Bojan Bogdanovic looks like Bojan Bogdanovic. His hair may be a touch thinner, Pistons blue now drapes his 6-foot-8 frame, but the eight-year veteran is doing what he always does. A flamethrower from deep, liable to launch from 30 feet. Even without an ankle-breaking handle, the savvy scorer can always create in a pinch, bumping and grinding his way to the rim or shifting into one-legged midrange fallaways.
Few around the league, though, expected to find the Croatian in this environment, as one of the rare veterans amid Detroit’s young roster construction. After the Utah Jazz dispatched Royce O’Neale, Rudy Gobert and then Donovan Mitchell across the map, rival front offices expected Bogdanovic’s inevitable departure to deliver another of Utah’s proven postseason performers to a team with contending aspirations. The Lakers certainly called, sources told Yahoo Sports. Phoenix engaged the Jazz as well.
Detroit is none of the above. Pistons head coach Dwane Casey is not shy about labeling his team a rebuild in progress. Some executives viewed the Bogdanovic acquisition as a signal that Detroit was fast-forwarding its timeline, at least with an eye toward the play-in tournament. There is an obvious air, a true want, among the Pistons about taking a step forward in competitiveness this regular season, but Bogdanovic’s arrival isn’t exactly, say, the type of addition the Celtics hope Malcolm Brogdon can be in Boston.
So when he awoke one morning in September to missed calls from agents and word of his trade to Detroit, it surely raised an eyebrow. At 33, any player fresh off three seasons of title hopes would prefer to keep chasing that elusive first ring. He is not a fish out of water, although this change of scenery has been an adjustment. He is the only Piston born in the 1980s — and 14 years before rookie center Jalen Duren entered the world.
“I used to be like the youngest guy on the team for a while. And now I find myself to be the oldest one,” Bogdanovic told Yahoo Sports. “So yeah, it’s been a new situation for me, but I’m trying to stay positive and [be] a good mentor to them as much as I can.”
There is joy across his face, despite the tired eyes of a new father with a 2-month-old finally settling into Detroit. He flashed a grin when asked if this task of elder statesmen was something he enjoyed. “Even if we got a rough start with a couple losses, it’s a young group of guys. It’s fun to play and see how they grow each game.”
From here, he’ll keep shooting and shooting until his career reaches its next fork in the road. Bogdanovic appears headed in either one of two divergent courses. With a two-year, $39 million contract extension inked in October, from a front office that features his former agent, Arn Tellem, in a prominent capacity, Bogdanovic could be a grizzled guide for these upstart Pistons, providing a similar boost to what C.J. McCollum brought to New Orleans a year ago. Someone necessary to pull a group one rung up the ladder, so it can eventually climb it tall with the lessons he helped instill.
Bogdanovic is drilling over 45 percent of his triples through 12 games and providing spacing for Cade Cunningham’s high-screen action and bruising drives. It’s almost magnificent how mechanical his motion remains, the obvious result of repetition after repetition, so routine and precise and exact. Bogdanovic only needs an inch of daylight to one-two step into his lightning quick release, that rainbow moon ball rarely touching anything other than net.
On occasion, you may see him flick an arm as he stands wantingly behind the arc, conditioned from Utah’s pinging ball movement to always find that corner pocket. But then on the bench, you can spot Bogdanovic and Cunningham often seated next to each other, each man with a white towel draped over his shoulders, motioning out toward the court, discussing the game of chess at hand. Pistons coaches keep noticing Bogdanovic schooling Cunningham and Saddiq Bey as the Pistons walk out of timeout huddles.
“One thing he brings to the table is just his experience in the moment. He understands certain situations, what needs to be said, what needs to be done,” Casey told Yahoo Sports. “He does a great job of sharing his information with younger players. He’s perfect for that role. He’s humble. He doesn’t walk around with an air of, ‘I’ve done this, I’ve done that.’ ”
And if Bogdanovic keeps blistering from distance, the perfect archetype for Detroit’s veteran presence may ultimately draw greater value from another front office. For teams that backed off Bogdanovic’s trade market this summer in fear of a potential dropoff, whether shooting production or defensive fitness, he could become a top target come February’s deadline. And for teams that were wary of signing Bogdanovic into his mid-30s, his new agreement with Detroit does provide some flexibility for him to be moved once more.
That two-year extension is set to pay Bogdanovic $20 million for the 2023-24 season, before its second year is only guaranteed at $2 million. The deal doesn’t quite make him more tradeable, but it presents a future exit ramp for any suitor that determines its roster is lacking a veteran marksman for this year’s playoff push and beyond. The Pistons opened two more transaction cycles for the league wide market, plus Detroit themselves, to consider Bogdanovic both this upcoming summer and then the 2024 trade deadline as well.
“What it really does is it gives them contract control so it’s easier to trade him in July,” one assistant general manager told Yahoo Sports, “when a team that needs him is far more likely to have cap space and wiggle room.”
The Suns weren’t able to package the right players to strike a deal with Utah, but Phoenix could still construct an offer around Jae Crowder’s salary if the Suns were to revisit obtaining Bogdanovic. Even with Cam Johnson sidelined through the new year by a meniscus surgery, it appears Phoenix and Crowder share no designs on a reunion any time soon.
The Bucks’ interest in Crowder is well known, and Milwaukee has called numerous teams about Grayson Allen’s trade prospects, sources said. Salary-wise, the two wings do fit a direct one-for-one swap, sending Crowder to the new home he desires, and yielding Phoenix the rotation piece its seeking in return for Crowder. But a continued stalemate in Crowder’s market could feasibly push the Suns to alter their approach in holding pat for that key impact player, before this championship window with Chris Paul closes, and attach draft capital to Crowder’s salary if the right addition like Bogdanovic is on the table. This Suns regime hasn't taken that step quite yet, or maybe they’d have already landed longtime flirtation Eric Gordon from Houston, with the Rockets’ known asking price a first-round pick for their veteran.
Were the Lakers to circle back on Bogdanovic, his deal alongside Alec Burks’ — whom New York discussed with Los Angeles at last year’s deadline, per sources — plus Nerlens Noel’s $9 million salary, would meet Russell Westbrook’s large number. And perhaps that level of return could be a middle ground for the dissenting viewpoints in Lakerland, allowing Los Angeles to add much-need reinforcements for LeBron James, but still saving future draft ammo for next season’s war chest. That haul would not exactly be Myles Turner and Buddy Hield, but perhaps Detroit general manager Troy Weaver would welcome his former Thunder colleague’s expiring salary at the cost of only one of Los Angeles’ first-round picks eligible for trade.
The Pistons have been active in this rebuild, frequently appearing on the league’s transaction wire. Detroit loomed as a true destination for Deandre Ayton, sources said, before its aggressive draft night deal brought Jalen Duren to the Motor City in addition to top-five pick Jaden Ivey. This front office is clearly working toward a bigger picture in the not too distant future.
In the meantime, you can find Bogdanovic, doing what he always does: firing at will and following the ball wherever it bounces around the NBA.