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In a special Monday treat, Jeremy Cohen rings in the New Year by explaining why the Knicks should bypass a popular trade target.
Good morning, and a belated Happy New Year to all who celebrated. Today we’re switching things up, and I’m handing off the Monday newsletter to my podcasting colleague, Jeremy Cohen, who has a bone to pick regarding a particular trade target.
by Jeremy Cohen
This past weekend, Jews around the world celebrated the Jewish New Year called Rosh Hashanah. To celebrate this occasion, something Jews typically do is eat fruits such as apples (dipped in honey) or pomegranates, which is done to evoke a sweet new year.
Yes, it’s now the year 5784, and you know the old slogan: “New year, new me.” So you can imagine my frustration when I saw another “Bojan Bogdanovic to the Knicks” trade (from a Bleacher Report article) floating on my Twitter timeline on one of the holiest days of the Jewish year.
There was nothing sweet about this hypothetical. New year, same tiresome agenda that gets more offseason play than an episode of Ridiculousness on MTV.
I have nothing against Bogdanovic. In fact, whatever team employs him - the Pistons or another organization - stands to benefit from his services. Bogdanovic is an incredibly efficient shooter, posting above 38% from three on a high volume every single season since 2017-18. He can spot up, finish at a high level, function well off the ball, and operate as a strong playmaker. And yet, the fit with the Knicks doesn’t make sense for a number of reasons, and still the conversation continues to be rehashed.
It’s a running joke with some of my friends about how triggered I am by Bogdanovic as a Knicks trade target, so much so that one of them (thanks, Jordan) created this meme:
So after seeing another mock trade, I told Jon to enjoy his weekend. I’ll take the newsletter from here.
Similar to the recent Bleacher Report proposal, I’ve frequently seen iterations of a Bogdanovic trade that involve the Knicks trading Detroit back its own first-round pick. In fact, the same trade (plus New York sending a 2024 second-round pick) appeared in another Bleacher Report article by a different author a few months ago. I’ve even seen some RJ Barrett for Bogdanovic scuttlebutt from writers with an influential platform on Al Gore’s Internet. Normally, I wouldn’t care, but it feels like I have to deal with this puzzling hypothetical constantly.
The Knicks are set to receive the Pistons’ first-round pick if it is 19-30 in 2024, 14-30 in 2025, 12-30 in 2026, or 10-30 in 2027. If it does not convey by 2027, the Knicks get Detroit’s 2027 second-round pick. This isn’t a Wizards situation where the likelihood of the pick conveying is suddenly near zero. The implied assumption here is that if you don’t think the pick will convey, you’re saying you don’t believe the Pistons will make the playoffs for an additional four years.
The Pistons are on the rise and are stocked with young talent. Detroit has not made the playoffs for the past four seasons. The Pistons have not won a playoff game since May 26, 2008. You read that correctly: Motor City has not experienced a playoff win since the George W. Bush administration. So I would be surprised if the front office - led by Troy Weaver who (understandably) has zero playoff appearances in three seasons at the helm - preferred keeping the draft pick over achieving more tangible results.
All of this is to say that Knicks fans should not treat this asset like a throwaway, especially if the return for dealing the pick is someone like Bogdanovic, given where New York stands right now. I’m not even suggesting that the Pistons pick will be included in a star trade and that’s why the Knicks must hold on to it. It’s more like paying a premium for the “manager’s special” sirloin at the grocery store. You can still cook a mighty tasty steak with that cut of beef but there’s a reason it’s discounted and its remaining shelf life is limited.
The Knicks have done an excellent job of surrounding Jalen Brunson and Julius Randle with good to great defenders. Immanuel Quickley, Mitchell Robinson, Josh Hart, Quentin Grimes, and Isaiah Hartenstein all finished above the 75th percentile for defensive EPM last season. The Knicks moved Obi Toppin (45th percentile) out and Donte DiVincenzo (84th percentile) in this past offseason.
So swapping someone who is projected to be out of the lineup in Fournier for the 34-year old Bogdanovic to be in the lineup, when his defense looks like this? Well…
If you want to argue that Bogdanovic’s defense would naturally suffer on a bad Pistons team, consider how great Utah’s defense was and how Bogdanovic finished over the 50th percentile just once during that three-year tenure. That one-time occurrence was the same year as the Jazz finishing with the best defensive rating in the league.
Want further context than defensive EPM? Synergy shows that while Bogdanovic is fine guarding spot ups, he has historically struggled containing PnR ball-handlers and defending in isolation. Basketball Index highlights how rough his abilities are in isolation along the perimeter (F rating). Nobody is perfect but the flaws are glaring for someone who isn’t a strong defender and isn’t getting any younger.
