As the remaining minutes for the No. 16 pick in Thursday’s NBA Draft ticked away, ESPN cameras began circling the Green Room table of Villanova guard Donte DiVincenzo. His former teammate, Wildcats swingman Mikal Bridges, posed for photos inside a backstage Barclays Center space dubbed the “Social Media Room.” Texas Tech freshman Zhaire Smith waited anxiously at his own table on the arena floor. The Phoenix Suns’ brain trust scrambled in its Arizona headquarters. And at the last moment, the Philadelphia 76ers phoned Phoenix’s war room once more.
Leading up to draft night, the Suns had openly expressed interest in using their No. 16 selection to move back into the top 10 after choosing Deandre Ayton with the No. 1 pick. General manager Ryan McDonough told reporters on Friday that Phoenix consistently phoned teams selecting Nos. 2-10 about the availability of those selections, but the Suns never offered packages of true interest for their potential partners, league sources told The Front Office. “Mikal’s a guy that we targeted,” McDonough told reporters. As guards and big men flew off the board in that range, it became obvious both the New York Knicks at No. 9 and the Sixers at No. 10 would have their choice of elite wing prospects, especially after the Cleveland Cavaliers selected Alabama point guard Collin Sexton at No. 8.
Phoenix communicated with Philadelphia as the draft progressed through the top 10, but the Sixers continued to rebuff the Suns’ offers. Brett Brown and the team’s post-Bryan Colangelo front office nucleus had brought a slew of perimeter prospects into their practice facility during the pre-draft workout circuit. Philly had hosted Bridges for a private workout and retreaded Smith for two group workouts. As of Thursday afternoon, the Sixers listed Bridges and Smith as “1A” and “1B” on its big board of prospects it deemed could be available at No. 10. The Knicks taking Kevin Knox at No. 9 unlocked a dream scenario. “When the ninth pick was selected you realized, We’re gonna get one of our two. And we chose Mikal,” Brown told reporters Thursday evening.
While on the clock at No. 10, the Sixers rebuked the Suns’ last-ditch trade efforts. “We knocked back an incredible deal where we would lose him,” Brown told reporters. “We didn’t rate it to be a ‘Godfather’ type of deal, something that really would impact the franchise to the level that it would have to in order to trade Mikal, who we valued very much.” Yet Phoenix didn’t relent its hopes of landing Bridges. McDonough informed Philadelphia if anything changed by the time the Suns were on the clock again at No. 16, to contact him once more.
Picks 11 through 15 served as an important backdrop to Philly and Phoenix’s draft nights. The Clippers had aggressive interest in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, whom many league talent evaluators viewed as the premier point guard in this class. The Hornets wanted Michigan State forward Miles Bridges. Los Angeles loved Jerome Robinson at No. 13—world circled rampantly amongst league circles the BC guard was a favorite of Clippers exec Jerry West—and Michael Porter Jr. fell to Denver at No. 14 due to suboptimal medical reports. Once the Wizards selected Oregon swingman Troy Brown at No. 15, that left the Sixers’ “1B” in Smith for the Suns at No. 16, and an opportunity to reopen those trade talks.
League sources said the Suns were prepared to draft DiVincenzo at No. 16. Milwaukee general manager Jon Horst, owner of the 17th selection, even phoned DiVincenzo’s representatives, trying to clarify if the Final Four Most Outstanding Player would be available once the Bucks were on the clock. (DiVincenzo was the top remaining player on the Bucks' board, sources said.) That’s when ESPN’s cameras flocked to his table, but Phoenix had little communication with DiVincenzo’s Octagon agents the day of the draft and the agency assumed its client’s range began with Milwaukee at No. 17. The Suns never responded in the moment to text messages from DiVincenzo’s representatives.
Complicating matters, the Bucks were simultaneously discussing a potential trade of DiVincenzo at No. 17 to Indiana for No. 23, and contemplated selecting Kevin Huerter for the Hawks in exchange for picks Nos. 19 and No. 30, league sources said. And while the Suns never informed DiVincenzo’s camp of their closeness to drafting him, rival teams from around the league did reach out to congratulate them on his selection. The Suns had indeed circled DiVincenzo as their guy, that is before the Sixers called once more about trade discussions regarding Bridges. “They re-engaged us,” McDonough told reporters.
