NBA Rumor: Goran Dragic Free Agency

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Goran Dragic chose Nets over Bucks and Clippers thanks to Steve Nash

Dragic also met with the Bucks, including general manager Jon Horst, owner Marc Lasry and head coach Mike Budenholzer. The Clippers also flew to Miami to meet with Dragic in person over the weekend. Simply put, I was told by a source close to Dragic, “If it wasn’t for Nash, Dragic would be either with the Bucks or Clippers. Nash’s impact on Goran’s decision couldn’t be overstated.”

Scotto: Dragic’s decision came down to his personal relationship with Steve Nash, who mentored him in Phoenix. I’m told the opportunity to play with such elite talent in Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Ben Simmons appealed to Dragic. He’s viewed as the pure point guard they need. Nash met with Dragic in Miami on Saturday. Sean Marks was there as well. I’m told Nash outlined his plan for Dragic and how he’ll fit in with the team during that meeting. I’m told there was no specific promise in terms of playing time, but there is an understanding there between the two men that he’ll be an important piece of that team.

Steve Nash the Nets' leader in recruitment of Goran Dragic

Word is Dragic was determined to spend at least a week evaluating the teams chasing him the hardest (Milwaukee, Brooklyn, Chicago, Golden State and the LA Clippers) and one source close to the process described as him as “really open-minded” to the pitches he’s getting. The Bucks notably have a significant backcourt role to offer, on top of their proven championship stock, while the Nets have Coach Steve Nash, who mentored Dragic in Phoenix when the Slovenian broke into the NBA, entrenched as their lead recruiter. League sources say Nash registered key aspects of the Nets’ bid to Dragic on Friday as Brooklyn also maintains hope that Kyrie Irving will be more available for the stretch run if the vaccine mandate that has ruled him out of home games all season is finally lifted in New York City.

Bucks aggressive in Goran Dragic sweepstakes

As Wojnarowski reported, the Bucks have been very aggressive in trying to sign Goran Dragić. “They need guard depth. There’s an opportunity for Goran Dragić to come in, play some meaningful minutes for the Bucks and certainly have a chance to have a run in the playoffs. … Dragic, I think, is closer to a decision but Milwaukee’s been aggressive and they can offer him, not just a chance at being a part of the defending champions, but a chance to play a pretty significant role and I think that’s really been their sell to him, Mike Budenholzer and Jon Horst, as they talk to him.”

Luka Doncic not pushing for Goran Dragic signing (yet)

The Mavericks could arrange a reunion now that Dragic has reportedly agreed to a contract buyout with the Spurs to become a mid-season free agent. But general manager Nico Harrison said after the trade deadline he didn’t plan to make another roster move. Doncic hasn’t pushed any more for his fellow Slovenian to join him — yet. “He’s my guy,” Doncic said. “Everybody would want their guys on their team, so we’ll see.”

While there are some hurdles in the way of Dragic potentially returning to the Heat, it certainly sounds like Miami is where the 35-year-old wants to be. “Don’t kid yourself, Goran Dragic would love nothing more,” wrote Ira Winderman of the Sun Sentinel regarding a possible Dragic reunion with Miami. “He attended the Heat’s Tuesday victory over the [Washington] Wizards at FTX Arena and has been working out there, as his situation with the Raptors is sorted out. But, again, unless Goran goes to another team in the interim, he cannot be brought directly back by the Heat from the Raptors. With all due respect to Mario Chalmers, Goran is exactly what the Heat could use at the moment. But I doubt many, if any, have had second thoughts about utilizing his salary as the means to acquire Kyle Lowry.”

The Kyle Lowry sign-and-trade to Miami isn’t in doubt, but it appears the reason it hasn’t been officially completed yet is that Toronto is now trying to re-home Goran Dragic. In statements to the media, Dragic expressed a desire to join the Mavericks and play with Luka Doncic, something Dallas is known to be interested in as well. To join as a third team in that deal, Dallas would have to send at least $14.4 million in salary to Toronto, something most easily done by combining Dwight Powell and Willie Cauley-Stein. But that’s also where it gets complicated.

Dallas wouldn’t want to do that because Powell is beloved around the organization, and losing two centers in the same transaction would thin the team’s depth. The Mavs also don’t want to replace Cauley-Stein with one of their prospects in Josh Green or Tyrell Terry. But Toronto likely views Dragic, a proven veteran on an expiring deal, as a positive asset. Dallas wants him, so why shouldn’t it give something up? That’s the current limbo it’s easy to imagine both teams in right now. One possible solution is Dallas finding an expendable player Toronto does want and using a recently acquired trade exception (TPE) to bring something more conducive to the Raptors’ likings.

