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The Brooklyn Nets really want you to know that they're not trading Mikal Bridges. The Memphis Grizzlies offered four first-round picks as soon as the Nets acquired him. Brooklyn said no. The Rockets offered them their own picks back from the 2021 James Harden trade. Brooklyn said no. At virtually every opportunity, the Nets have painstakingly leaked to reporters that Bridges is not on the table.

And yet, a new Bridges rumor or trade idea seems to pop up every week or two. Half of the league wants him, and no matter how many times the Nets tell the world he's not available, nobody seems to believe them. So what's happening here? Why can't Bridges escape the rumor mill? Is he truly available? What teams might have enough to pry him away from the Nets this offseason?

Why he's in trade rumors

Because the Nets are in purgatory. It's really that simple. The Nets weren't good enough to seriously compete for even a Play-In spot last season. There's no reason to believe the current roster is going to be any better next season. Yet without control over any of their own first-round picks through 2027, the Nets have little incentive for being this bad. They either need to fully embrace a rebuild or find a way into contention. The latter seems less likely than the former.

There was a time in which the widespread expectation around the league was that Donovan Mitchell would force his way out of Cleveland. That was Brooklyn's path out of the bottom. Mitchell is a New York native. The Nets, with max cap space during Mitchell's free agency year of 2025, could leverage a good price for him. But if Mitchell stays put, there aren't any more readymade New York-born stars that would want to make the Nets their destination.

Bridges has a skill set that fits practically any team. He's a high-end 3-and-D wing that brings meaningful secondary shot-creation. More than that, he has a contract that fits any team. He's owed only $48.2 million over the next two seasons combined. The closer that contract gets to expiring, the less value Bridges has in a trade. The moment to move him for maximum value is now.  

Why the Nets would keep him

Because if the Nets do manage to find a star, whoever it is, that player will enhance Bridges. The Nets may not currently have a player capable of being the best on a good team, but Bridges certainly fits the bill as a No. 2. Finding the top guy is obviously the hardest part, but sidekicks don't exactly grow on trees, either. The Nets are betting that their abundance of future draft picks from other teams (most notably, the Suns) can be parlayed into the sort of player that would turn Bridges into a supercharged secondary option, and that together, they could form the backbone of a winner.

Is there another player like that out there if Mitchell stays put? Well, it's hard to say. Players like Trae Young, Brandon Ingram and Karl-Anthony Towns that have populated the rumor mill don't exactly hit that level, but NBA offseasons are unpredictable. Someone unexpected is suddenly unhappy. Some team with a hefty tax bill decides to save money. The names we're covering now are not necessarily the only ones that will become available. The Nets are betting that someone we don't expect hits the market.

And then there are the optics. Retaining Bridges at least maintains the illusion that this team is trying to win right now. Giving him away kicks off a multi-year rebuild that would mean admitting defeat fully on the promise of the Kevin Durant era that came before this one. This is, of course, not an intelligent way to run a franchise, but there are real people with jobs on the line here. Would the front office that failed to win it all with Durant feel confident that it could survive another lengthy reset? That matters here.

What destinations make sense?

Bridges fits anywhere. Basically anyone can absorb his salary. Basically everyone needs another wing. That means that our fits are going to be the teams with assets that appeal to Brooklyn, specifically. That's going to mean high-upside young players and draft picks. Here are three possibilities.

Houston Rockets: The Rockets are by far the best trade partner for Brooklyn because they control the the next four Nets first-round picks, including No. 3 in this year's draft. The Rockets tried to trade the Nets their picks back for Bridges in February and were rebuffed. Now that this year's pick has jumped into the top three, it looks even more enticing. A Bridges-to-Houston trade is Brooklyn's only real path towards the tank it so desperately needs. In Bridges, Houston would get a premium role player to put around its array of young players. The Rockets want to win now, and Bridges fits the defensive identity head coach Ime Udoka wants to build.

New York Knicks: Come on, this is the one the whole basketball world wants, right? Let the Villanova quartet of Jalen Brunson, Donte DiVincenzo, Josh Hart and Mikal Bridges reunite! The Knicks have all of their own picks plus several from other teams to dangle in a trade here, plus plenty of win-now players the Nets could conceivably flip elsewhere. Sadly, the Knicks and Nets haven't made a trade since 1983. Clearly, there's a rivalry here that the front offices have yet to breach, so for now, this one probably won't happen.

Utah Jazz: The Jazz aren't too dissimilar to the Nets. Both are non-playoff teams that could opt for the tanking route, but Utah controls its own picks, and the Jazz have reportedly sniffed around win-now upgrades lately (such as Jrue Holiday last offseason). If Utah does want to win now, it could offer Brooklyn a diversified package of draft picks from the Cavaliers, Timberwolves and themselves. More pertinently for Bridges, the Jazz have so little money committed over the next few years that they could conceivably renegotiate-and-extend Bridges before he becomes a free agent in 2026, allowing him to get paid fairly early instead of waiting out his current, below-market deal. 

What is the latest reporting?

The Athletic's Fred Katz is the most recent reporter to indicate that the Nets have given "expressed zero interest" in trading Bridges this offseason. Every team known to have tried to get him, most notably the Grizzlies and Rockets, has been rebuffed. There is no firmly reported reason to believe that the Nets will trade Bridges. We're operating with common sense here. The Nets should trade Bridges. But based on the information we now have, it seems they probably won't.