Retired Heat superstar Dwyane Wade might be producing wine and watching his son, Zaire, play high school basketball with LeBron James’ son, Bronny, in California, but his willingness to sacrifice his starting status for the greater good of the team in his final two seasons has left a lingering effect on the organization.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra believes that his decision to bring longtime starting point guard Goran Dragic off the bench will result in the similar production that Wade had last season when at 36 the future Hall of Famer averaged 15 points (second most) and 4.2 assists in just 26.2 minutes.
Dragic, 33, who until last year’s injury-plagued season, had started every game during his three-plus seasons with Miami, and hadn’t come off the bench regularly since 2011-12 with Houston when he shared the job with Kyle Lowry. In his first two-plus seasons with Phoenix, Dragic sat behind Hall of Fame point guard Steve Nash.
Dragic, an All-Star in 2017-18, has played behind starting point guard Justise Winslow in all four preseason games, but has graciously accepted his new role.
“Absolutely,’’ Spoelstra said following Heat practice Monday at AmericanAirlines Arena. “It really shows why Dwyane was a Hall of Fame teammate. Everybody talks about a Hall of Fame champion and talent and everything else about Dwayne, but the fact he was willing to come back here and come off the bench, and in many regards it’s pretty obvious he was our most impactful player last year, and he still had it and he could’ve done that role for another three to four years.
“That’s the thing about Goran. He’ still one of our All-Star talents. This is all about trying to make 32 look like 25. I think we can do it. I think he feels that right now, too. It’s about actually lengthening his career and giving him a template to play at an All-Star level. It just may be a different amount of minutes and a different setup for him.’’
Dragic was limited to a career-low 36 games following midseason surgery on his right knee. He started 22 games while averaging 13.7 points and 4.8 assists in 27 minutes per game, compared to his career marks of 17.1 points and 4.8 assists in approximately 33 minutes with Miami.
Dragic’s 31-game absence also opened the door for Winslow, mostly a small forward, to prove he could be a very effective point guard at 6-7 as the 23-year-old set career highs with 12.6 points, 5.4 rebounds and 4.3 assists in 66 games.
“I don’t look at myself as 33 years old,’’ said Dragic, who’s due $19.2 million in his final season of a five-year $85 million deal signed in 2015. “I still feel that I can play. I don’t have this in my thoughts that I’m old, I can’t play. I’m always positive, and I’ll do everything I have to be on the floor.
“For me, it’s the path of every athlete. When you’re young you play a lot of minutes. Then it comes time when you need to make sacrifices for the team. It’s not easy, we’re all competitors; we have egos. It’s my job. I have to be professional.’’
In the NBA, it’s not so important who starts, but who finishes.
“Of course, you always want to finish the game,’’ he said. “Whatever it takes to win games.’’
Waiters, Johnson wait
Unlike Dragic, his backcourt teammate Dion Waiters has reportedly objected to his reserve role this preseason and is currently serving a one-game (opening night Wednesday against the Memphis Grizzlies) suspension for violating several team rules.
He isn’t practicing with the team, and Spoelstra isn’t commenting.
Forward James Johnson, who rejoined his teammates Oct. 11 after being banished from the team on the eve of training camp on Sept. 30 for failing to meet team conditioning standards, said he’s, “trending in the right direction,’’ to compete in the upcoming games.
“At the end of the day it’s all [Spoelstra and team president Pat Riley’s] say,’’ Johnson said. “It’s been tough for me, but it’s a position I put myself in and I’m going to get myself out of, like always. It’s an eye-opener. You can never get comfortable in this league, and I knew that.’’
Spoelstra said Johnson will return, “when he’s ready.’’
Johnson said that Waiters is practicing hard away from the team, and the entire squad is rooting for both of them to return.
“I talk to Dion about getting out of the little slumps,’’ Johnson said. “We did it to ourselves, and I think he understands that. He’s been putting the work in even though he hasn’t been here, just constant work. That’s all you can do, grind and smile.’’ ….
Wing man Derrick Jones Jr. (thigh bruise) went through half a practice, while forward/center Kelly Olynyk (knee bruise) said he’s ready to contribute far more than the nine minutes he played in Friday’s loss to Houston.