“Even if you can’t get him, Goran Dragic. There’s so many guards out there that I think you you get. But for me right now you need a guy like Kyle Lowry, a dog that’s mentally tough that’s gonna say ‘LeBron, get off the ball I got the ball and I’m gonna bring it down and get everybody in the set and we’re gonna run this thing and win a championship.’ So Kyle Lowry is the only guy that I see or Dragic. Those are the top two for me.”

If the Heat declines Dragic’s option for next season, he will become an unrestricted free agent but Miami will still retain his Bird rights and can exceed the salary cap to re-sign him up to his maximum salary. This would probably only be done by the Heat to bring back Dragic at a lower salary than the $19.4 million option in his contract. “At times, it haunts me. I don’t know, I see the Lakers and I just remember,” Dragic said of injuring his foot early in last year’s championship series as the Heat fell two wins short of a title. “It’s one of those situations that it’s still painful. But it is what it is. I accepted it. I dealt with it. It’s in the past, so let’s move on.”

Goran Dragic: I’m glad that I can announce that I’m staying with my #HeatNationFamily ⁦@MiamiHEAT⁩ Let’s finish the job we started!!! #LetsGoHeatnation #heatnation #heatfamily #305

Goran Dragic sits down on @Stadium: Leadership and sacrifice, revealing he is now fully recovered from the plantar fascia tear he suffered in the Finals, desire to stay in Miami while listening to offers in free agency and more. pic.twitter.com/k3IY8JoaNI — Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) November 13, 2020 “For me, the most important thing is that I be respected because I put a lot of hard work in my game, and I think I play hard,” Dragic said. “So, of course, I know Miami wants to bring me back. I’m hoping we can finish this championship run next season, but I know this is part of the business. “It’s a lot of options here and we’ll see. I’m open to all suggestions, and from there on, we’re gonna see which one is the best possibility for me and for my family. So, yeah, Miami’s up there. They were great to me and we’ll see. Hopefully, we can make a deal.”

Dragic’s role in helping the Heat reach the NBA Finals last month was marred by the fact that he missed a good portion of that series due to injury. Despite making the Finals, he mentioned (beginning at the 6:10 mark) to NBA insider Shams Charania that he could end up elsewhere for the 2020-21 campaign. “For me, the most important thing is that I be respected because I put a lot of hard work in my game, and I think I play hard,” Dragic said. “So, of course, I know Miami wants to bring me back. I’m hoping we can finish this championship run next season, but I know this is part of the business. “It’s a lot of options here and we’ll see. I’m open to all suggestions, and from there on, we’re gonna see which one is the best possibility for me and for my family. So, yeah, Miami’s up there. They were great to me and we’ll see. Hopefully, we can make a deal.”

“The main thing for me is to get respected. I put a lot of hard work in this, in my game and I think I play hard. Of course, I know Miami wants to bring me back and I’m hoping we can finish this championship run next season. But I know this is a part of the business and there are a lot of options here. We’ll see. I’m open to all suggestions and from there on, we’ll see which one is the best for me and my family. Miami is up there, they were great to me and hopefully, we can make a deal,” he told Shams Charania.

Dragic turned 34 years old in May and the age along with the injuries impacted coach Erik Spoelstra’s decision to use the Slovenian veteran off the bench as the sixth man. He didn’t accept it easily but he was full of understanding and eventually accepted it. “When you play for so long as a starter… it was tough to accept that but at the same time I knew I was coming off an injury, I’m not young anymore and maybe this was something I need to take in and try to do it.”

Miami has interest in re-signing Goran Dragic and Jae Crowder, but the Heat won’t do anything that jeopardizes their chances with Antetokounmpo. (The list of such things might include asking Bam Adebayo to wait until next offseason to sign his new contract — a way of maximizing cap space for Antetokounmpo. Adebayo and Antetokounmpo share an agent — Alex Saratsis of Octagon. This is tricky stuff, but I assume everyone will communicate what they need to communicate.)

In that respect, Dragic holds a unique advantage in his situation. If he signs a one-year contract, he would receive the right to veto any trade in 2020-21. Also, because of his tenure in the league and with the Heat, he is eligible for a no-trade clause. “We don’t know what the future holds with this virus and everything and when the league is going to start,” he said. “There’s still a lot of uncertainty in the future.”

