The Bojan Bogdanovic trade made sense for the Pistons on so many levels that there isn’t a single correct answer as to why they made the deal.
If you say they took the deal because the value it represented was too good to ignore, you would be irrefutably right. If you were to reply that the Pistons have had an abundance of centers and a lack of wings – particularly those who take and make 3-pointers at the volume that Bogdanovic historically has – and September’s Utah trade rectified that imbalance, you would be indisputably right again.
But if you say, because Bogdanovic gives a young squad the means to be competitive and increase the number of nights significantly, they will find them playing meaningful final five minutes where results are at stake and winning habits through be forged by trial and error. through both failure and success, then you’ve come closest to identifying the essence of what motivates trading.
Put another way, the best way to accelerate the maturation of Cade Cunningham and Jaden Ivey, Saddiq Bey and Isaiah Stewart, Jalen Duren and Isaiah Livers, and the rest of the two-handful under-24 crowd is to: a few handfuls of games to play that boil down to the last few dozen critical possessions. A pro like Bojan Bogdanovic—eight full NBA seasons, eight playoff runs—fulfills that mission.
“A stroke of luck,” Dwane Casey calls him.
“He knows the game very well and shares his knowledge with others,” said Cunningham after scoring 26 goals in Wednesday’s 118-113 loss to Atlanta, adding to Bogdanovic’s 33. “He doesn’t keep it to himself. He makes sure we’re all on the same page. He talks to us a lot. It’s fun to play with a guy who has such a high IQ and cares so much about winning.”
There’s a reason a host of legitimate NBA contenders were said to be chasing Bogdanovic after Utah made clear its intent to rebuild through earlier deals by Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell. Over the past four seasons, in 285 games, Bogdanovic averaged 18.3 points and shot 40.3 percent from the 3-point arc on 6.2 attempts — a game with true shooting percentages that have spanned 60 percent each year.
“I think he’s even better now,” said Cory Joseph, Bogdanovic’s teammate from 2017-19 in Indiana and now back in Detroit. “He’s been working on his game and getting better every year. We know how good he is at shooting it, but he’s much better at getting it to the ground. He really shoots the lights out of the ball and gets to his spots and knocks them down. He does – he puts that thing in the bucket.”
The value of such a player to young guards like Cunningham, Ivey and Killian Hayes – not just young guards, but guards of all ages, shapes and sizes – is invaluable. When you have a player bringing to life the plays a coach draws on his whiteboard – finishing what guards are supposed to start – how can that not spur the development of a young playmaker? For those who would question the trade because Bogdanovic, 33, doesn’t “fit into the Pistons’ timeline,” Cunningham, Ivey and Hayes would be better off without the life jacket Bogdanovic proves during games in choppy waters stranded?
How will the young wings Weaver put into the Pistons pipeline — Bey, Livers, Hamidou Diallo, Kevin Knox — not benefit from having an example like Bogdanovic around?
Casey nailed it when he discussed how Bogdanovic’s goal-scoring keeps the Pistons in the game and how it raises everyone’s level of competition.
“They fired some hard shots. On the other end, you need to keep the scoreboard moving, and that’s what Bogey does. He gives our defense a chance to really get involved. If you don’t keep the scoreboard moving at the other end, it’s going to be difficult.”
If Bogdanovic hadn’t helped the Pistons keep up with Atlanta, what has become a hotly contested game with punchy possession — the best possible learning environment — might have turned into the kind of one-sided loss that can demoralize a roster like that young like Casey and Weaver. All those playoff runs that Bogdanovic experienced on top of all his credentials in the European professional league and in the Croatian national team strengthened his will. His young teammates can see that.
“It goes back to his desire to win,” Cunningham said of Bogdanovic, who caught a technical foul in the first quarter on Wednesday when he felt the whistle favor Atlanta. “He just wants to win games. He’s played a lot of high-level basketball and knows a lot about the game. He definitely has that advantage.”
“Whenever I go on the pitch, I want to win the game. This is also the case here,” said Bogdanovic. “I know we’re a young team that’s not in the same situation I’ve been in my entire career, but I still want to win the game.”
And that’s what trading was really about. win games. Win where they can now so eventually they’ll be able to win at the highest level and complete Weaver’s “recovery” process. Maybe Bojan Bogdanovic will be here for all of that. Perhaps it’s just his legacy that lingers on a fuzzy date in the future, when Cunningham and his delicate-footed teammates are all grown and weighing the Lawrence O’Brien trophy.
“There’s a lot to learn from him,” Joseph said. “He’s been a consistent player, a consistent scorer in the NBA for a while. He just knows how to do it – every night. He knows how to put the ball in the bucket. That is his talent and we will need him.”