February 26, 2024

How Knicks bolstered their roster by adding Bojan Bogdanović and Alec Burks

Josh Hart has issued a warning. Only one of the New York Knicks’ newest players needs it.

Hours before Thursday’s NBA trade deadline, the Knicks agreed to a deal that will bring Bojan Bogdanović and Alec Burks of the Detroit Pistons to town. In exchange, New York will send Quentin Grimes, Evan Fournier, Malachi Flynn, Ryan Arcidiacono and two second-round picks to Detroit.

Half of the move was no surprise. During the weeks leading up to the deadline, the Knicks sought after Burks, who played for them from 2020 to 2022, league sources told The Athletic. Momentum toward an agreement began to rev up even more late Wednesday night and into Thursday morning.

Burks knows the Knicks. The Knicks, in turn, know him. Head coach Tom Thibodeau is a longtime advocate of his. But Bogdanović — a scorer and sharpshooter the group will lean on, especially during the extended absence of OG Anunoby — is new to all of this.

He’s new to New York, new to Thibodeau, the squad’s endlessly passionate coach. And because of that, Hart is turning on the siren, hoping to alert the first-time Knicks player about a hard-nosed culture that tosses glamour by the wayside.

“(Burks) knows what to expect,” Hart said. “Bojan — hoooo, that boy in for it.”

Of course, Bogdanović will have time to get situated. And until then, there is plenty to discuss.

Here are six thoughts on Burks’ and Bogdanović’s fits in New York, the Knicks’ process during trade season, the end of the Grimes era and what’s next for a group with aspirations of making noise this spring:

The chase

The Knicks targeted Burks long before the deadline, locking in on him as someone who could add shooting, create offense with the bench unit and fit the tough-minded culture that’s already present. But it was not always a guarantee they would end up with him for a second time.

According to rival executives who were in contact with the Pistons leading up to the trade deadline, Detroit expressed it had no problem holding onto Bogdanović or Burks, despite its league-worst record. Burks is a free agent after this season; the Pistons hinted they didn’t mind re-signing him this summer. Meanwhile, Bogdanović is under contract through 2024-25; they could have revisited his trade market in the offseason.

But at some point, sentiments in Detroit changed.

Over these same winter days, the Knicks looked over the border, where they had already done business this season. Only a month after acquiring Anunoby, Precious Achiuwa and Flynn from the Toronto Raptors, New York was looking into another possible deal: one for Bruce Brown.

However, the process wasn’t as smooth this time as it was in the Anunoby deal. The Knicks and Raptors got hung up on draft compensation, according to league sources. Eventually, after realizing that a Brown trade was growing less likely, New York diverted its attention to Detroit.

The timing is no coincidence, either. Only two hours after the trade deadline, the Knicks announced that Anunoby had undergone surgery to remove a loose bone fragment in his right elbow. Doctors will re-evaluate him in three weeks. Life with the Knicks, at least for the next month or so, had changed. Adding Bogdanović, a forward who could contribute in the first or second unit, became necessary.

The 34-year-old won’t just provide bench scoring once Anunoby returns. He also can give the Knicks quality extended minutes until the roster is at full strength.

It took the Pistons adjusting the asking price for both guys to come to the Knicks, as well, considering their previous messaging was that it would take a first-round pick to acquire Bogdanović, the previously mentioned executives said.

In the end, the Pistons didn’t receive a first-rounder, but they also view the 23-year-old Grimes, who the Knicks selected with the No. 25 selection in the 2021 draft, as the personification of one. Detroit’s offense, which was devoid of 3-point volume or accuracy a couple of weeks ago, has added jump shooters in its past few trades. Grimes is now one of them — and likely part of the organization’s future.

Basketball fits

The Knicks accomplished each of their goals, both on and off the court, with the Bogdanović-Burks trade.

They wanted someone who could stabilize the offense behind Brunson and could also play next to him. Now, they have two players who fit that description. Burks, though he’s not a point guard, can play that role while also providing steady defense. Bogdanović is a big-time scorer and shooter. He’s averaged 17-plus points for six consecutive seasons and is putting up 20.2 in 2023-24 on 52 percent 2-point shooting and 42 percent 3-point shooting — outrageous efficiency, considering the paltry offense that surrounded him in Detroit.

Burks is averaging 12.6 points and 2.6 rebounds on 38 percent 2-point shooting and 40 percent 3-point shooting.

Either can run a pick-and-roll or create a shot in a pinch. The Knicks, who took many 3s but didn’t make enough last season, are now loaded with dynamic shooters. Five players in Saturday’s rotation, which will presumably include the two newbies in a Feb. 10 match against the Indiana Pacers, are draining at least 40 percent of their long balls this season.

Bogdanović slots into two versions of the Knicks.

The first is the current one. New York had only eight healthy players during Thursday’s 122-108 loss to the Dallas Mavericks — and that includes a couple of players on two-way contracts, Charlie Brown Jr. and Jacob Toppin, who never otherwise play. The roster attrition has not stopped at Anunoby.

Isaiah Hartenstein, who has been dealing with an Achilles injury since last month, missed the second half of the Mavs game because of what the team called “left Achilles soreness.” Julius Randle and Mitchell Robinson are out for the foreseeable future after suffering shoulder and ankle injuries, respectively. Jalen Brunson missed the Dallas game with a sprained ankle, though a league source says there isn’t long-term concern about the injury.

The Knicks need bodies. Bogdanović and Burks provide two more who will fill in capably. Heck, Bogdanović could work his way into the starting lineup before Randle and Anunoby return.