With Smith still available, Philadelphia saw an opportunity to restock its war chest of future assets, just as the Celtics did swapping No. 1 for No. 3 with the Sixers themselves a year prior. “We were able to step up and put the Miami 2021 first in play,” McDonough told reporters. Having surrendered the Kings’ 2019 pick in last June’s trade for that No. 1 pick and the right to draft Markelle Fultz, the Sixers were down a prime future selection former general manager Sam Hinkie had acquired during his tenure. “Then Phoenix came in and offered a 2021 unprotected, plus our ‘1B’ in Zhaire,” Brown told reporters. Phoenix had originally acquired the selection through the 2014 Goran Dragic trade, one of myriad deals that have showcased the value future picks can have when lubricating trade discussions for All-Stars and MVP candidates.
After all, Philly selected Bridges at No. 10 with the Lakers’ pick the Sixers had originally received from Phoenix, which the Suns first acquired in the 2012 Steve Nash trade. Philadelphia attained the selection in the 2014 trade deadline three-team swap with the Bucks, which mainly sent Michael Carter-Williams to Milwaukee and Brandon Knight to Phoenix. The Suns shipped Dragic to Miami that same afternoon, garnering Miami’s 2018 first round pick—which became No. 16 and Smith on Thursday—and the Heat’s 2021 unprotected first round selection—now in the hands of Philadelphia.
Yes, Phoenix essentially traded Dragic straight up for Bridges. All of this goes to show how massive Miami’s 2021 pick could prove for the Sixers’ efforts in acquiring Kawhi Leonard this offseason, with whom Brown has a deep relationship after winning the 2014 NBA title together in San Antonio. “How do you acquire things that can attract stars and develop stars?” Brown told reporters Thursday. “That pick might be the key to all of this. That pick might be the thing that links a possible trade.” Inside Philadelphia’s war room, Sixers majority owner Joshua Harris looked at his head coach, and Brown made the final call to pull the trigger.
Meanwhile, as word circulated about the Sixers’ and Suns’ newfound trade discussions, Bridges had fulfilled his press conference obligations in Brooklyn and proceeded into the arena’s designated “Social Media Room,” snapping photos and GIFable dance moves for the NBA’s official accounts. Amidst the goofy celebration, an NBA official first informed Bridges of his uncertain fate. “Somebody kind of mumbled, ‘Just be prepared you might get traded,'” Bridges told reporters Friday in Phoenix. “I was like what, 'What’d you say?'” Bridges was ushered into a private lounge within Barclay’s bowels, an NBA public relations staffer later emerging from the room with Bridges’ Sixers ballcap he was gifted upon Adam Silver announcing his name at No. 10.
That hat ventured its way to Smith, who originally donned a Suns cap after Silver called his name at No. 16. Unlike Bridges and DiVincenzo, Smith was far from confounded by the proceedings. ESPN’s cameras soon fled DiVincenzo’s Green Room table for Smith’s, and the Texas Tech product was informed by his agent that Philly had made a deal for his rights at No. 16. “With one minute on the board, he said I was going to Philly,” Smith told reporters Friday. “So when I walked across that stage, Philly was on my mind. I was just excited. I was shaking.”
After the dust settled, DiVincenzo also felt thrilled. The Bucks were a team he and his camp had circled as a preferred destination, sources said, with the opportunity to support a budding MVP candidate in Giannis Antetokounmpo, and a clear role to help provide Milwaukee much-needed perimeter shooting plus secondary ball handling to complement the Greek Freak’s dashes to the rim. The Bucks’ talks with the Pacers eventually stalled at No. 23, Indiana happily adding UCLA point guard Aaron Holiday. Amazingly, Atlanta reneged its offer for No. 17 of Nos. 19 and 30 once the Bucks’ pick of DiVincenzo leaked on Twitter, knowing the Spurs would select Lonnie Walker at No. 18 and Huerter would subsequently be available, sources confirmed. “All of a sudden, we were able to pull back out of that deal and keep the draft pick,” Hawks GM Travis Schlenk said on a radio show Friday. From war rooms spanning Phoenix and Philadelphia; Milwaukee, Indiana and Atlanta, to the Green and “Social Media” Rooms in Brooklyn, the musical chairs culminating with the No. 16 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft finally ceased.