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The news sent shock waves throughout the NBA.
Miles Bridges was arrested in Los Angeles hours prior to what was supposed to be one of the biggest periods of his 24-year-old life. Words by general manager Mitch Kupchak expressing how much the Charlotte Hornets love Bridges were still making the rounds, leading to a social media storm that was part sun shower, part monsoon.
Keyboard detectives were searching for every clue about Bridges’ future, thinking he was already headed out of town. Kupchak once again assured people that Bridges remained a priority. Bridges’ return appeared inevitable.
It all unraveled hours later. Bridges turned himself into police Wednesday after a warrant for his arrest was issued for a reported felony domestic violence case. The identity of the woman was not released in the police report, but in an Instagram message posted late Thursday night, Mychelle Johnson, the mother of Bridges’ two children, indicated she was the victim of abuse, and posted several pictures.
Many people are still in fact-finding mode as Bridges prepares for a July 20 court date facing the serious allegations, and basketball isn’t on everyone’s mind due to the situation. But the business world waits for no one, and the rest of the league certainly isn’t, given the flurry of transactions that have taken place since 6 p.m. Thursday when teams were able to officially negotiate deals with free agents.
As a restricted free agent, Bridges isn’t under contract, but the Hornets still essentially control his fate. There are three possible outcomes that could unfold over the coming days as more information emerges about what led to Bridges’ arrest.
Here are the scenarios:
Bridges receives a multi-year deal
What felt like a given at the start of the week, whether it was with the Hornets or someplace else, is now likely the longest of shots for Bridges. Securing a deal north of the four-year, $60 million deal he turned down in the fall, before the season began, appears unlikely for a couple of reasons.
The legal case he’s dealing with will force a team’s top decision-makers to talk deeply about the potential ramifications moving forward. Guaranteeing more than a full season not knowing what’s going to happen as the case goes through the legal system could be viewed as a risk, despite Bridges’ talents, which catapulted him to be the Hornets’ leading scorer in his fourth season, and bring a public backlash.
Plus, there is also the possibility of a hefty suspension.
Years ago, the Hornets were in a similar situation with Jeff Taylor. Selected in the second round of the 2012 draft, Taylor received a 24-game suspension in 2014 after pleading guilty to a domestic violence charge in Michigan.
In announcing the suspension, NBA commissioner Adam Silver made the reason for the length perfectly clear.
“It is appropriate in light of Mr. Taylor’s conduct,” he wrote, “the need to deter similar conduct going forward and the evolving social consensus — with which we fully concur —that professional sports leagues like the NBA must respond to such incidents in a more rigorous way.”
Those words won’t be taken lightly by the league in the next instance.
Taylor appeared in 29 games the following season, starting in 13. The Hornets didn’t extend a qualifying offer to him, and he became an unrestricted free agent. He never played another minute in the NBA, spending five seasons in Europe with Real Madrid, a Spanish professional basketball team.
Bridges signs his qualifying offer
In order to keep their leverage in negotiations and have the ability to match any offer Bridges might receive on the open market from another team, the Hornets executed the move instituted by the NBA years ago to help small-market teams retain their best young players after four seasons of service.
By extending a qualifying offer — in Bridges’ case it was $7.9 million — the Hornets kept themselves in play just in case he received a better deal elsewhere. Should that happen, the Hornets would have had two days to match it once the signing moratorium ends Wednesday to secure Bridges for likely another four seasons.
Typically, the qualifying offer is a mere formality leading to a larger multi-year contract. But in Bridges’ case now, it might represent his best opportunity to remain in the league. If he signs it, he will be an unrestricted free agent next summer and could agree to terms with any team.
Hornets sever ties with Bridges
The Hornets also could pull the qualifying offer completely off the table. That would cut Bridges loose, making him an unrestricted free agent.
Such a move would signal his banishment from the team and send his career into further uncertainty months removed from his best season since entering the league in 2018. But it is a serious possibility.