Goran Dragic made it clear from the start that when the Miami Heat traded for him 19 months ago he was only around to support Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, not step on their toes.
Dragic, 30, obviously doesn’t have to worry about playing backup singer to anyone on the Heat anymore. With Wade, a 12-time All-Star, gone to Chicago in free agency, and Bosh, an 11-time All-Star, out for the foreseeable future after failing a physical this week in his continuing battle with blood clots, the Heat is as much Dragic’s team now as it is Hassan Whiteside’s.
“I’m ready,” Dragic said Saturday afternoon between signing autographs and taking photos with fans who lined up by the dozens at the Heat store inside Dolphin Mall in Sweetwater to meet the 2014 All-NBA third team point guard.
“I already felt great last year in the middle of the season, and even this year I’m in way better than shape than I was last year,” Dragic continued. “I was playing all summer. I’m ready.”
Unlike last summer when his wife’s difficult pregnancy was on his mind and he came into camp a bit out of shape, Dragic spent this summer leading the Slovenian national team to a 6-0 record in EuroBasket 2017 qualifying. He finished as the tournament leader in assists (8.4 per game) and ranked seventh in scoring (17.4 points) while averaging only 26.5 minutes in five games.
He returned to South Florida this week and was able to participate in the team’s conditioning test Thursday as well as another workout with a handful of his new teammates.
Although he called the loss of Wade “surprising” and said he “feels for” Bosh, Dragic said he’s looking forward to trying to help the Heat remain competitive in the Eastern Conference with a young team “that can run all day.”
“When you have D-Wade next to you or C.B., they can take the game in their hands,” Dragic said. “Now, probably, it’s going to be a bit different. We’re going to see how [coach Erik Spoelstra] puts the system in.
“I need to take care of a couple things — try to be more aggressive, try to score and try to get everybody else involved. I already started or felt like that last season in the playoffs. For me, nothing is going to change, basically. I need to be myself and play my game.”
For the first few months of the regular season last year, Dragic was frustrated he wasn’t able to play his game alongside Wade and Bosh.
Before Bosh was sidelined at the All-Star break last season by clots in his calf, Dragic was averaging only 12.2 points and 5.3 assists as the Heat went 29-24. After the All-Star break, when Spoelstra gave Dragic the green light to push the pace, Dragic averaged 17.3 points and 6.7 assists over his final 28 regular-season games, and then scored 25 points or more in three playoff games — all Heat victories.
This Heat team — minus Wade, Bosh and veterans Joe Johnson and Luol Deng, who left the team in free agency — should look a lot like the one from late in the season when Dragic was pushing the pace.
“I’m hoping it will be that,” Dragic said. “When I signed here everybody was saying it was going to be like that.”
Only, this time he has a dangerous collection of three-point shooters in Wayne Ellington, Luke Babbitt, Josh Richardson and Tyler Johnson to work with, and Whiteside — who re-signed for $98 million — in the middle.
“As soon as I saw him we were already talking about how we were going to play together,” Dragic said of Whiteside. “I was really happy to hear him sign with the Heat and that I can play with him.
“I think spacing is going to be a crucial thing for us — it’s going to be important for me and Whitey.”
As for the 36 1/2 projected wins the Westgate SuperBook tabbed the Heat for this season, Dragic said: “I think we can take [it] as kind of a reason to be motivated, to show them they’re wrong. Hopefully we’re going to do that.”
▪ Dragic said he hasn’t spoken with Bosh since returning to South Florida, but he did exchange text messages with Wade shortly after he signed with Chicago.
“I wished him luck and told him not to go off against us,” Dragic said with a smile.