How the Knicks can complete the Mikal Bridges trade without being hard-capped at the first apron (2024)

NEW YORK — There has to be a way.

The New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets have yet to complete the Mikal Bridges trade, and there’s only one reason why.

The Knicks sent four of their own first-round picks, the Milwaukee Bucks’ 2025 first-round pick, a 2028 first-round pick swap, the Nets’ own 2025 second-round pick, and Bojan Bogdanovic to Brooklyn as the package to land Bridges at Madison Square Garden.

If the trade were to be completed as is, however, the Knicks would be hard-capped at the $178.13 million first apron, meaning under no circ*mstances would they be allowed to have a payroll exceeding that number this season, the reason being they are taking back more money in Bridges’ $23.3 million salary than they are sending out in Bogdanovic’s $19 million salary.

That’s not an ideal scenario for a team that still needs to improve the roster but is projecting to come in $5 million below the first apron with the roster as is.

If the Knicks were to find a way to bridge that gap, however, between Bogdanovic and Bridges’ 2024-25 salaries — a roughly $4.2 million gap — they would instead be hard-capped at the $188.93 second apron, providing a bit more leeway to use salary cap exceptions to build out a roster deep and well-rounded enough to compete for a title.

Some notes to consider:

Once a team crosses the first apron threshold, it:

— Can no longer acquire players in a sign-and-trade.

— Can no longer use trade exceptions to take more more salary in a trade.

— Is no longer allowed to sign players who were waived with salaries over the non-taxpayer mid-level exception of $12.9 million.

And once a team crosses the second apron threshold, it:

— Loses the ability to use its mid-level exception in any capacity.

— Can not trade multiple players in any deal.

— Can not sign-and-trade their own free agent if the incoming player’s salary keeps them above the second apron.

— Can not use new trade exceptions.

— Has its first-round pick seven years later frozen and moved to the end of the draft if they finish the season over the second apron.

Those restrictions alone offer a glimpse as to why the Bridges trade has taken so long to complete in the first place.

But the roster needs finishing, and as it stands, Isaiah Hartenstein’s departure to accept a three-year, $87 million deal from the Oklahoma City Thunder leaves a gaping hole at the backup five spot behind Mitchell Robinson, who suffered two stress injuries to his left ankle last season — one in December, another in the second round of the playoffs — both requiring surgery.

As it stands, the Knicks have nine players on their roster: a projected starting five of Bridges, Robinson, Jalen Brunson, Julius Randle and OG Anunoby, plus Josh Hart, Donte DiVincenzo, Miles McBride and Jericho Sims off the bench.

They have not yet signed Pacome Dadiet or Tyler Kolek to rookie scale contracts yet, but the completion of such deals will move them to 11 players on the roster. They can also waive Mamadi Diakite before his minimum contract guarantees.

So what can the Knicks do?

They can sign-and-trade any of their own free agents to bridge the gap

For example, Alec Burks and Precious Achiuwa are unrestricted free agents free to sign with any team this season. The Knicks could sign-and-trade one of the two to a team of their liking to fulfill the $4.2 million in outgoing salary needed to avoid being hard-capped at the first apron.

They can trade Miles McBride

This remains the least attractive, yet most straight-forward route to bringing an end to the cap confinement. The Knicks signed McBride to a three-year, $13 million extension moments after trading Immanuel Quickley to the Toronto Raptors as part of the Anunoby deal. McBride has outplayed that contract in every way possible and emerged as a key contributor on a Knicks team that secured the East’s No. 2 seed. They would rather not trade him, let alone solely to satisfy monetary requirements in the Bridges deal.

They can trade Mitchell Robinson

If the Knicks aren’t moving any players who attended Villanova, and they aren’t moving McBride, Robinson, who has two years north of $27 million left on his contract and is due $14.3 million next season, is a prime trade target.

The Knicks could trade Robinson for a player who makes $10 million and include that deal as part of the Bridges deal to bridge the $4.3 million gap and avoid being hard-capped at the first apron.

Doing so, however, could further complicate matters for a team in need of more center depth.

They could trade both Robinson and McBride or Robinson and Sims

Combining Robinson and Sims 2024-25 salaries gets you to $16.4 million. The Knicks could offer the Los Angeles Clippers their pair of centers and second-round pick consideration for a new starting center in Ivica Zubac. The Knicks would then fulfill the additional $4.2 million in outgoing salary needed to free themselves from the first apron hard cap. They could then re-sign Achiuwa as a backup center and continue building out the roster so long as the payroll doesn’t exceed the $188.9 million second apron.

Combining Robinson and McBride’s 2024-25 salaries gets you to $19 million in outgoing salary.

One potential trade sends Robinson, McBride and draft pick compensation to the Detroit Pistons for Jalen Duren and Jaden Ivey, acquiring a center and a guard to replace Robinson and McBride, plus moving the hard cap up from the first apron to continue building out a roster.

And they could trade Julius Randle

But doing so solely to satisfy the cap requirements of the Bridges deal is counterproductive to a team now boasting the depth needed to go toe-to-toe with the Boston Celtics, Philadelphia 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks in pursuit of the franchise’s first NBA title in over 50 years.

This is why the Bridges deal has yet to consummate: the wrong move could cost the Knicks their best shot at winning a championship since they made the NBA Finals in 1999. The right move could push them over the hump.

The right move could bring New York City a title.

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How the Knicks can complete the Mikal Bridges trade without being hard-capped at the first apron (2024)
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