Dragic, who will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason, is one of those who will have a decision to make. The 33-year-old is in the fifth and final year of the $85 million deal he signed with the Heat in the summer of 2015, and he has a salary of $19.2 million this season as Miami’s second-highest paid player behind only Jimmy Butler. “Right now, if I’m honest, I’m not even thinking about free agency,” Dragic said. “I have so many different problems. My uncle is stuck here in the U.S. I’m trying to get him back to his home country, so I’m on the phone 24/7 basically with the government. It’s just a crazy situation for me and my family. I just want to be done with that, and hopefully when this virus is done then I can think about my future and free agency and everything.”

But he also made clear he’s content in the bench role that coach Erik Spoelstra asked him to handle this season. “I am happy,” he said. “I am enjoying the game. At the start of the season, it was tough to accept that. I’m a competitive guy. Of course, when you get the news, you have some doubts, some crazy thoughts. But the main thing was for me to accept it and think positively and make it the best scenario for me. I did that. I’m proud of myself.”

With their eyes set on 2021 maximum cap space, they are unlikely to offer free-agent targets more than a one-year deal. One player they can target with all their cap space is Danilo Gallinari, whom they pursued in February. $26.5 million is close to the maximum amount Gallinari can receive in a contract extension. If they can’t sign any of their targets, they could operate over the cap to re-sign free agents like Goran Dragic and Jae Crowder and also have the mid-level exception to use.

Dragic has also made adjustments to his game that should help prolong his playing career. His drives to the basket are down and he’s attempting a career-high 5.7 threes per game this season, and he’s shooting them efficiently with the league’s ninth-best three-point shooting percentage among players who are taking five or more threes per game. “I think I can still play three or four years easy,” said Dragic, who’s in the fifth and final season of the $85 million deal he signed in the summer of 2015 and is set to become an unrestricted free agent this upcoming offseason. “Of course, it all depends how my health is going to be. So far, so good. I’m doing everything right, what they’re telling me to do to prepare my body and to be fresh. If I’m going to continue to play like this and feel like this, it’s going to be good.”

Dragic is quick to remind reporters he’s not that old yet. Lakers superstar forward LeBron James is actually almost two years older than Dragic. “Sometimes when a lot of people are saying that, basically they put that in your head,” Dragic said of people calling him old. “I’m like, ‘C’mon man. I’m not that old. I still can hoop. I still can play. I’m still in good shape.’ It’s just a number. That’s how I look at it. Of course, you need to prepare yourself differently, eat differently. But it’s part of the game, and I like it.”

“I think I can still play three or four years easy,” said Dragic, who’s in the fifth and final season of the $85 million deal he signed in the summer of 2015 and is set to become an unrestricted free agent this upcoming offseason. “Of course, it all depends how my health is going to be. So far, so good. I’m doing everything right, what they’re telling me to do to prepare my body and to be fresh. If I’m going to continue to play like this and feel like this, it’s going to be good.”

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.”

An associate of Dragic said he would be very surprised if Dragic does not opt into the final year of his Heat contract but said it ultimately comes down to this: Dragic very much likes playing for the Heat and it’s a good situation for him. The question is whether an incredible different situation should present himself before his June 29 opt-out date. That could mean a championship contender or another appealing team hinting to him or his associates, through back-channels, that he should opt out and that a rich multiyear contract awaits. Though players under contract cannot talk to other teams before July 1, it’s common for messages to be discreetly delivered in general terms.

Goran Dragic has a decision to make this offseason: Opt out for possibly one final multiyear contract or wait another year before becoming a free agent. The point guard isn’t ready to make that decision. “I didn’t think about it,” Dragic said during a Friday afternoon appearance where he surprised guests and bought them lunch at a Doral Chick-fil-A as part of the “Random Acts of Heat” initiative. “I was just at home having a good time with my kids. I had a meeting with Pat [Riley] and that was it. I told him I’m going to make my decision when that comes. So I still need to talk to the family, the agent.

The Lakers originally viewed Heat guard Goran Dragic as a free-agency target. But they changed their mind after falling in love with Russell in pre-draft workouts and holding optimism they could land a front-court player in free-agency. “I didn’t think about it. The Miami Heat came first and they offered a good deal,” said Dragic, who re-signed with the Heat to a five-year contract worth $90 million. “This was the right place for me and my family. It’s a winning culture here and they are doing an amazing job.”

Phil Jackson tried to acquire Goran Dragic

Which players did you focus on? Phil Jackson: “Goran Dragic, for one. I heard through the grapevine that he was open to coming here. We worked hard on that possibility, but the asking price was too dear. Maybe we worked on that possibility so much so that it distracted us. I mean, Dragic is every team’s current choice for a nuclear option — a guard who can penetrate and either score or kick. Guys like Chris Paul and James Harden. But, anyway, that’s not really the way I want us to play.”
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