Alec Burks never wanted to leave the Knicks, signing a three-year contract extension after emerging as a key contributor to the franchise’s return to the playoffs for the first time in eight years in 2021.
But Burks, who scored 22 points in the Knicks’ 125-111 loss to the Pacers on Saturday night at the Garden, had to be sacrificed as the Knicks attempted to clear salary-cap space to sign Jalen Brunson via free agency in the summer of 2022.
He was shipped, along with Nerlens Noel, to the Pistons in one deal, with Kemba Walker also going to Detroit in another, to free up nearly $30 million in annual salary-cap space to ink Brunson to a four-year deal worth $104 million.
While Brunson has developed into a first-time All-Star and a fringe MVP candidate this season, the 32-year-old Burks was reacquired ahead of Thursday’s trade deadline with forward Bojan Bogdanovic from the league-worst Pistons for Quentin Grimes, Evan Fournier, Malachi Flynn, Ryan Arcidiacono and two second-round picks to provide scoring depth for a banged-up Knicks squad that was without Julius Randle (shoulder), OG Anunoby (elbow), Mitchell Robinson (ankle) and, at least for Saturday’s game against the Pacers, Isaiah Hartenstein (Achilles).
“A lot of emotions, it’s just crazy,” Burks said before both new players suited up for Saturday’s game at the Garden. “It’s how the world goes, right? But I’m glad to be back. I get a lot of love out here. So I’m glad to be back with everybody.
“My two-year stint was a lot of fun here, we won a lot of games, connected with a lot of fans, the playoff series. Just a lot of different times I had as a Knick, at that point, just remembering all those times, I’m just glad to be back.”
Burks, a 13-year NBA veteran, was a versatile combo guard for Tom Thibodeau and the Knicks for two seasons from 2020-22, averaging 12.1 points with an excellent .408 shooting percentage from 3-point range in 130 games (49 starts).
His numbers in parts of two seasons with the Pistons were similar, with 12.7 points per game while connecting on 40.7 percent of his attempts from long distance over 94 appearances.
The 34-year-old Bogdanovic, who started his 10-year NBA career with the Nets as a second-team all-rookie selection in 2014-15, has been even better than Burks from 3-point range this season at 41.5 percent.
The Croatian forward, who scored 11 points in the Knicks’ loss to the Pacers, has averaged 21.2 points per game over the past two seasons with the Pistons.
Though Bogdanovic started off the bench on Saturday, he’s likely to start for the Knicks in the frontcourt in the near future for as long as Randle and Anunoby are sidelined.
“Just super excited to be part of one of the biggest franchises in the world, probably, and to be a part of the Knicks family,” Bogdanovic said. “It’s huge for me to be here, and really excited to be back in New York.”
Burks noted the improvement the Knicks have made since his departure, saying it’s mostly “just the difference Jalen has made.
I mean, he’s an unbelievable player. I feel like bringing him helped the rebuild even better. With Thibs and Julius playing at this level, it’s great to see that I was a part of the start of it.”
Burks also believes his history with the Knicks and Thibodeau will make his transitional return a seamless one.
“He didn’t really change much, I don’t think. I feel like he wants me to play both sides of the ball. So I think it won’t be as hard of a transition,” Burks said. “I don’t know [what it is], man. We connect. I don’t know. We just connect. He likes how I play on the court, off the court. I like how he coaches.
“We talked off the court a lot when I was here as a Knick. He’s just a good guy, man.”
Bogdanovic, who has participated in the playoffs in every year of his career aside from 2016 with Brooklyn and last season with the Pistons, also didn’t appear intimidated by his new coach.
“I’ve been around a lot of old-school coaches, but I’ve heard he’s one of them, so it won’t be a big adjustment for me,” Bogdanovic said. “I even prefer old-school coaching. That’s kind of the European style.
“I think the biggest part of my game is that I’m trying to be the best player in my role, no matter what coach got for me. I know they’ve got a great starting lineup and then we’ve got two stars. That’s the biggest part, bringing me and Alec here to help them be the best version of themselves when they’re on the court.”