The trade deadline shocker that saw Goran Dragic and his brother Zoran move from the Phoenix Suns to the Miami Heat presents a new opportunity for the brothers but will it be to their benefit? Emmet Ryan looks at what’s in store for the Slovenian duo.
The second time round in Phoenix looked to be exactly what Goran Dragic needed in his career but the 2014/15 season was anything but a happy time for the Slovenian point guard. The addition of his brother Zoran to the roster seemed to show a renewed commitment by the Suns to Dragic but the past few weeks and months showed an acrimonious relationship that eventually ended in a late-late divorce. The move however could open up more opportunities for Dragic in the summer.
“In Miami, Goran can be the player he was last year. The Heat want Goran to be the player that Goran wants to be. He’ll be the lead ball handler, he’ll make the decisions in crunch time – simply put, he’ll have the ball in his hands a lot more and all the responsibility that comes along with it. That’s what he wanted, and that’s what he got,” Tas Melas, co-host of The Starters on NBA TV, told BallinEurope.
“Only eight months removed from being named to the All-NBA Third Team, the Suns didn’t allow Dragic to be that same player this season. His new role involved a lot more watching his teammates handle the ball. He was understandably frustrated with his reduced role after being named one of the six best guards in the league. He worked for six years to get to that level, and didn’t feel like his role should be diminished,” said Melas.
“He’ll get all the opportunity in the world in Miami, and that bodes well for the contract he’ll sign this summer. Dragic will be given the freedom to run a team – the freedom he had last season in Phoenix. He got what he wanted, and Miami got the guard the ball handler they were looking for,” he said.
“It’s unfortunate it didn’t work out on a team Dragic has been on twice, but it was the right move for him personally.”
How the relationship fell apart is still a matter of confusion. Even those covering the Suns on a day-to-day basis are perplexed by the way this divorce played out.
“I am still confused by the whole thing. I spoke to Goran after most home games the past three years (even two days before he left for Hawaii during the All Star Break) and the guy that returned from Hawaii was a totally different guy. He just decided he’d had enough of sharing the point guard duties and wouldn’t even give the Suns the trade deadline (two days later) to clear the logjam. I don’t know what happened behind the scenes. All I can tell you is that I am completely confused. But when you go on record two days before the trade deadline to say you can’t trust the front office/management and don’t want to play here anymore – while the team is in playoff contention – you can bet they will accommodate you. I hope he’s happier in Miami,” said Dave King of Bright Side of the Sun.
“The Suns certainly underused him this past year. For sure. They signed Thomas for insurance in case Bledsoe left or someone got hurt (Bledsoe was a free agent who had missed more games to injury than he’d played for the Suns the last year, and Goran was battling ankle injuries all year). But everyone stayed healthy and Thomas couldn’t accept the role he signed to play as their backup. Goran was left to get only 1/3 of the PG touches instead of even half, let alone all,” said King.
“Now did Goran expect too much? In a way, yes. He wants to be a solo point guard but had not entirely proven his team could win at a high level in that situation. In 2012-13, the Suns were 25-57 and in 2013-14 they were just 25-23 when he was the solo point guard due to injury. Next to Bledsoe in a shared backcourt, they were 23-11. So, the Suns wanted to do that again, and apparently Goran never really wanted that again (per his comments last week),” he said.
“I will really miss Goran in Phoenix, and had high hopes for the pair of brothers in the future. I just assumed he’d be here for all time. The Suns were reportedly just days from trading Thomas and bringing the back court back to just a 2-point guard system like they had in 2013-14. But he just didn’t have the patience.”
Throughout the entire process, fans in basketball mad Slovenia wondered what exactly would happen to their star. The nation of just 2 million people has a strong history in sending players to the big time but few have garnered the adoration of Goran.
