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Mikal Bridges can’t wait to be Tom Thibodeau’s Knicks iron man



Mikal Bridges can’t wait to be Tom Thibodeau’s Knicks iron man

What happens when the NBA’s iron man collides with the anti-load management coach? Mikal Bridges is excited to find out.

“Who doesn’t want to play all the time?” Bridges said Tuesday in his introductory press conference from the Knicks training facility. “Just who [Tom Thibodeau] is, how he embodies and how structured he is, that’s what I came from: That’s high school, college, and with coach Monty [Williams in Phoenix] as well.”

Playing a lot is nothing new to Bridges. He noted Tuesday how in Phoenix, a championship contender at the time, the two-way wing once logged 50 minutes while “sick as a bat” and chasing Sacramento’s De’Aaron Fox.

“I was on a frickin’ chair after we won, laid out,” Bridges said, “and I think Monty didn’t think I was sick either, and he was like, ‘Look at him. That’s what we do.’ I’m like, ‘Let’s just get on this damn plane.’”

Mikal Bridges speaks to reporters during his Knicks introductory press conference on Tuesday. Charles Wenzelberg / New York Post
New Knicks star Mikal Bridges addresses the media during a news conference on Tuesday. Charles Wenzelberg / New York Post

Bridges played the next game and every one since. He’s never been a DNP since being drafted 10th overall in 2018 — a streak of 474 games played that seems about as realistic in 2024 as a leprechaun on your doorstep.

For a team that lost in the playoffs because it was injury-depleted, Bridges’ durability is a boon. And for a coach who is known for squeezing minutes out of his starters, a former All-Defense selection who never rests is theoretically a match in basketball heaven.

“I see all the jokes (about Thibodeau). I see them, but it’s great,” Bridges said. “Thibs is a great coach.”

The commentary on Thibs’ minutes distribution, often exaggerated, is a joke today because the Knicks are winners. Otherwise, it’s an indictment.

Now Bridges’ arrival adds more pressure on Thibodeau, who still hasn’t secured a contract extension and, without one, would enter the final season of his current deal. (Sources have said for months that a Thibodeau extension should be assumed, regardless of a perceived delay.)

Unlike his new wingmate, OG Anunoby, availability is no concern with Bridges. Neither is chemistry with his new teammates, among them, three of his Villanova buddies — Jalen Brunson, Josh Hart and Donte DiVincenzo.

Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau. Corey Sipkin for the NY POST

The big questions with Bridges surround his struggles last season with the Nets, and whether that was specific to a different role as the No. 1 option or a more worrisome trend. Bridges, who shot a career-low 43.6% as the Nets plummeted in the standings, said it was a “learning experience.”

“I didn’t play how I wanted to play,” Bridges said. “Just learning from that. Last year was a big learning thing. Seeing a lot of things, going through that, kind of helps me. You kind of learn and build from mistakes. All the other things that was going on with coming off and maybe bringing two guys, stuff like that. I don’t know, man. I just learned from that. When stuff doesn’t go as well as you want it you can’t just look at it and be upset and put your head down. You’ve got to look at it and accept what it was and learn how to grow from it. That’s the biggest thing. When adversity hits you’ve got to use it. You’ve got to use it as fuel.”

Asked specifically what went wrong with the Nets last season, Bridges offered a vague, “I don’t know man, I think we just, it was a tough year for everybody. We didn’t do what we were supposed to do. That’s on all of us. Like I said, I could have been better — definitely could have been better.”

The Knicks gambled five first-round picks on Bridges being better — or at least being different since Bridges will be less of an offensive priority in MSG behind two All-Stars, Brunson and Julius Randle.

Mikal Bridges walks into the press room for his Knicks introduction on Tuesday. Charles Wenzelberg / New York Post
Knicks president Leon Rose at the Mikal Bridges news conference on Tuesday. Charles Wenzelberg / New York Post

Bridges’ arrival was seismic enough for the Knicks to hold their first introductory press conference in three years, bucking a trend of not inviting the media to offseason events. The last introduction was for Kemba Walker, an aging point guard with a compromised knee (Evan Fournier was also introduced at that 2021 presser).

Among the reasons Walker never worked with Thibodeau or the Knicks was his knee required load management. He was removed from the rotation right after sitting out a game, thrusting Alec Burks into a prominent role.

The coach won’t have that issue with Bridges, who has shown he’s ready for the Thibodeau experience.

“I’m fit for that,” Bridges said.

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