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Bowlin’ for Bojan: Should the Lakers go all-in to get the Pistons’ sharpshooting vet?

With the NBA’s second-worst record, the Pistons could be one of the league’s most obvious sellers approaching the February 9 trade deadline.

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Los Angeles Lakers v Detroit Pistons Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images

Tumbling towards the February 9 trade deadline, almost no team is a more obvious candidate to sell off anything of value than the Pistons, as they ensure their best chance to land any one of the awesome prospects projected to go at the top of next year’s draft.

If the Pistons do decide to extract the maximum future value from their current roster, their most valuable plug-and-play veteran is easily Bojan Bogdanović, the 33-year-old Croatian having the most prolific scoring season of his nine-year NBA career. In 45 games, he’s averaging 21.2 points per game on 41.2 shooting from deep.

And if the Lakers actually don’t have a pro scouting department, Bogey surely made a positive impression on the franchise. In the only two games he’ll play against the Lakers this season, Bogdanovic played like he was auditioning for an exit, scoring 58 points (including 38 in the latter contest) on 6-14 shooting from deep to go along with 10 boards and seven assists.

Would Bogey’s sharpshooting and scoring be worth the mid-season investment for the Lakers? Or is his defense too big of a liability to merit sending out the kind of draft capital it would likely take to bring him in?

As of earlier this month, James L. Edwards III of The Athletic reported that the Pistons are asking for not just an unprotected first round pick, but also a “good young player” in any deal for Bogdanović. The price seems steep, but that’s “because they don’t want to trade him.” As we’ve seen with the Lakers’ stance on Russell Westbrook all season, a team’s stated intentions for a player may not be anything more than posturing intended to move the market in a particular direction.

Regarding the Pistons’ lofty demands, the Lakers would be unwise to meet either of them. They don’t have any “good young player[s],” outside of Max Christie, who plays the same position and is a better fit next to an aging and relatively brittle LeBron and AD given his age, athleticism, and projections as a shooter and wing defender. They should also hold onto their first rounders instead of cashing one in on Bojan, since doing so would preclude them from packaging this year’s pick (after a potential swap with New Orleans) on draft night with their two other available ones for an even bigger haul.

Perhaps even more importantly, given the Lakers’ limited salary cap space to both re-sign quality role players on expiring deals like Austin Reaves and Wenyen Gabriel and improve in the offseason, taking on Bogdanović’s almost $20 million in each of the following two seasons would pretty much cook the Lakers’ ability to take on any more money (though only next season’s money is fully guaranteed). And by the time his deal expires, he’ll be in his mid-thirties, making it hard to see him maintaining even this level of play for the remainder of his current contract.

Even if the Lakers can get Bogdanović on the low, perhaps a pair of second-round picks and matching salary, his limited lateral agility hampered his playoff utility — as Rudy Gobert struggled to plug all the holes caused by the group of turnstiles that the Jazz deployed around the perimeter, including Mike Conley (who had lost a step or two since his athletic prime in Memphis), Donovan Mitchell (who is only now playing the best defense of his career in Cleveland), and Jordan Clarkson (who has never been a consistent defender).

This year, despite his elite offensive efficiency as a sniper and, quietly, as a quick decision-making intermediary playmaker, he has been one of the worst defenders in basketball. According to BBall Index’s one-number impact metric, LEBRON, Bogey ranks in the NBA’s 90th percentile on offense, but just the second percentile on defense. The Lakers need shooting help as the third-worst 3-point shooting team in the NBA this season, and the fourth-worst since the start of January, but it is hard to know how much Bogdanović’s defensive limitations would undermine what he brings as a floor-spacer and a scorer in the Lakers’ specific context.

The only scenario where the Lakers would be wise to pull the trigger on his acquisition is if they’re absolutely certain he’s the piece that takes them over the top into championship favorite territory. Even after big wins over Memphis and Portland, the Lakers are in 12th place at 22-25 and would have to be kidding themselves to look in the mirror and say they are a Bojan Bogdanović away from a title.

Considering the price-tag, his defensive concerns, and the longterm salary attached to Bogdanović, he’s probably not a player that the Lakers should trade for this season.

Cooper is a lifelong Laker fan who has also covered the Yankees at SB Nation’s Pinstripe Alley — no, he’s not also a Cowboys fan. You can hear him on the Post Production Podcast and find him on Twitter at @cooperhalpern.

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