“Goran is very popular in Slovenia, so everybody was waiting to see what would happen and where he would go. They all support him so the general opinion is, that he made right decision. You have to know that basketball is very popular in Slovenia. We always had great players, from Ivo Daneu and Jure Zdovc in former Yugoslavia, to Marko Milić, Rašo Nesterović, Beno Udrih, Matjaž Smodiš, Boštjan Nachbar and Jaka Lakovič in last really amazing generation, but none of them was such a global star as Goran is,” said Tilen Jamnik, journalist at MMC RTV Slovenija.
“I have to say, that if he thinks Miami is better place for him, than so it is. Goran is a very, I don’t know how to say, emotional player, maybe a little bit stubborn and when he wants something or convince himself that this is the right thing for him, than it sure is,” said Jamnik.
“Goran is point guard and he is a leader on a field. You have to let him have ball in his hand and that is just the way he is playing. He leads the game and his team. He is classical playmaker, not a shooting guard or even small forward, and he had to play these positions when he was on the field together with Eric Bledsoe and Isaiah Thomas. If you compare last two seasons, he played a lot better last year when his role was different than this year,” he said.
“He really likes Phoenix. It was like his second home. You can remember how he wanted to come back when he was traded to Houston. He also has some relatives there and as I said, he loved to live there. I just think he had enough, he knows what role he wants and with that kind of role he can show what he is capable of. In this system he couldn’t show all his potential.”
The other factor in this trade that has been far less discussed, and one that caught most observers by surprise, was the inclusion of Zoran Dragic in the trade. At the World Cup last autumn, Zoran was comfortably the second best player on the Slovenian side and the chemistry between the two brothers on the floor is easy to see. To date however, Zoran hasn’t really made much of an impact in the NBA.
“It was always hard for Zoran to be his brother. He was always in Goran’s shadoow but he is an unbelievable fighter, who never gives up. He has amazing energy, which you can’t see very often. Nothing was given to him, he had to fight for everything he has achieved. He is not as talented as Goran but he still has a lot of potential. When he joined the first team in Slovan, he hadn’t a big role initially but he soon became best player. The same thing happened when he went to Krka and later to Unicaja Malaga. It was the same story was with the national team,” said Jamnik.
“He is second best player of our national team. I just think he needs a chance and he will show that he deserve to be in NBA. Once we had seven players in NBA, so I am sure that our second best player (ok there is also Beno Udrih, but he is not playing for national team) can play in NBA,” he said.
“Although Zoran is not playing, our [national] coach Jure Zdovc is not concerned. He said that he knows he has such a big motivation and desire for basketball, that he will be ready for Eurobasket. Slovenia has big goals for Eurobasket. Goran will be our leader, Zoran his right hand, and maybe even Udrih will play, because there were some big changes in his personal life. We also count on Mirza Begić and Gašper Vidmar, our best big guys. They were injured during the World Cup.”
King shared Jamnik’s view that the other Dragic brother has what it takes to make it in the NBA.
“I really think Zoran could have been a good player for Phoenix and he hopefully will have a successful NBA career. He plays the same type of role as Suns starter P.J. Tucker but signed onto a team already seven deep at the guard positions. He had to know he wouldn’t get many minutes as a rookie unless there were injuries but the Suns stayed relatively healthy all season. I love Zoran’s effort and really envisioned a Goran/Zoran pairing in the coming years. It was a blast watching Zoran and Goran play a few minutes together this year and assist each other on fast break finishes,” he said.
While the focus on this side of the pond is naturally on what this means for the Slovenian duo, the trade has also shaken things up in Phoenix. The on-floor look of the Suns is going to be awfully different going forward.
“They invested a lot to bring Brandon Knight over from Milwaukee to replace Goran in the lineup and reprise the success of 2013-14 with a two-point-guard system. Knight has averaged 18 points and 5 assists over the last two seasons. The Suns really believe the two-point-guard system can work long term, and when Goran did not want to continue in that shared role they made the trade. Unfortunately, the frustration came to a head when another point guard, Isaiah Thomas, was brought in to back them up and as insurance against injury/contract problems but Thomas’ presence just made everyone uncomfortable because he wanted to be a starter. Goran ran out of patience before the Suns could appease him by trading Thomas away.”