Alec Burks and Bojan Bogdanovic took their seats at a news conference nearly three hours before game time Saturday, spending not much less time than they’d had with Tom Thibodeau a day earlier as they rushed to acclimate themselves to a new team in the middle of a playoff race.
It was a far cry from where they were Thursday before the Knicks swung the trade for the pair — on the West Coast with the Detroit Pistons, now 8-44. But now they not only were in New York but jumping far up the standings.
And with the 33-19 Knicks shorthanded with a long list of injuries, both acknowledged that — ready or not — they were going to play against the Indiana Pacers on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden. (Each got in the game before the first quarter was over, and Bogdanovic hit a three-pointer for the first time as a Knick early in the second quarter.)
The Knicks got Jalen Brunson back after he sat out Thursday with a sprained right ankle, but they were without Isaiah Hartenstein (sore left Achilles) and Jericho Sims (illness) in addition to Julius Randle, OG Anunoby and Mitchell Robinson, all of whom are recovering from long-term injuries.
So while Burks and Bogdanovic weren’t in the starting lineup, they were ready to join the playoff push.
“I think I’m kind of used to it,” said Bogdanovic, who missed the postseason only twice in the first nine seasons of his 10-year career. “So it’s kind of I’m used to big expectations and playing for playoff teams and contenders. It’s early. We need time to adjust, but All-Star [break] is coming as well, so it’s going to be easier for us to learn set plays and learn what Coach wants us to do.”
Burks has no worries about finding his way, having spent two seasons with the Knicks and helped them to the first playoff appearance in Thibodeau’s initial season with the team. He was a Thibodeau favorite and couldn’t avoid wondering before the trade deadline if he was on his way back to join him again.
“It's hard not to hear it, but I didn't pay it no mind,” said Burks, who was traded by the Knicks to the Pistons on July 11, 2022. “Trade rumors happen all the time in this league. But I always knew I had a fan in Thibs and the organization, lot of people in the city, I know I got a lot of love here. You never know and then it happens.
“A lot of emotions, it's just crazy. 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. I had a lot of fun, what was it a year and a half ago? 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.”
After giving his two new players a basic primer, Thibodeau was confident that they would fit right in.
“I think that helps,” he said of the familiarity with Burks and the fact that both players have been through numerous stops. “The fact that Alec’s been here before, everyone is familiar with him, he’s familiar with us. Bojan has been around, understands the game, plays it at a high level. I think he can fit in in the same way that OG did. Each day will get better and better. He understands the things that he does well. He’s always played to his strengths. That works for everybody. He knows how to move without the ball. He knows how to take quality shots. He knows how to create quality shots. He knows how to be in the right places defensively. He can play out of the shell. He can challenge shots. He has good size. So I think both guys fit us very well.”
Burks was greeted with loud welcomes from the players who were here before he was traded away, and he was happy to see the success the team has had after the rebuild he helped start.
“Just the difference Jalen has made,” Burks said. “I mean, he’s an unbelievable player. I feel like bringing him helped the rebuild even better. With Thibs and Julius playing at his level, it’s great to see that I was a part of the start of it.”