Mikal Bridges trade: Knicks add two players who will head to Nets in shrewd salary cap move, per reports

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The New York Knicks took a home run swing before the NBA Draft when they agreed to send the Brooklyn Nets five first-round picks, one swap and Bojan Bogdanovic in exchange for Mikal Bridges. The move made New York an instant championship contender, but it also created a somewhat uncomfortable financial limitation for the Knicks to deal with this season. That deal, in its initially reported construction, would have hard-capped the Knicks at the $178,132,000 first apron. The Knicks still need to fill out their roster, so that hard cap would have been fairly difficult for them to navigate as they attempt to finish their roster.

Fortunately, there was always a workaround. The Knicks would have been hard-capped at the first apron because they were taking in more money than they sent out. If they could find a way to send out more money than they brought in through salary aggregation, that would push their hard cap up to the second apron at $188,931,000.

Now, it seems the Knicks have found a way to do that. According to The Athletic’s Shams Charania, the Knicks will sign-and-trade Shake Milton out on a three-year, $9 million deal. The Athletic’s Fred Katz adds that the Knicks will also include Mamadi Diakite, who will see $1.23 million of his non-guaranteed deal become guaranteed, in the deal. Combined, they get the Knicks up to the required amount of salary needed to hit that second apron hard cap. The Knicks will also take back Keita Bates-Diop in the trade, but as a minimum salary, he doesn’t count as matching salary from New York’s perspective.

It seems as though the Knicks have been planning for some version of this scenario since March. The Knicks signed Milton to a one-year deal then, but he played only 27 total minutes in New York. However, getting him on the books then allowed the Knicks to give him a 20% raise through Non-Bird Rights that pushed him over the minimum contract threshold, and therefore made his salary stackable for trade purposes. 

Another notable cap move the Knicks made on Thursday came in the contract that they gave to first-round pick Pacome Dadiet. First-round picks are governed by the rookie salary scale. There is a predetermined amount allocated to each slot in the first round. Rookies can be given anywhere from 80% to 120% of that figure, but the industry standard has long been 120%. So ingrained is that figure that the NBA changed rookie cap holds to 120% of scale to reflect that reality. But Dacome will sign for 80% of scale, saving the Knicks another $904,000, according to Katz. All told, the Knicks have around $17.8 million in room beneath the second apron left to work with.

What does that extra room do for New York? A few important things. Obviously, it gives them more space to work with if they want to make a substantial trade of any sort between now and the deadline. It also gives them a bit more flexibility in potentially re-signing Precious Achiuwa, or perhaps signing-and-trading him out somewhere in exchange for a preferable veteran. Teams below the second apron can also use the taxpayer mid-level exception, which starts at around $5 million, to sign another non-minimum free agent. Of course, the Knicks are still well short of just filling out their roster, so the more money they have to work with, the better.

New York still needs a backup center after the departure of Isaiah Hartenstein in free agency. It could probably use at least one more guard as well. The Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers pose serious challenges within the Eastern Conference, so the Knicks need every ounce of maneuverability possible to build a team capable of challenging them. Now, they’ve reportedly done so. They have work to do on the roster, but they have the money they need to do it with.

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