Having won 22 of their last 27 games, the Miami Heat have made the remarkable in-season climb from lottery fodder to playoff contender, and even their star point guard is taken aback by the extent of their recent success.
After the Heat defeated the New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday, Goran Dragic, who finished with 33 points, had this great reaction to hearing MVP chants from the Miami faithful, per Manny Navarro of the Miami Herald.
.@Goran_Dragic on hearing MVP chants: "I kept looking around to see if D-Wade was here."
The irony here is that Dwyane Wade’s departure has perhaps been directly responsible for Dragic’s strong play this season. Now that he has been able to handle the ball more often, work with a better-spaced floor, and play more to his natural up-tempo style, the Slovenian has responded with averages of 20.4 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 5.9 assists per game in 2016-17, right on par with his All-NBA season with the Phoenix Suns back in 2013-14.
Goran Dragic was unavailable for Sunday night’s Miami Heat game against the Indiana Pacers with a bruised right orbital after catching an elbow to the face on Saturday night against the Toronto Raptors.
Dragic left Saturday’s game after being injured and said following the game that he expected to play Sunday. But this is how his eye looked an hour before Sunday’s tipoff, which explains why he was unavailable to play.
Of course, it’s not just clever convenience store wordplay as No. 7 and No. 11 are Dragic and Waiters’ respective jersey numbers. Meanwhile, the “We’re always open” quip is probably in reference to how opponents are often willing to leave both Dragic (a 36.0 percent career three-point shooter) and Waiters (33.8 percent) unchecked from deep, something they’ve taken full advantage of during Miami’s win streak.
Self-proclaimed nicknames haven’t always flown in South Beach, but this one sounds like it’s right on the money. Still, it remains to be seen if the Heat, who are still just 19-30 on the year, will be buying their lottery ticket for their postseason or for the NBA Draft.
Dragic, 30, is having his best season since his 2013-14 Most Improved Player campaign with averages of 19.0 points, 3.0 rebounds, and 6.5 assists per game. He is in Year 2 of a five-year, $85 million contract.
We know that trading Dragic away before the February 23 deadline is a very real possibility for the 11-29 Heat. They need affordable young assets and probably won’t stand to benefit much by keeping Dragic around as a primary cog as he begins to lose speed and athleticism in his 30s.
As for Orlando, they’re an intriguing potential trade partner. They don’t seem to be sold on Elfrid Payton as their point guard of the future and have some scorers and defenders that they’re struggling to find either consistent minutes or the proper role for (Mario Hezonja and Aaron Gordon, in particular, might be of interest to Miami). The Magic also have their 2017 first-rounder (which is all but certain to fall in the lottery) to potentially include in trade talks.
Urgency will continue to build as the losses pile up for the injury-ravaged Heat, so perhaps flipping Dragic in a mutually beneficial intrastate deal is something that they should seriously begin to consider.
Dragic is open to a trade, league sources told The Vertical, and Miami has pursued that option. An early season swap with Sacramento for Rudy Gay fell apart when the Heat sought Darren Collison, sources said, and teams that have probed Miami about Dragic have found the Heat open to offers.
The 9-20 Heat are not having anywhere near the type of success Dragic envisioned when he wanted to go to South Beach during the 2014-2015 season. Dragic is leading the Heat with 19.1 points and 6.7 assists per game, so he no doubt would be a desirable player for others around the league. The question is whether the Heat would trade him as some part of a rebuild. The latest word was that they weren’t looking to trade him.
Dragic, 30, is averaging 19.1 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 6.7 assists per game for the 9-19 Heat this season, his first as their undisputed lead creator on offense. He is currently in the second of a five-year, $85 million contract.
While the Heat aren’t coming within a country mile of the postseason this year, they do have the benefit of owning their own first-rounder in 2017, a draft class brimming with point guard talent. Heat president Pat Riley even personally scouted UCLA star freshman Lonzo Ball at a game against Long Beach State in November.
The Heat were said to be discussing trading Dragic to this Western Conference team before the season, so they could still soften on their current unwillingness to deal the Slovenian as the losses pile up and the trade deadline draws nearer.
Meanwhile, Dragic, also 30, is on a fairly friendly contract, at least relative to what other point guards are making, with four years and roughly $70 million remaining on his deal. With Dwyane Wade now in Chicago, the Heat would stand to benefit from seeing what they have now that Dragic, who was often underutilized playing next to Wade, is their alpha guard, free to execute his ball-dominant, up-tempo style of play.
But Dragic could also solve Sacramento’s point guard problem, and the Heat lack a primary scorer with the effective departure of Chris Bosh. Still, Gay doesn’t have the requisite skillset to play regular minutes at the 4, and Collison, who is currently suspended for the first eight games of the season due to domestic violence, is his own major question mark. As such, these trade talks may be more exploratory in nature than anything.
The last thing the Miami Heat need while locked in a 2-2 series tie with the Toronto Raptors is tension among teammates. Good thing Erik Spoelstra says there isn’t any.
After the Heat escaped with an overtime win in Game 4 Monday night, Brian Windhorst of ESPN reported that an “uneasy tension” exists between Dwyane Wade and Goran Dragic. Spoelstra had the ball in Wade’s hands for most of the end of Miami’s Game 3 loss, and Wade’s 38 points ended up not being enough. Dragic was supposedly upset over his lack of playing time.
“At the end of the game the other night, Erik Spoelstra just basically sat Dragic down and said ‘I’m going with my guy, Wade’ and Wade had 38 points,” Windhorst said, as transcribed by Anthony Chiang of The Palm Beach Post. “It was amazing, but it was a losing effort. The Heat really have to make a decision, Spoelstra has to make a decision. It’s either going to be Dragic at the controls or Wade, and I honestly think that they’re better on the long-haul with Dragic. That’s a huge decision for Erik Spoelstra to make going forward here, give the keys to Dragic or let Wade dominate.”
On Tuesday, Spoelstra said the report is simply not true.
“It’s silly, but we’re used to it,” he told reporters. “Before the playoffs even started three and a half weeks ago, that’s what we said, it brings out everything. It’s a lot of noise. Usually when you lose, there will be a lot of surprising storylines and narratives out there and you just have to be able to laugh at it. It’s never after a win, it’s just after a loss and usually has nothing to do with what actually happened in the game.”
After the Heat bounced back to win Game 4, Dragic said Wade has been “unbelievable” this postseason and admired how “unstoppable” the veteran was down the stretch in Game 3.