MIAMI – Goran Dragic knows that day will come. He’ll be relaxing at his in Slovenia this summer, catching up on rest after a whirlwind nine months that saw him win a EuroBasket championship while being named tournament MVP, make his first NBA All-Star team and help lead the Miami Heat to the playoffs, and the calls will come.
“As soon as I get back home all my friends are, ‘Let’s play a pickup game,’” Dragic said. “I’m not going to do that, definitely.”
Or will he?
“Then they start teasing me, ‘You think you’re (too) good.’ You know, then you need to show them a little bit just to put them in the right spot. …
“But definitely, I’m not going to pick up a ball for quite a bit.”
Anybody who knows Dragic knows how difficult that will be. This man, who turns 32 Sunday, doesn’t have a second gear not even after a grueling stretch in which he went from that emotional European title right into Heat training camp last summer, with exactly two days to celebrate – and be celebrated – in his homeland.
So, Dragic, the Heat’s starting point guard and leading scorer during the regular season (17.3 points per game) and playoffs (18.6 ppg) will make a compromise.
“I’m going to enjoy, play different sports like tennis,” he said. “I like to play tennis.”
Dragic has been the soul of the Heat the last two years, the leader on the court who coach Erik Spoelstra counts on every night to play hard while settling his team. Qualities recognized by his peers who voted him a tri-captain before last season.
But Dragic’s style – aggressive, irritating to opponents that he sometimes gets under their skin – is a contrast to his off-court personality, friendly and as approachable a person as there is not only in the Heat locker room but in the league.
“I love his toughness,” Dwyane Wade said, after returning to the Heat for his second go-around as Dragic’s teammate.
But now is the time for Dragic to sit back. Of course, he’d rather still be playing, leading the Heat against the Celtics instead of watching the 76ers take on Boston after they eliminate Miami in five games, but the rest will help Dragic, who, will return to start his fourth full season with Miami after being acquired during the 2014-15 season and then signing a five-year, $85 million deal that will take him through the 2019-20 season.
But that return is not guaranteed, not after Pat Riley announced that nobody on the Heat is “untouchable” as he attempts to build a roster that can contend in the East, even though Riley said that Dragic and Josh Richardson were “probably the two most consistent players we had this year.”
Dragic will hang out in Miami for about another two weeks before he, his wife, Maya, and their two children, Mateo, 3, and Viktoria, 22 months, head home to Ljubljana for a quiet summer, one in which Dragic will not have any responsibilities to his national team.
“It’s going to be way different for me,” Dragic said. “I retired from the national team, I’m not going to play this summer. I’m going to have more time to work on my game, to be fresher (next) season, I’m going to be more hungry and I think that’s going to help me because when you already played half a season and you come in you’re a little bit tired.”
Although retired, Dragic has left open the possibility of playing for his national in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
Although cutting back on basketball this summer will take some adjusting, Dragic knows it will be for the best. He admitted something last week he never would have during the season, that he felt a bit fatigued all year after the nearly two-month grind of practicing for the European championships and then playing nine games before immediately moving his family back to Miami to prepare for the long NBA season.
Spoelstra cut back on Dragic’s work during training camp and limited his time during the preseason – he played in just two games – but Dragic then played 75 regular season games, his most during his three full seasons in Miami, and was second to Richardson in minutes, averaging 31.7 per game.
Dragic’s scoring, assists (5.8) and shooting percentage (.450) dipped from 2016-17, when he averaged 20.3 points, 5.8 assists and shot .475.
“Mentally I was OK but physically I had minor injuries,” he said. “You know those injuries if you keep playing they never go away. But it was nothing serious that I could not play.
“But if you’re asking me if I would do it again. … Yeah.”
And finally, Dragic really will soak in what it meant to his country to win their first European title. Those 48 hours at home after winning the Gold Medal game last September where spent packing, fulfilling media obligations and attending the parade. But it went so fast Dragic never really felt the impact.
Now he returns for the first time since as the most beloved figure in his country of just more than 2 million people. Dragic not only recently topped the list of the 100 Most Influential Slovenians, he received write-in votes in the country’s presidential election.
The trip home will have a bit more meaning this summer, but for Dragic, returning to his roots has meaning every summer.
“My country, they give me everything,” he said. “I was in school there. They make me (the) person I am now. I have friends, family. … as a family we’re really tight. I always cherish my ancestors, my grandpa, great grandpa, what they did for us, especially my dad moved from Bosnia. He started a new life in Slovenia.”
Dragic said he will always remember his father taking his children back to his native land to show them where he was raised and he wants to do the same for his kids. Dragic’s parents, Marinko and Mojca, still live in Ljubljana.
“I’m probably going to live here after my career but never forget where they come from.”