On paper things in South Beach look encouraging for the first time since King James took his talents and promise of a dynasty back home to Cleveland.
Many think a fully healthy and revamped Heat squad could challenge for a top-four seed in the delicate East, and possibly push the Cavs in a late-round Playoff series that everyone is hopeful the basketball gods make happen.
A big reason for the optimism in Miami is the talent of the newly signed Goran Dragic, who slipped nearly 20 spots in this year’s Top 50 after a career year in 2013-14.
During that season, in which the Dragon averaged 20.3 points and nearly 6 assists a game, the Suns were the most surprising team in the League. Dragic, a near All-Star, quickly became a favorite of fans and players alike with his European-influenced game. Everything seemed copacetic with the charming, young Suns squad, despite its unconventional design, and Dragic was poised to lead the gang of talented misfits into the future.
But as quickly as the Suns put the League on notice, clouds swiftly rolled in and cast shadows over the sunny Phoenix franchise.
The logjam in the backcourt had its affect on Dragic, one of the best finishers in the League, who saw his numbers dip and speculation over his pending free agency grow. Soon, the situation in the desert turned hostile. Dragic—who had finally made a name for himself after a career as a perennial backup stuck behind the likes of Steve Nash and Kyle Lowry—was itching to be the clear leader of the pack.
News broke that the crafty, 6-3 lefty wanted out of Phoneix and that he had a short wish list that included the Lakers, Heat and Knicks. The Godfather Pat Riley wasted little time in striking a deal for the slippery Slovenian with a debilitating stepback, and soon Dragic was running a Heat team on the mend from heartbreak and injuries.
Dragic put up almost identical numbers in 26 games with the Heat as he did during his final season in Phoenix, averaging a little more than 16 points per game, while only scoring more than 25 points once in a Miami uniform. One of the most noticeable differences in Dragic’s game last season was his inability to get to line as often as he did during his most effective stretches in Phoenix. Dragic shot more than 400 free throws during his career year with Suns, compared to just over 230 last year.
The Heat failed to make the Playoffs, finishing 10th in the East behind the Pacers and Nets, and Dragic entered free agency. Riley and team officials were determined to bring the 29-year-old point guard back to pair with a healthy Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. Dragic signed a $90 million deal over the summer, which experts considered a steal with the salary cap expected to boom next year.
Now, Dragic has put the stress of free agency behind him and is looking for a fresh start as the floor general of a talented Miami starting five that includes Wade, Bosh, Luol Deng and promising young center Hassan Whiteside. The heat bench may also be one of the strongest in the East with Gerald Green, Chris “Birdman” Andersen, Justise Winslow, Amar’e Stoudemire and Josh McRoberts.
Fans and the Heat are hoping the distractions of Dragic’s free agency and the situation in Phoenix contributed to the point guard’s sometimes inconsistent play last season.
For the first time in his career, Dragic will be asked to drive a Playoff-caliber team toward a Championship.
Let’s see what he can do.
|SLAM Top 50 Players 2015|
Rankings are based on expected contribution in 2015-16—to players’ team, the NBA and the game.