The current version of the Knicks has half the roster injured. But the second healthier version, the ones with Randle, Anunoby and maybe Robinson. On that team, which will be one of the league’s deepest, Bogdanović and Burks both come off the bench.

Bogdanović may go from playing 30-plus minutes nightly to only 18 or 20. He’s not as quick of a defender as he once was, but he also won’t be nearly as easy to hunt when he’s guarding backup power forwards. In the games where Bogdanović struggles, the Knicks can go to Anunoby, Hart or Randle at forward.

When they have all their guys, there won’t be time for Miles McBride, Precious Achiuwa or Jericho Sims, three guys who have impressed as regulars over the past few weeks.

The Knicks are deep; it may be their greatest strength.

Quick jumpers

Forget about Bogdanović’s impressive 3-point percentage. What the Knicks could benefit from just as much as the accuracy is the form.

Bogdanović has one of the basketball’s quickest releases, which can cause nightmares for a defense.

“It’s tough to guard,” said Hart, who has experience defending Bogdanović. “It’s great offensively because obviously he’s able to space the floor and you can’t help in as much, because even if you help in, he’s 6 foot 9 with a quick release. You’re not gonna get back there.”

It’s not just the speed of Bogdanović’s jumper or even his height. He plays with a defense’s timing while he’s beyond the arc, too. Every so often, his man will close out on him in the fashion Hart describes, overzealously flying at him to deter the 3. In those moments, he’s a master at pump faking and watching the opponent drift by him as he rises for 3.

Bogdanović is so composed in those moments, it’s as if he’s living them in slow motion.

He is a 40 percent 3-point shooter for his career and has not shot worse than 39 percent for a season since he became a full-time starter in 2017. This season has been arguably his best from deep. He’s sinking a career-best 3.1 makes a game.

The Knicks could play lineups with Bogdanović, Donte DiVincenzo, Brunson and Anunoby. That’s three guys who can bomb away from anywhere and one who is as dangerous as they come from the corners.

Life won’t be easy on defenders lining the perimeter when Brunson is dekeing to the paint with all those threats spreading the floor.

Another trade?

Fournier may be expensive for someone who hasn’t been a rotation player in more than a year, but the Knicks were never trading him only for someone on an expiring contract. Instead, the front office searched for a superior player whose 2024-25 salary was in the same range as Fournier’s, league sources said.

They now have one in Bogdanović, whose $19 million salary for next season is partially guaranteed. You can bet, though, that the Knicks will keep him around — and that’s not just because they deem him worth the money.

Remember the grand plan. Behind every move the Knicks make is a common objective: They want to put themselves in the best position to trade for a star. They are targeting 2024-25, whether that’s over the summer or during the season, to make that happen. And to pull it off, they’ll need the salaries.

That’s where Bogdanović comes in.

His $19 million salary gets the Knicks approximately halfway to matching the money for a max contract. Contracts in that range are especially important starting in July when new restrictions in the collective bargaining agreement make executing trades more challenging.

If a trade for this unnamed star doesn’t become available over the summer, the Knicks can still consider themselves in good shape, employing a good player in Bogdanović for a reasonable salary.

The financial aspect of this is so important that had the Knicks not found a similarly-sized contract to swap Fournier for, they would have considered holding onto him and picking up his 2024-25 team option, worth $19 million, just to have that money for a trade, league sources said.

Grimes angle

The Knicks began actively fielding trade calls for Grimes over the past month, league sources said, but it was never guaranteed they would trade him.

The Atlanta Hawks in particular let it be known they were fans of Grimes, according to league sources. The Hawks had tried to land Grimes as part of the Cam Reddish trade a couple of years back and had hit the Knicks up about him since, but chatter with Atlanta — as well as with most other Grimes suitors — fizzled out over the past week.

Considering New York had no interest in trading Grimes just for the sake of it, instead hoping to use him as a way to upgrade the roster, holding onto him through the deadline was a possibility. Of course, the Knicks realized they had their upgrade in Burks and Bogdanović.

Including Grimes in the deal meant not having to part with a first-rounder. Now, the Knicks can include a stockpile of draft picks in an offer for a star this summer.

They will have all of their first-round selections moving forward, as well as three protected ones from other teams. On top of that, they project to own two first-rounders (their own and the Mavericks’) in the 2024 draft.

Once you add up everything, the package becomes overwhelming: Up to four unprotected first-round picks, up to three unprotected first-round swaps, up to three protected first-rounders from non-Knicks teams and two more spring chickens from the 2024 draft — along with whichever players from today’s roster who would be going out in the trade.

The money

The Burks-Bogdanović trade brings the Knicks’ payroll a little more than $2 million short of the luxury tax. They will stay below that threshold, though they need to add at least one more player.

With Taj Gibson’s 10-day deal about to expire, the Knicks will have only 13 guaranteed players under contract, one short of the league minimum. Still, it would take a remarkable sales job to sign one of the higher-tier buyout guys.

New York’s rotation is already crowded. It wouldn’t be easy to convince a free agent like Spencer Dinwiddie or a prospective one like Kyle Lowry to sign just to end up as a 12th man. Besides, would the Knicks even want to sign an overqualified veteran just to not play him when they’ve placed such an emphasis on their cohesive locker room?

Instead, they could go in another direction. They could reward someone from their G League team or one of their two-way guys with a guaranteed contract. They could hold onto Gibson, though the presences of four other centers — Hartenstein, Robinson, Achiuwa and Sims — could make that difficult. They could experiment with other 10-day deals, swapping players in and out until one sticks. They could bring in a longtime veteran who they don’t expect to play but could stand in as the next Arcidiacono.

(Top photo of Bojan Bogdanović: David Berding / Getty Images)