bridges' cousin Sanie Tyler said.
Finding peace in the desert
After the initial shock and some light grieving that he would not be playing for the Sixers, Bridges found peace with his situation. The truth is that Phoenix gave up a lot to get the Bridges, which to him means that they have him in their long-term plans, and that is meaningful.
"He's starting to feel good about the situation, he's playing more, he's having more success," his father said. "At the end of the day, he just wants to win."
That's been the most difficult part — not winning.
"I think the Phoenix situation is sort of a reality check for him in the sense that it's not always about winning," Jack Bridges said. "They're starting from the trenches and building a program."
The Sixers are much farther along than Phoenix is. On draft night, it seemed as though Bridges would be a perfect fit for the Sixers, who were coming off a 52-win season and needed a 3-and-D wing that could help stretch the floor. But the NBA is an ever-changing league, not one that is easy to predict.
A quarter of the way into the season, Jimmy Butler, an All-Star, is filling that starting wing role, while Bridges is getting a chance to start for Phoenix.
Trevor Ariza missed two games, and Bridges filled his spot in the starting lineup. When Ariza returned against the Sixers, Suns coach Igor Kokoskov moved Devin Booker to the point and kept Bridges in.
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"It is probably true that he's able to be on the floor more than he would have [with the Sixers]," Brett Brown said. "It's hard to come out of college and just slide in."
In his three starts, Bridges is shooting 50 percent from three, 65 percent overall, and 11.7 points per game. That's compared to the 43.2 percent overall, 35.9 percent from three, and 7.2 points he was averaging to start the season.
Losing has been hard
Had he stayed with the Sixers, there's very little chance he would start with the addition of Butler, his minutes probably would have decreased, and it's difficult for young players to flourish without playing time.
Being on a losing team might not feel good, but it could be valuable in learning what it takes to be a winner at the professional level.
"After a couple conversations with him, I could tell that the losing was kind of getting to him a little bit, though he would never say that," Jack Bridges said. "But, I think the losing will help build character."
Bridges' father has been a die-hard Celtics fan since the early 1980s, so "it would have been a lot harder for me to root for the Sixers than it has been with him the Suns," Jack Bridges said with a hearty laugh.
The business of the NBA can be harsh, and Bridges learned that in his first moments in the league. He's learning that winning can be just as hard, but, as his cousin said, it's the hard times that make you appreciate the good times.
"There's no light without the dark," Tyler said. "It's going to make him an even better person and a better player — just watch."