Heat president and roster impresario Pat Riley should be given a parade or arrested — I’m not sure which — for his Thursday broad-daylight theft of Goran Dragic. This certainly doesn’t approach the magnitude of Riley managing bring together LeBron James and Chris Bosh with Dwyane Wade in 2010, but it’s the first time since then that the rest of the NBA has had cause to aim an envious glare at Miami and think, “How on Earth did he manage THAT!?”
The Heat just acquired the best player available to instantly transform its weakest position, point guard, from a liability to a strength, and it did so without sacrificing anything hurtful.
Miami gave up spare parts to put a Maserati in its garage.
Yet a somber damper shadowed that news later Thursday night as indications emerged that Bosh was hospitalized in Miami, undergoing tests on his lungs.
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There were no indications Thursday night that Bosh was in immediate danger, that he might be sidelined for long or that his basketball future was threatened. But it was a medical situation that consumed the Heat and softened the celebration of the Dragic trade.
Riley already is a hall of famer, but someday, when history lists a chronology of all the reasons why, “Goran Dragic” must be there.
The Heat got Dragic (and his brother Zoran) from the Suns in exchange for expendable Norris Cole and bit players Danny Granger, Shawne Williams and Justin Hamilton, and two future first-round draft picks.
Giving up a pair of first-round picks sounds like more than it is. They are likely to be mid-to-lower in the round, and Riley has never been one to build through the draft, anyway. Besides, isn’t the sudden-find arrival of young seven-footer Hassan Whiteside tantamount to a first-rounder they didn’t need the draft to get?
Adding Dragic is a great fit and the perfect quick fix for this season. It helps to ensure that the Heat will not only make the playoffs but be a genuine threat in them. I’d also trust that Riley didn’t make this deal to rent Dragic for half a season and then lose him in free agency. I’d sooner think the Heat believes it can extend Dragic with a five-year maximum contract and have its point guard solution long-term.
Assuming the eventual good health that has been so elusive this season — an assumption magnified by the latest news on Bosh’s hospitalization — Miami all at once would have a formidable starting five with the ascending center Whiteside, forwards Bosh and Luol Deng, and guards Wade and Dragic. With Whiteside’s continued development, that’s a starting five you can win with. Maybe win big with.
How the Heat managed to get Dragic without at least giving up Deng is a wonder.
It creates a starting five that, when healthy, no opponent will want to see in the playoffs, a puzzle completed by the major piece added Thursday.
Dragic is a 6-3 left shooter, a Slovenian nicknamed the Dragon. (Puff, the Magic Dragon appears!) He’s a top-notch shooter (.556 on 2’s this season) and a natural point guard who’ll find Bosh and make easier the encroaching winter of Wade’s career. Dragic also is a tough defender who is in his prime at 28, and a relatively low-mileage 28 at that as a late bloomer who has been a big-minutes starter only three seasons.
He was voted the NBA’s most improved player in 2013-14, when he averaged 20.3 points and 5.9 assists and was third-team All-NBA. This year, his numbers are down to 16.2 and 4.1 because of 40 percent fewer touches overall and more time than he’d like at shooting guard in a rotation that has seen Eric Bledsoe and Isaiah Thomas poach his minutes.
That’s why he wanted out of Phoenix.
And Riley pounced to solve his team’s major need with the just-right player. Dragic is that rare point-guard combination: the willing facilitator who also can be an offensive force when called upon.
Miami’s point-guard rotation of Mario Chalmers, Cole and Shabazz Napier offered three guys who were pretty good at times, but erratic. Nobody consistently stood out. Each felt like backup caliber. Chalmers’ deficiencies were easy to overlook on a LeBron-led team making a habit of the NBA Finals, but weren’t so easy to ignore when more was needed of him.
Now in steps Dragic, infusing instant hope to what had been a dragging season wrapped in post-LeBron malaise.
Behind it all: Riley, the godfather, the Heat boss who long has stood shoulder to shoulder in the company of only Don Shula on the highest echelon of greatest South Florida sports coaches/architects. If Shula always has stood tallest, that margin narrows now to the point of being debatable.
In one of his books, Riley wrote of there being only “winning and misery.” That attitude, helped along perhaps by his turning 70 in one month, is what drives the man’s innate impatience.
It is why Goran Dragic is headed to Miami.
But that celebration was muted — on hold — as the Heat and its fans awaited positive news on the health of Chris Bosh.