These are difficult times in the NBA. Kyrie Irving has finally apologized, upon team suspension, for seemingly endorsing (then unendorsing) antisemitism. The San Antonio Spurs and now-former second-year player Josh Primo are facing an ugly lawsuit, with Primo being accused of exposing himself to a team psychologist multiple times.
All that just weeks after Draymond Green punched a teammate, Phoenix Suns primary governor Robert Sarver was suspended for a year and fined $10 million for workplace misconduct that included findings of racially insensitive comments and "sex-related statements and conduct," and the Boston Celtics suspended coach Ime Udoka for a violation of team policies involving a woman on staff.
And now, former Charlotte Hornets starter Miles Bridges has pleaded "no contest to a felony domestic violence charge," per Baxter Holmes of ESPN.
Bridges was sentenced to three years of probation but will not receive jail time for the assault of the mother of his children.
Baxter Holmes @Baxter
NEWS: Hornets restricted free agent Miles Bridges pleaded no contest to a felony domestic violence charge Thursday in Los Angeles Superior Court and will face three years of probation and no jail time as part of a deal with prosecutors. ESPN story: <a href="https://t.co/WYvFuSbX3M">https://t.co/WYvFuSbX3M</a>
A no-contest plea does not mean Bridges admits to any of the allegations. But in accepting the charge and the punishment (a felony on his record, probation, 52 weeks of domestic violence counseling and parenting classes, 100 hours of community service and a list of other fines and restrictions), Bridges got two charges of child abuse dismissed.
Now that the legal matter is settled, the Charlotte Hornets need to decide on Bridges' future. The franchise acquired him on draft night in 2018 after he became the No. 12 pick. He developed into one of the team's best players through four seasons and is a restricted free agent.
One executive familiar with the Hornets' thinking believes the 24-year-old forward is still viewed as a core piece. Because Bridges is also subject to NBA punishment, Charlotte may want to sign him earlier than later, so he can begin a presumptive suspension and get back on the court sooner.
But what message does that send, given the vicious allegations to which Bridges pleaded no contest?
Felony Domestic Violence
Bridges' conviction was for the assault of his former girlfriend and co-parent. The charges asserted he committed the violence in front of the couple's two children "and included 'an allegation of the causing of great bodily injury on the domestic violence victim,'" per Holmes.
Per TMZ, Mychelle Johnson shared her medical forms on Instagram in a since-deleted post, which read that she suffered "assault by strangulation, brain concussion, closed fracture of [the] nasal bone, contusion of rib, multiple bruises [and] strain of neck muscle."
Additionally, Johnson shared her message on Instagram, saying:
"I hate that it has come to this, but I can't be silent anymore. I've allowed someone to destroy my home, abuse me in every way possible and traumatize our kids for life ... I don't need sympathy, I just don't want this happening to anyone else, I just want this person to get help. My kids deserve better."
This is a serious topic, and for anyone needing assistance with a similar matter, the National Domestic Violence Hotline may be a valuable resource.
The Hornets' Upcoming Decision
The Hornets are facing an important decision. Bridges was a terrific player last season, averaging 20.2 points per game as a powerful 6'7" combo forward.
With guard LaMelo Ball, Bridges and a relatively young squad, the Hornets advanced to the play-in tournament, falling short against the Atlanta Hawks. The Hornets were a fun must-see for League Pass aficionados.
The team is 3-5 this season, which is impressive with Ball sidelined (ankle) and Bridges in self-inflicted exile.
Because Bridges is a restricted free agent, the Hornets have preferential rights to re-sign him. No other team can give him a contract without signing him to an offer sheet. Charlotte holds the right of first refusal and would have 48 hours to match or let him leave to the offering franchise.
Initially, the Hornets gave Bridges a $7.9 million single-season qualifying offer to make him a restricted free agent, but that expired on October 1. A player can unilaterally accept that qualifying offer, but that option is no longer available to Bridges. He and the Hornets would need to agree on a deal from scratch.
Before Bridges' arrest, several sources around the league expected him to earn a starting salary well over $20 million, closer to the $25 million-$31 million-per-year range.
The allegations are horrific. Some teams may want nothing to do with Bridges given the felony on his record. But the history of the NBA suggests someone will look past this. Bridges' price may dip from what he expected before the assault, but he's probably going to get a lucrative contract.
"There is always a dissonance with being a female NBA fan. That feeling has become more acute now after all of the news in recent weeks regarding Sarver, Udoka and Primo," Sabreena Merchant of SB Nation told B/R. "Even a team with a female owner like the [Los Angeles] Lakers still displays a lack of empathy toward victims of domestic violence. They've employed Avery Bradley, Kendrick Nunn and DeMarcus Cousins, among others, in the last few seasons, to say nothing of the way the organization lionized Kobe Bryant."
Those Merchant named may not have a no-contest felony conviction like Bridges, but each faced serious allegations of domestic or sexual violence. Some reached private settlements that remain sealed to this day.
"I believe that perpetrators of domestic violence deserve a second chance, but there has to be some way for these players to express contrition for what they've done, especially when the legal system seems ill-equipped to do so," Merchant continued. "Too often, it feels like those misdeeds are wiped away the minute they sign a new contract. Bridges making his way back into the NBA doesn't feel materially different to me than Nunn or Kristaps Porzingis still having NBA careers, and it wouldn't surprise me at all."
The only other teams able to pay Bridges a substantial salary are the Indiana Pacers and Spurs—both considerably below the cap.
Multiple sources believe Bridges is unlikely to be censured by the league until he signs a contract. At that point, he will face suspension under the joint NBA/National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) policy on domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse.
To be levied by commissioner Adam Silver, the punishment could include fines, suspension and/or outright banishment from the league. For comparison, Jeff Taylor (who coincidentally at the time was playing for the Hornets) was suspended for 24 games in 2014 after pleading guilty to misdemeanor domestic violence. But that was before the current policy, and Bridges' conviction is for a felony.
There is another relevant precedent. Jason Kidd, currently the coach of the Dallas Mavericks, pleaded guilty to assaulting his then-wife in 2001 after he "acknowledged that he struck his wife ... resulting in a cut on the inside of her mouth and slight swelling to her lip," per ABC News.
Kidd continued to play through the 2012-13 season, immediately transitioning into coaching in 2013-14 with the Nets. He's been gainfully employed either as a head coach (Milwaukee Bucks and Mavericks) or as an assistant (two years with the Lakers) since retiring as a player.
Bridges' return should not be surprising and should feel inevitable. His conviction doesn't include incarceration, and it is his prerogative to find the highest-paying job in what is typically a short career relative to other career pursuits.
The Hornets invested in and developed Bridges and may feel they should be the team to benefit from his return to the NBA.
If there's any worry about the fans welcoming Bridges back to the court, Kidd's career arc suggests they overlook such actions (which should be as uncomfortable to read as it was to write).