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Keith Pompey: Four years later, Sixers' draft-day trade of Mikal Bridges for Zhaire Smith looks worse than ever

Keith Pompey, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in Basketball

PHILADELPHIA — Tuesday marks the four-year anniversary of a disastrous draft-day trade by the 76ers.

Back on June 21, 2018, the Sixers selected Villanova’s Mikal Bridges with the No. 10 pick in the NBA draft. And like the Sixers’ fan base, the Pennsylvania product could not have been happier.

But 38 minutes later, the Sixers traded Bridges to the Phoenix Suns for Zhaire Smith, the 16th overall pick. The Sixers also received the Miami Heat’s 2021 first-round pick in the trade. The Sixers were always interested in Smith for his elite athleticism, just not at No. 10. And his fate in Philadelphia was doomed shortly after it began.

Due to a failure to remain healthy and live up to unrealistic expectations, Smith played in just 13 career games before being traded to the Detroit Pistons on Nov. 23, 2020, for reserve center Tony Bradley.

The Pistons waived Smith seven days later. The 23-year-old is looking to make a return to basketball after battling a severe knee injury the past two years. In July, the former Texas Tech standout will play for the Air Raiders, a group of Tech alumni, in The Basketball Tournament, a 64-team, single-elimination tourney with a $1 million prize.

Meanwhile, Bridges has blossomed into one of the league’s best young stars, complete with a four-year, $90 million contract extension he received last October.

 

The small forward was this season’s runner-up in voting for NBA Defensive Player of the Year. He also received the second-most votes for the All-Defensive team, garnering first-team votes on 95 of 100 ballots.

The 6-foot-6, 209-pounder finished with 96 steals and 36 blocks as a lock-down defender. Bridges also averaged a career-high 14.2 points in his fourth NBA season. A solid acquisition for the Suns, the 25-year-old has averaged 11.3 points and 1.3 steals while shooting 37.4% on 3-pointers in 309 career games with 242 starts.

His success, along with existing ties to the Sixers, made this trade one the team will have a hard time living down. At the time, Bridges’ mother, Tyneeha Rivers, was a global vice president of human resources at Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment, of which Sixers managing partner Josh Harris and co-managing partner David Blitzer are co-owners. Her office, in fact, was in the complex in Camden where the Sixers practice and where Bridges worked out before the draft.

And one has to feel sorry for Smith.

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