“Right now, I believe he’s our starting point guard,” says Riley about Goran Dragic
With the Oct. 1 start of training camp just three weeks away, point guard Goran Dragic is preparing for his sixth season with the Heat. But for a few hours this summer, it looked like Dragic’s time with the Heat was about to come to an end.
As part of a sign-and-trade agreement with the 76ers involving Jimmy Butler, the Heat — according to multiple reports the night of June 30 — agreed to send Dragic to the Mavericks. Just hours later, reports surfaced that Dallas believed it was getting Kelly Olynyk and Derrick Jones Jr. in the deal and not Dragic.
That miscommunication led to the Mavericks removing themselves from the trade and Dragic remaining with the Heat.
“If I’m honest, I did not hear it. I heard it after, a little bit. Because when that was going on, I was asleep,” Dragic, who spent most of his offseason in Slovenia before returning to the United States in late August, said Tuesday. “I was sleeping. I didn’t know what was going on.
“Of course, the next day, in the morning, I received a lot of texts. It was a little bit crazy, because at first you didn’t know if the deal went through or not. So a lot of my friends called me and were asking me. But I did not have a clue, because I had just woke up.”
Even after the Mavericks pulled out of the trade, a league source with direct knowledge said the Heat conveyed to the Dragic camp that it was trying to trade Dragic in order to fulfill financial obligations needed to complete a sign-and-trade with Butler. But when Portland offered to take Hassan Whiteside for Maurice Harkless (then rerouted to the Clippers) and Meyers Leonard, that eliminated Miami’s need to trade Dragic.
“I didn’t speak with anybody, not with my agent, not with the Heat, so I just let it go,” Dragic said.
Dragic, 33, has one season left on his contract before he becomes a free agent next summer. Earlier this offseason, he opted into a salary of $19.2 million to remain with the Heat for 2019-20 — the fifth and final year of the $85 million deal he signed with Miami in the summer of 2015.
While Dragic is one of the familiar faces, he will have a few new Heat teammates this season. With 14 players currently under standard contract, Miami returns 10 players from the 2018-19 season-ending roster — a group that includes guard Kendrick Nunn, who was signed by the Heat on the final day of the 2018-19 regular season.
The trade for Butler, a four-time All-Star wing player, was the Heat’s biggest addition of the summer.
“I mean, he’s a great competitor,” Dragic said of Butler. “You can see that on the court. I don’t know him personally, but as a player, when I play against him he’s really a tough defender, he’s really vocal on the floor. I think he sets an example for the other players. I think he’s a huge addition for us, especially to lead this group. He can play on both ends, defense and on offense. He’s a great addition to our team.”
But Miami also made other moves this offseason, adding first-round pick Tyler Herro and second-round pick KZ Okpala in the draft, and Leonard as part of the deal that also involved Butler.
“I still think most is still the same team,” Dragic said. “We lost two players [Josh Richardson and Whiteside], but I feel like now more playing time is going to get more guys, like Bam [Adebayo] and Tyler Herro, he’s really a great rookie. I was watching him in summer league. And of course, with the addition of Jimmy Butler, I think we’re a better team.”
For Dragic, he’s still considered one of the Heat’s top offensive players. He has averaged 16.7 points on 46.4 percent shooting and 5.4 assists in 32.3 minutes over 282 regular-season games with Miami.
Dragic averaged 13.7 points on 41.3 percent shooting and 4.8 assists in 27.5 minutes last season.
But Dragic also played in a career-low 36 games in 2018-19, raising questions if he can continue to average over 30 minutes of playing time per game as he enters his 12th NBA season. He missed 46 games, with right knee surgery in December forcing him to sit out 31 consecutive games.
“I’m good, I’m good. I was working hard,” Dragic said when asked about his right knee. “My leg is way stronger than last year. Basically the right leg is stronger than the left one. I’m doing some basketball drills, some lifting weights. Everything is going like we planned.”
But Dragic admits he might have to make adjustments to his playing style to prolong his NBA career, which could mean less drives to the basket and more outside shots.
“Maybe more threes, more catch-and-shoot plays. I’m working toward that, I’m practicing like that,” Dragic said. “So we’re going to see. But like I said, it all depends how I’m going to feel. I think so far I’m feeling great. But still, I need to test it when the real game starts.”
There’s also the question: Will Dragic start at point guard this season?
Dragic has started in 268 of the 282 regular-season games he’s played in with the Heat, and the 14 games he was used off the bench came last season while Justise Winslow started in his place. Winslow, 23, logged his best minutes at point guard while Dragic was injured, and averaged career highs in points (12.6), rebounds (5.4) and assists (4.3) last season.
“For me, it’s the same approach. I’m going to fight it,” Dragic said when asked if he still views himself as the Heat’s starting point guard. “I’m going to do my job. That’s it. At the end of the day, coach decides who’s going to play, who’s going to start. The only thing I can control is my preparation and how I play games and how I practice.”
Dragic can also control his future next summer when he becomes a free agent. But he’s not thinking that far ahead right now.
“If I’m honest, I don’t even think about it, because I’m more in the present, because I’m trying to get back to being healthy this year,” he said. “So this is my priority, just to stay focused and do my job. And when the time is going to come, then I’m going to think about my future. So, it doesn’t make sense to think it right now, because the season still didn’t start. And I haven’t felt how my body is going to react. So, we’ll see.”