Where the Knicks needed to make an adjustment this past offseason was the defensive end. This was a team that finished 19th in defensive points per possession on the year, 15th after shrinking the rotation to nine on December 4th, and 15th after acquiring Hart. Swapping Toppin out and DiVincenzo in helps in this department. There still needs to be work done on the defensive end. Adding Bogdanovic does not accomplish this task.
Where are Bogdanovic’s minutes coming from, by the way? He’s not starting over Randle. He has seen more time at the 4 than at the 3 for three consecutive seasons, something that is unlikely to change as he ages and slows down on the perimeter. He wouldn’t be starting over RJ Barrett, so this relegates Bogdanovic to the backup 4 spot. Seeing as how he can’t protect the rim and the Knicks just acquired a player who can space the floor and defend the perimeter in DiVincenzo, Bogdanovic serves one major purpose for the Knicks: Randle insurance.
When the Knicks acquired Josh Hart, he averaged 30 minutes a game for them. In the case of Bogdanovic, the Knicks are trading an attainable pick for an older player to earn 18-20 minutes when everyone is healthy, all for the explicit purpose of being Randle injury insurance? Obviously, injuries can happen to Randle (see: Knicks vs. Heat, March 29, 2023) but you should not be giving up a first-round pick that is still likely to convey for a backup in his mid-30s.
The oldest player this current Knicks front office signed was Taj Gibson, who was brought in with the purpose of being a third center but saw rotation minutes due to Mitchell Robinson being hurt in 2020-21 and an injured Nerlens Noel in 2021-22. The oldest rotation player the Knicks acquired via trade was a 32-year old Derrick Rose. New York gave him a three-year contract in the off-season. Rose was in the rotation for season one, yanked early on through the second, and released before his third season became guaranteed.
There has been a clear shift towards New York employing players entering/directly in their prime, not those whose best days are behind them. Bojan Bogdanovic is more than capable of having solid seasons ahead of him, but for how long? And at what cost? Bogdanovic is signed for $20 million this upcoming season and a shade over $19 million for the 2024-25 season. Of that ~$19 million salary, only $2 million would be guaranteed. The 2023-24 salary wouldn’t be a problem but the 2024-25 salary poses a threat to the operation.
“If it gets the Knicks out of Fournier’s contract then they should do it.”
Yes, the Knicks have a penchant for turning players out of the rotation into rotation pieces, but it shouldn’t be because of an urgency to move Fournier. The Knicks do not need to accommodate Fournier. It would be great if the Knicks could find a viable solution for all parties but New York can - at worst - walk away from the contract without the team being hurt. What’s more, the checks still clear for Fournier regardless.
“Bogdanovic’s expiring contract could come in handy next summer as salary filler in a star trade.”
In theory, yes. However, a team trading its star may easily prefer young talent under contract than pending cap relief. Bogdanovic was traded to the Pistons in exchange for Kelly Olynyk, Saben Lee, and cash. Almost one year later, Bogdanovic’s value is worth a first-round pick and Evan Fournier? That doesn’t add up to me.
“The Knicks could non-guarantee Bogdanovic if he’s that bad.”
Ask yourself, is that really worth giving up a first-round pick in this hypothetical? The Knicks traded a protected first-round pick for Josh Hart because he’s in the prime of his career and they knew a new contract was viable. The same does not apply for Bogdanovic, who will be 35 next summer.
What’s more, if the Knicks acquire a star next summer, they are likely in the tax for the 2024-25 season. Do they want $2 million in dead money on the books - which would raise their tax bill - and the reason they’re in that position is because they gave up a first-round pick for a year of a 34-year old Bogdanovic? I’m skeptical that would resonate with them.
Bogdanovic makes sense in Detroit, serving as a floor spacer and offensive creator for a team that finished with the second-worst offense and the four-worst effective field goal percentage last season. He would be best-suited on a team that has a stronger defensive infrastructure and more of an urgency to win, such as the Lakers (here’s looking at you as returning salary, D’Angelo Russell).
The Knicks, meanwhile, should be more focused on continuing to upgrade their defense at the wing while keeping their eyes peeled towards the star market. Acquiring a player like Bogdanovic would be soooo 5779. So raise your glass of grape Manischewitz for a toast. Here’s to fans and writers keying in on Knicks targets whose games will age well through the rest of the 5780s, and to the Knicks front office adding some sweetness to The Big Apple before 5785.
Jeremy Cohen has been Jon’s better half on the KFS Pod for years now. He’ll be working in an NBA front office soon, but in the meantime, you can follow him on Twitter here.