Since Lebron James’ departure in 2014, the Miami Heat have been stuck in a limbo every team wants to avoid. Too incapable to truly contend for a championship title, but still not poor enough to take on the tanking route. In that span, the Heat finished every single season in the 37-48 win range; an achievement the likes of Sam Hinkie would absolutely scoff at.
Besides the steadily declining Heat icon Dwyane Wade and the tragically hindered Chris Bosh, the player who marked that period was definitely Goran Dragic. The 2014 Most Improved Player was acquired immediately after the King’s abdication, poised to spend the entirety of his prime in Florida after signing a 5-year extension in 2015.
Goran Dragic generally played well during this stint, carrying the team on multiple occasions and crowning the three-year tenure with his first All-Star selection.
However, by wasting a huge chunk of cap-space on Dragic and Hassan Whiteside, who regressed to the mean after early flashes of brilliance, the team was destined for mediocrity. Factor in a few other head-scratching contracts the Heat absorbed and a couple of average draft picks, and you’ve got a recipe for a team stuck in no man’s land.
After having only a measly first-round exit to show for over the past two years, Pat Riley has apparently come to terms with the need for a change. The Heat are now reportedly willing to listen to any trade offers, and Dragic has been the most prominent figure featured in those rumors.
Let’s take a look at the teams the Heat could potentially partner up in hopes of a quick rebuild via a Dragic trade.
There are at least three reasons why the Suns come across as the logical trade party in this scenario:
1. Homecoming. Phoenix is where Dragic started his NBA journey, and dropped his first statement performance – 23 fourth quarter points in Game 3 of the 2010 WCF against the Spurs. After a brief stint with the Rockets, he returned to Arizona as a replacement for Steve Nash, and further established his legacy by winning the aforementioned MIP award and an All-NBA Third Team selection.
Dragic is obviously fond of Phoenix, and the sentiment is mutual, so third time just might be the charm.
2. Suns point guard situation. The Suns have traded away Brandon Knight and parted ways with Tyler Ulis. Their current point guard rotation, featuring Elie Okobo (31st pick), De’Anthony Melton (46th pick) and Isaiah Canaan, is by far the worst in the league.
Sure, Devin Booker might take on the role of the primary ball-handler, but if the Suns want to keep their young star in his natural position, Dragic might be the perfect solution.
3. Igor Kokoskov. For those who are not acquainted with the new Suns’ coach, Kokoskov led Dragic’s native Slovenia to a surprising Eurobasket gold last year. Dragic was the MVP of the tournament, and Kokoskov deserves a lot of credit for that incredible achievement. The tight connection is already there, and Suns have a golden opportunity to fully cash in on it.
If both sides decide to pull the trigger, making the money work shouldn’t present an obstacle. Here’s the potential trade in picture form.
After landing DeAndre Ayton with the first pick, a 35-year-old Tyson Chandler could only be useful to the Suns in the role of a mentor. However, if the Suns decide to further improve their roster, Chandler will likely be the first one through the exit door.
Along with Chandler’s expiring contract, the Heat would also acquire Dragan Bender, the fourth pick of the 2014 draft. While Bender largely disappointed so far, he is still younger than Ben Simmons and Lonzo Ball, and has enough potential to turn into at least a serviceable forward with a change of scenery.
If Riley manages to pry away the 2019 Milwaukee first-rounder Phoenix received in the Eric Bledsoe deal, the return for the franchise centerpiece would likely be deemed adequate.
The only question is how well Dragic fits into the Suns’ timeline. If their front office is sold on waiting out the period of dominance of the Western Conference powerhouses, adding a 32-year-old Dragic to the roster wouldn’t make much sense. On the other hand, if they want to keep up with Booker’s bold prediction that he will participate in every postseason for the rest of his career, a reunion with the Suns fan-favorite would be an excellent choice.
After finishing 16 consecutive seasons with a positive record fueled by the ingenuity of Dirk Nowitzki, the Mavs have had two down years that overlapped with the Germanator’s decline. There is no reason for concern in Dallas, however, since the future never looked brighter.
