The Miami Heat’s Goran Dragic is an excellent basketball player.
In fact, he’s just one year removed from an All-NBA Third Team nod with the Phoenix Suns. The crafty lefty showcased his excellent all-around skill set and solid athleticism, emerging as the league’s quintessential combo guard. His per-game averages of 20.3 points and 5.9 assists, along with great advanced numbers (21.4 PER and 0.186 win shares per 48 minutes) screamed “budding star.”
This season, he’s lost his way a bit. After toiling half of a season in the middling Phoenix Suns’ crowded backcourt, he was traded to Miami. The playoff-hopeful Heat have had terrible injury luck and Dragic still hasn’t quite recaptured his magic of 2013-14.
With potential free agency looming for the 28-year-old guard, Miami will have to make a tough decision. Is Dragic a big part of the team’s future plans? Or is he not worth it?
How Much Would The Heat Have to Pay?
First of all, Dragic technically doesn’t have to enter free agency this summer. He has a player option to remain with the Heat in 2015-16 for the fourth year of his $30 million deal.
However, his salary would be just $7.5 million, which significantly undercuts Dragic’s value. He’s a fringe max-contract player, someone worth closer to $13-15 million. Before last season, he said he planned to opt out of his deal with his Suns, enter unrestricted free agency and then re-sign with the team.
Although Dragic obviously didn’t end up staying in Phoenix, I see no reason why he wouldn’t do the same thing with Miami. There’s simply too much potential money and opportunities left on the table to continue with his bargain contract.
The Heat will likely have to compete with other teams’ max contract offers for Dragic this summer. If their proposed price isn’t competitive, the combo guard will probably leave Miami.
How Well Has He Played For Miami?
Early on, Dragic seemed to be a huge boost to the Heat playoff push. Miami went 10-6 in its first 16 games with him on the roster.
But now, the Heat have cooled off significantly. Dealing with a dishearting slew of injuries (including a minor one to Dragic) and a difficult schedule, Miami has dropped seven of its last nine contests. Dragic’s stat lines have also been more understated.
Take a look at a statistical comparison between Dragic’s last full season with the Suns compared with his stints with Phoenix and Miami this year.
|Points||Assists||True-Shooting %||PER||Win Shares/48|
Overall, the trade to Miami has produced positive results for Dragic’s game compared to earlier this season with Phoenix, but he’s still not where he was last year.
Part of this could be his fit with the team’s offense. With Dwyane Wade as the Heat’s de facto point guard, Dragic doesn’t have the ball in his hands quite as much as he did in 2013-14 with the Suns.
The Heat also play at the league’s second-slowest pace, a stark contrast compared to the Suns’ third-fastest pace.
This is not advantageous to Dragic, who scored 4.2 points off turnovers and 5.5 points on fast breaks in Phoenix. With Miami, those numbers are down to 3.2 and 4.5, respectively. Dragic thrives in transition, when he can attack an unprepared defense with his slithery dribble moves.
And that Dragic/Wade pairing? It’s not producing great results for the Heat. When the two guards share the court, Miami gets outscored by 4.6 points per 100 possessions. That is not an acceptable number for a playoff-contending team’s best two backcourt players. Both like the ball in their hands a lot, and neither is particularly lethal from behind the three-point line.
Is He Worth It For Miami?
No. Dragic is not worth what the Heat will have to offer him this summer in order to lure him back to South Beach. It’s not that he isn’t worth a max deal, it’s just that what he can offer Miami isn’t worth max money.
Let me explain: while a potential starting lineup of Dragic/Wade/Luol Deng/Chris Bosh/Hassan Whiteside looks like a title-contending group on paper, games aren’t played on paper. Dragic may not be the best fit for a team that already has several great offensive options at other positions.
It also may be one of those lineups where the saying “there’s only one ball to go around” would apply. The Heat’s refusal to play up-tempo is also not the best way to utilize Dragic’s skills.
Lastly, there would be serious financial ramifications of re-signing Dragic to the max. Miami already has Bosh locked up with a huge max contract through the summer of 2018-19. By also giving one to Dragic, the Heat would be handcuffing themselves for the future. The Heat would love to retain Whiteside, who’s emerged as a borderline star in just his first season as a full-time player. Re-signing him in 2016 would be a lot more feasible if the Heat have some extra cap room, as NBC Sports’ Brett Polakoff explains.
Even with the salary cap taking a huge jump to around $88 to $92 million the summer of 2016, tying up more than $40 million with Bosh and Dragic seems less than ideal for a team looking to contend for the next several years.
The Heat would are best served to go with a cheaper, lower-maintenance option at point guard and preserve their financial stability moving forward. With the potential of a healthy Wade, Deng, Bosh and Whiteside, they have plenty of offensive firepower to contend for a high playoff seed in the Eastern Conference next year.
Dragic is a great player, but he isn’t the best fit with the Heat and signing him to a max contract is an irresponsible financial move.