Goran Dragic has spent less than 30 percent of his nine-year NBA career in South Florida, but the Miami Heat point guard does not need any more time to know where he wants to be.
“I feel comfortable,” Dragic said last week when players met for their exit interviews.
“This place feels like home now. I don’t have no other distractions outside the court. I’m just thinking about basketball.”
Dragic, who turns 31 next week, is coming off one of his two best NBA seasons, leading the Heat with 20.3 points, 5.8 assists and 33.7 minutes while shooting 47.6 percent. He was Miami’s most consistent player from start to finish and flourished as a leader.
Dragic’s energy and effort, from the difficult first half through the resurgent second half, defined this team’s personality.
Heat president Pat Riley gave Dragic the highest praise when he was asked last week about the team’s future.
“You’re going to need a player that’s sort of the backbone of your team, a player that is a glue guy,” Riley said of Dragic.
Dragic’s play quelled the talk that the Heat would be better off trading him, even for a middle of the road draft pick. The NBA has become a point guard driven league and although Dragic will not be on any of the three All-NBA teams – and may not even be among the top 10 in the most overstocked position in the league – he is as invaluable to Miami as any player moving forward.
Dragic was acquired from Phoenix in February 2015 in a multi-team, multi-player deal in which Miami parted with two first round picks. About four months later he re-signed with the Heat, agreeing to a five-year, $90 million deal. He will earn $17 million next season, a bargain in a league with exploding contracts.
Mike Conley’s statistics this season were similar to Dragic’s – 20.5 points, 6.3 assists, 45.9 FG percentage – and the Memphis guard will make $30.5 million next season and $152.6 million over five years. Detroit’s Reggie Jackson wasn’t close to Dragic – 14.5 points, 5.2 assists, 41.9 FG percentage – and he will receive $1 million less than Dragic in 2017-18.
“I think he’s always been a player that just wanted to impact the game with his force of nature and with his will to win,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “He really was our most consistent driving force throughout each month.”
Spoelstra went on to praise Dragic’s newfound role as a leader.
“His leadership really grew out of necessity this year. … He not only led by example, but with his voice, held guys accountable, did things that I don’t think he ever imagined he would ever be required to do.”
Dragic’s season even gave Riley a reason to find the silver lining to the Heat picking in the middle of the draft, a spot he refers to as “purgatory.”
Unless Miami overcomes the 98.2 percent odds moving into the top three, it will pick 14th. Riley acknowledged last week the draft is top heavy with point guards.
“Since we don’t need a point guard, then I feel good that we’re not up in the lottery,” Riley said.
The only uncertainty for Dragic this summer is his backcourt mate moving forward. He and Dion Waiters clicked when both were finally healthy and keyed the Heat’s 30-11 second half run. Waiters, though, will opt out of his contract and become a free agent.
Dragic has made it clear where he wants Waiters next season.
“Our lockers are next to each other,” Dragic said. “So we talk a lot.” Dragic went on to talk about “how good” the two were as backcourt mates. “It really surprised me. But at the same time we put a lot of hard work in and it was really fun.”
Dragic is counting on that camaraderie to help lure Waiters, and James Johnson, back to Miami.
“They know we want them back, that they are a big part of this team,” Dragic said. “Everybody is so close that it’s going to be hard for them to choose some other team.”
Dragic is not Russell Westbrook or James Harden or Stephen Curry. He is not John Wall or Isaiah Thomas, Chris Paul or Kyrie Irving. And Damian Lillard, Kemba Walker and Conley also were above him in player efficiency ratings.
But Dragic was third among point guards in field goal percentage and tops among those who averaged at least 20 points per game. He was seventh in 3-point shooting at 40.6 percent and fourth among those with at least 20 points per game.
And Dragic, and the Heat, believe there are greater heights to reach as he gets more comfortable with the system and the culture.
“The summer was really important to me,” Dragic said. “I really worked on my game, especially on my body and I tried to be in the best shape of my life. I think I accomplished that.
“It’s like a puzzle. Now I’m trying to put healthy habits, eat healthy, put a good workout plan together.”