But instead of blindly throwing money around or pulling the trigger on a painfully short-sighted deal—much like the one that brought Pierce and Kevin Garnett to Brooklyn—the Nets were rewarded for their patience.
Three years ago, Brooklyn made a draft-night deal that should pay off immensely in 2014-15. The Nets sent a 2013 second-rounder and cash to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Bojan Bogdanovic, who had been acquired by the T’Wolves from the Miami Heat in exchange for Norris Cole.
The 25-year-old Croatian forward has spent the past three years playing overseas but signed a three-year, $10 million deal with the Nets on July 22—five days after Pierce became a Wizard.
Playing for his native Croatia, Bogdanovic lit up the FIBA World Cup this summer and was honored with a spot on Sports Illustrated's unofficial All-Tournament Second Team.
Here’s what SI’s Ben Golliver had to say about Brooklyn’s new forward:
Bogdanovic, 25, finished as the tournament's third-leading scorer, turning in another strong series of performances after earning All-Tournament Team honors at 2013 EuroBasket. Although Croatia was eliminated by France in the Round of 16, the 6-foot-8 wing went out in a blaze of glory, finishing with 27 points (on 11-of-19 shooting) and six rebounds. After spending the last three years playing in Turkey, Bogdanovic will join the Nets after signing a three-year deal this summer.
It’s premature to start anointing Bogdanovic as "Je Istina"—that’s Croatian for “The Truth.”
But it is time to get excited in Brooklyn, because this guy appears to be the real deal.
Likening Bogdanovic to Pierce
Three years ago, a YouTube video showing striking similarities between Bogdanovic and Pierce surfaced.
The more you watch, the more powerful the resemblance becomes. It’s uncanny. The way Bogdanovic shoots, dribbles, pump-fakes, spins and moves is like a mirror of Pierce.
Here’s Daniel LoGiudice of Nets Daily with more:
It’s no secret that Pierce was never the greatest athlete on the court. Without that elite athleticism, Pierce relied upon his post game, step-back jumpers, pump fakes and jabs to get buckets, not to mention those groan-enhanced trips to the line.
As the video --and his recent play in the FIBA World Cup-- shows, Bogdanovic, like Pierce, uses pump fakes to get to the basket as opposed to relying on sheer athleticism. And like Pierce, he gets to the line, as exhibited by his 17 free throws vs. Puerto Rico Thursday. In the FIBA World Cup so far, Bogdanovic has gone to the line on average eight times a game. Pierce, in his career, has gone to the line seven times per.
Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN New York reported that Brooklyn declined to match or exceed the two-year, $11 million deal that Washington gave the 36-year-old. Instead, the team used the money that was made available by Shaun Livingston’s departure to sign Bogdanovic.
Bogdanovic, 11 years younger than Pierce, is a small forward who will fit much more smoothly into Lionel Hollins' traditional offense. Pierce played the 4 for the majority of last season after proving unable to defend opposing wingmen.
Bogdanovic is not an elite defender, either. But he can put points on the board in a hurry and, perhaps more importantly, in a variety of ways.
His 21.2 points per game tied for the second-highest average in the World Cup, which was highlighted by four 20-plus scoring outings in six games. Pierce, who averaged 13.5 points, had 20 or more points in 11 of the 75 games he played last year.
“They drafted me three years ago, and every summer I thought they would bring me over,” Bogdanovic said of his new team on July 28, per Andrew Keh of The New York Times. “This time, it finally came, and I’m very happy and proud about it.”
Bogdanovic shot 36.1 percent from three-point land this summer and managed to make 29.8 percent of his long-range shots for Fenerbahce last year. However, the forward converted 41.1 and 40.5 percent of his threes in 2011-12 and 2012-13, respectively.
The 6’8”, 216-pound wingman uses his body the same way that Pierce does, which allows him to also break his man down off the dribble and go down in the post.
“I think he’s got great size, he’s also got great speed and quickness," Hollins told Mike Mazzeo of ESPN New York. "He can shoot the ball, but also put the ball on the floor. He can post up. I’m looking for players. Players that have multiple skills and are not just one-dimensional.”
There’s a ton of upside surrounding Bogdanovic. Once he gets fully accustomed to Brooklyn and solidifies his role on the team, the "rookie" forward will use his extensive offensive arsenal to give the Nets more than the declining Truth would've.
Brooklyn got it right by investing in the future with Bogdanovic rather than overspending on Pierce.
Keeping it real
Mirza Teletovic, who hails from the same city as Bogdanovic, struggled to earn playing time when he joined the Nets two years ago. Like Bogdanovic, Teletovic was a star overseas and created some buzz once he decided to come to the U.S.
It was a difficult transition for Teletovic, who had gone from dropping a Euroleague-best 21.7 points in 2011 and winning the 2009 Spanish Cup Finals MVP to essentially becoming a benchwarmer.
Teletovic averaged 9.4 minutes per game during his rookie campaign with Brooklyn and checked in for just over a minute in the playoffs that year.
Croatian legend Drazen Petrovic rose to great heights with the Nets from 1991-1993 before his life was tragically cut short in a car accident. Teletovic views Petrovic as a hero, and didn’t let the lack of opportunities get him down during a tough rookie year.
Here’s Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News in April 2013:
Teletovic referenced the story of his idol, Drazen Petrovic, who didn’t get a real opportunity to play until midway through his second season in the NBA, having been reduced to “garbage time” until he was traded from the Trailblazers to the Nets.
“The first year I know a lot of European players who came over, even many years before, even the first guys that came over from Yugoslavia -- we have a legend who has his jersey retired and he didn’t play at all,” Teletovic said.
Last season, the Bosnian sniper saw his role grow exponentially. He averaged 8.6 points in nearly 20 minutes a night while also helping to lead the Nets in three-point shooting.
Grantland’s Zach Lowe pointed out that while Bogdanovic will be making good money this season, minutes won’t necessarily be handed to him. Teletovic, who will have an even greater role in Brooklyn in 2014-15, is a prime example of the transition from Euro ball to the NBA.
Playing time is one thing—the Nets are saltine-thin at small forward, so Bogdanovic will have a good shot at seeing a healthy dose of minutes.
Touches are a completely different animal.
The Nets have a few guys that need the ball, demand the ball and will have to get the ball most of the time. Between Joe Johnson, Deron Williams and Brook Lopez, Bogdanovic’s looks may come few and far between through the first month or so.
As the season unfolds, though, his role is likely to grow. Bogdanovic's catch-and-shoot ability will keep him on the floor, and the more he's out there, the more his playmaking skills will be on display.
Provided he holds down his end of the bargain on the defensive end, Bogdanovic will get his touches.
His patience will be key, but like Teletovic, Bogdanovic's affinity for Petrovic will help him through the transition.
"Just the fact that his jersey still hangs in the training center of the Nets, there is a trace of him left," Bogdanovic said, per Nets Daily. "I do not think I'm close to him [in talent] or that I can play like him, but that's my motivation as I come into his club, that you can wear a jersey that he wore...I think it is a dream come true."
Bogdanovic could optimistically finish 2014-15 averaging close to 13 points per game while shooting 40-plus percent from the field and around 35 percent from downtown.
It's reasonable to predict a well-paced jog right out of the gate, but expect Bogdanovic to hit full stride and really start lighting it up by December.
“Of course, it's not going to be easy," he said, per the Times' Keh. "I have to do some adjustments, especially because it’s a lot of games, much more than Europe. But I am ready, and I think that I can help immediately."
While he won’t be the megastar that he was in Europe, Bogdanovic will undoubtedly emerge as one of the premier role players on a team looking to shake up the Eastern Conference.