With the season done, with that one final game no one wanted to win finally over, Dwyane Wade walked out of the basketball arena in Philadelphia with his arm around Goran Dragic.
Wade was smiling, laughing, pulling Dragic close and whispering in his ear. Salesmanship starts early for nonplayoff teams.
The Heat’s offseason began on Thursday — and free agency doesn’t happen until July 1 — but the work to keep Dragic in Miami started almost two months ago. The Heat traded for the 28-year-old point guard this season with the expectation of signing him to a long-term contract this summer. Now Wade, Pat Riley and Erik Spoelstra just have to close the deal. They’ll have plenty of time after missing the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
Not that they need the extra hours to sell the team. They’re pretty much done with that, and Dragic, after all, wants to stay in Miami. This shouldn’t be very hard. Dragic is the player who can bring the Heat into the future, and the Heat is a team that can bring Dragic to the playoffs, a place he has only been once. Signing Dragic is the Heat’s most important piece of business this summer, and it’s not expected to be a long, drawn-out process.
“If you’re going to find, how you say, the same language, then it’s easy, like, for everybody,” said Dragic, the Slovenian who burst onto the world’s basketball scene in Spain before jumping to the NBA.
Dragic, who is one of the top point guards in the league, could command in his next contract the maximum amount of money allowed by the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement, and the Heat, in holding Dragic’s Bird Rights, can pay him more than any other team and for more years. It’s a universal language easy enough to understand.
The specifics: The Heat can offer Dragic $109 million over five years. Other teams can offer only four years and $81.2 million.
Basketball-wise, Dragic says he doesn’t need to see anything else, even though he never played with Chris Bosh. He says he needs no more convincing despite the Heat not making the playoffs and Wade never really being fully healthy.
“It’s a great experience to see how the other teams are working, and, of course, in that case with the Miami Heat, I was here for two months and, of course, that makes the decision a little easier,” Dragic said.
The tryout is over, apparently. Now it’s just business.
“Of course, I need to sit down with my family, with my agent, and explore the options and see which option is the best for myself, but, like I said, the last two months was beautiful for me,” Dragic said. “We didn’t make the playoffs, but that doesn’t affect my decision. The teammates were great and the team has a bright future, the coaching staff, the organization.”
Wade said after Wednesday’s game that he doesn’t recruit free agents. He doesn’t have to. The Heat sells itself, says Wade, and it appears Dragic likes his new home even though he said it was difficult leaving his old teammates in Phoenix. Dragic and Wade played well together from the beginning, and they combined to lead the league in field-goal percentage among backcourt duos (48.5 percent).
“For me, it’s pretty tough because I was part of two teams,” Dragic said of this season. “Now the exciting part is that I have new players, I have new friends … So, hopefully next year, if I’m staying here, that is going to be a better season than this year.”
With everyone healthy, the Heat should have the pieces to return to prominence in the Eastern Conference. The projected starting lineup — Dragic, Wade, Luol Deng, Chris Bosh and Hassan Whiteside — could be one of the best in the league. Josh McRoberts, Udonis Haslem, Chris Andersen and Mario Chalmers off the bench, not to mention a first-round draft pick, would provide depth. There might even be room for another three-point shooter. Certainly, the Heat needs it after struggling from the outside this season (24th in the league in three-point shooting).
“For sure to make playoffs, because we will be one of the top four teams,” Dragic said of next season’s expectations. “Of course, there are a lot of factors. The team needs to build a great chemistry, and you need to be healthy, but I think with our personnel and players, they know how to play, I think that team has a great future.”
Wade on the long offseason: “It’ll be good for me to get away for a while and come back better next year.”
The Heat’s star shooting guard has only missed the playoffs twice in his career. The Heat played in the NBA Finals each of the past four seasons.