Dennis Smith Jr. is shaping up to become a real stud, and the front office addressed frontcourt woes by (finally) adding DeAndre Jordan. The real cherry on the top was a power move that netted them a likely future franchise player, the Slovenian wonderkid Luka Doncic.
So where does Dragic fit in the Mavs’ vision of the future? The most important aspect of bringing him would be the role he had in Doncic’s evolution into arguably the best young European player of all time. The chemistry between the two fellow countrymen is remarkable, both on and off the court; after all, they were roommates in the national team and Dragic has taken it upon himself to mentor the young prodigy and facilitate his seamless transition to the NBA.
If the Mavs want to secure perfect conditions for the optimal development of their young star, bringing in Dragic if the opportunity present itself should be a no-brainer.
Adding Dragic with Smith Jr. as the designated franchise point guard might seem a bit redundant, but Dragic’s profile should allow him to function well in a one-two punch system as the secondary ball-handler and a scoring threat off the ball.
Considering that Nowitzki will more than likely be under minimal workload next season, a lineup of Smith Jr., Dragic, Doncic, Barnes and Jordan looks pretty decent, with enough length and athleticism to bother even the top Western Conference teams.
The logical trade piece in this scenario would be Wes Matthews, who has been slightly underwhelming in his three years with the organization. He’s on an expiring contract, which means that the Heat would effectively slice the burden of Dragic’s salary cap hold in half, while the Mavs would get something for the 31-year-old veteran rather than nothing.
Here’s how the trade would theoretically look like, using talent available.
Of course, the Mavericks would have to sweeten the pot with one of their future picks (2021 or 2022 first-rounder), but that’s a risk worth taking if they want to remain relatively competitive out West and allow their unicorn to fully blossom.
San Antonio Spurs
In just four years, the Spurs championship team completely dissipated. While Kawhi Leonard forcing his way out of San Antonio was definitely the most shocking and hurtful event, losing the services of Danny Green, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker in a single offseason can be considered equally as devastating.
As things stand, the roster turnover will result in point guard duties being shared among Patty Mills, who is good but not great, and Dejounte Murray, who has loads of potential, but still isn’t experienced enough to lead a team gunning for the playoffs.
If the Spurs stand pat under those circumstances, they will risk wasting the far end of LaMarcus Aldridge’s prime and DeMar DeRozan’s best years without an adequate floor general required to threaten the top dogs of the West.
Enter Goran Dragic. In a search for the best available successor to Tony Parker in terms of playstyle and demeanor on the court, the Dragon is an obvious top 3 candidate. While he certainly isn’t at the peak of his prime anymore, he is still a respectable, above average point guard coming off a 17/5/4 year with no apparent signs of abruptly slowing down.
To make this work, the Spurs would have to part ways with Pau Gasol; a move that would make sense now that they have acquired a young and potent center in Jakob Poeltl. Gasol’s experience would be dearly missed, but after averaging 10/8 in just 24 minutes per contest, it is clear there’s not a lot left in the Spaniard’s tank.
The incentive for the Heat to proceed with this trade, along with a future first-rounder the Spurs would have to surrender, is the fact that Gasol’s contract is only partially guaranteed in 2019-20. This would allow the Heat to waive Gasol after this season for some instant cap relief that is very much needed.
The only apparent downside of this deal is the resulting logjam in the Spurs’ backcourt. However, outside of Mills, that backcourt is mostly populated by young prospects who would largely benefit from Dragic’s tutelage and the fact that his presence would take a lot of pressure off their backs.
Sure, throwing Murray straight into the fire might seem like a good idea after his promising performance last season, but if the Spurs want to maximize their chances in the window they have with Coach Pop, Aldridge and DeRozan, it would be wise to opt for a safe and experienced option, namely Dragic.
After three relatively peaceful years in Miami, Goran Dragic is once again faced with uncertainty regarding his career. If the Heat really do decide to pull the trigger and part ways with the point guard that gave them his best years, there are several destinations that could make use of a playmaker of Dragic’s caliber and have something to offer in return; most notably Phoenix, Dallas and San Antonio.
One thing is for sure; whichever team proceeds to roll the dice on Dragic, his rich experience and relentless competitive spirit will play a huge role in how this upcoming season plays out for that respective organization.