Goran Dragic taking advantage of opportunity with Houston Rockets


Goran Dragic learned from his mentor Steve Nash in Phoenix and is excelling as a starter in Houston. Copyright 2012 NBAE (Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images)

PHOENIX — Goran Dragic was supposed to be the heir to Steve Nash’s throne.

For two-and-a-half seasons the innocent kid from Slovenia brought a breath of fresh air to US Airways Center and wanted nothing more than to one day take the torch from Nash and become Phoenix’s floor general.

“That was my wish to be the guy in the future to run the team,” Dragic recalled on Sunday before the Suns and Rockets clashed in US Airways Center.

But there he stood before Sunday’s game, wearing red and grey warmups. He sat by his cubby in the visitor’s locker room with 12 tickets in hand for the friends he still has from his days in Phoenix.

It had been just over one year since Dragic was shipped out of the place he once called home, and the Dragon could still remember how hard it was to leave his first-ever NBA organization.

“When I first got traded it was tough,” Dragic said. “Another team, different players, different city but then I just needed time to adjust to see how these things work. But in the end I’m just here to play basketball.”

Dragic said he still owns a home in Phoenix. He and his former teammates and coaches “grab some drinks and hang out” when Dragic is in Phoenix or they’re in Houston. Dragic still reminisces about his 23-point fourth quarter against the San Antonio Spurs and Phoenix’s improbable Western Conference Finals run in 2010.

“That was something special,” Dragic said.

But despite all the memories, Dragic is a Rocket now.

Although he proved to be a serviceable backup with solid upside through 199 games in purple and orange, new management and an up and down start to his third season led Lon Babby and Lance Blanks to ship Phoenix’s once-prized youngster and a first-round pick to Houston for Aaron Brooks after 48 games last season.

Blanks and Babby said Dragic wasn’t a point guard of the future type of guy. They thought he was expendable enough to give up for a shot at making the playoffs with Brooks’ scoring punch. Well, the Suns didn’t make the playoffs, Brooks is currently stuck in China, and Dragic is showing the Houston Rockets that he can indeed be a point guard of the future type of player.

“I’m satisfied with this season. I’m playing a lot of minutes,” Dragic said. “When Kyle (Lowry) was not hurt we played together and I was a two or a one. It feels great. I’m playing, playing well and the team is winning.”

Dragic is averaging 15.5 points and 9.2 assists in his last six games as a starter while Kyle Lowry remains on the mend due to a bacterial infection. He’s racked up two double-doubles in his last three games and has reached double figures scoring in eight straight games. The Rockets are in the middle of the Western Conference playoff race and Dragic is a big reason why.

“It was great to see Goran. He played really well tonight. I’m just rooting for him,” Nash said after Dragic scored 13 points, dished out eight assists, and collected four steals in 36 minutes against the Suns. “He’s always had such great ability and I think he’s getting more minutes, more experience and he can take advantage of the situations on the floor better.”

In a contract year Dragic has indeed taken advantage of his stint in Houston. He’s playing big minutes, putting up big-time numbers as a starter, and even contributing as a combo guard when Lowry is healthy.

On Sunday the Slovenian lefty reminded Suns fans and management of his court vision as he dropped eight dimes, his pressure defense as he racked up four steals, and his deceiving athleticism as he picked off a pass and threw down a one-handed slam in transition. Dragic’s skills were on display, many for which he has Nash to thank.

“Steve is a great person. He helped me a lot. He’s one of the best point guards and if you battle against Steve Nash every practice you have to learn something,” Dragic said. “Especially that first year when I didn’t play 30 games I remember he was saying, ‘Just be patient, wait for your opportunity and when you get that opportunity you have to take advantage of it,’ and I did.”

Would Dragic have ever evolved into that point guard of the future in Phoenix? Different situations breed different results, and even Dragic wasn’t sure if he’d have been able to live up to the standard Nash, and even Kevin Johnson before him, set for Phoenix Suns point guards.

“Here was different,” Dragic explained. “Everyone was saying ‘Steve Nash, Steve Nash,’ so it’s a lot of pressure to play backup for him because every time he’s going to do something great.”

Although it’s not in Phoenix, now Dragic is doing something great. He’s starting, scoring, dishing, defending and winning, all of which may have never happened in Phoenix with Nash at the helm.

“It’s been a fantastic season so far,” Dragic said 60 minutes before he would once again re-live the bright lights and fans of US Airways Center, only this time it was in Houston Rockets gear.

Tags: Goran Dragic

  • https://twitter.com/#!/True_Rys Rich Anthony, (KJL)

    Swallow hard, admit the mistake; sign that man this off-season.
    It was a mistake to trade him in the first place. He’s more valuable than Ronnie Price, Telfair, Brown, Childress… COMBINED.

    Dude is a baller and, he’s one of the few point guards in the league who can actually run the system Gentry has in place.

    I said it before he was even on the trade block. He’s the Nash situation all over again.

    Draft him; give up on him way too quickly. Bring him back once it’s obvious that the kid has skills.

  • AL

    In other news, Jj Hickson got waived by kings and Suns are going after HIM!!!This could get the Suns over humps in the last month and a half. I hope Hickson decides to play with here and doesn’t go “Am going to a contender” route.

  • PennyAnd1

    @Rich Anthony

    The Kid have skills indeed. I didn’t like the trade at all, especially considering that we only got Aaron Brooks out of him. I like the idea of trying to get him back in the off-season in Suns uniform. I think him and Nash can split the minutes cause Nash could certainly use it.

  • PennyAnd1

    @AL

    If Hickson doesn’t break up the chemistry I wouldn’t mind. But he also has to accept coming off the bench if he wants to join Phoenix, because we have the best starting five in the NBA so far.

  • KeZ

    I Love my Phx Suns, but saying “we have the best starting five in the Nba so far”, well……I dont know about that! Surely we have the best PG in the buisness! It broke my heart to see Goran in a different uni last night! I really hope we can lure him back via free agency :)

    I still cant believe that the Clippers got Nick Young for Brian Cook = Steal of the Nba trade deadline……

  • fan in chi-town

    When I was watching the rockets game I made a comment to myself about wishing dragic was still on the team. My wife heard me and said “he doesn’t play for them anymore?” I told her no, that he got traded last year. She said “why do they always trade away the good players, its like thwey want to lose or something.” I just nodded sadly

  • steve

    I think what Penny is referring to is the stat that the Suns starting five has the highest +/- of any group in the NBA.

    Now, I’m not exactly positive how they keep track of this stat, and I think if it were adjusted, it might tell a completely different story. However, as far as I know, the stat is actually true. Don’t ask me how. I would think Miami’s starting five or Chicago’s starting five would be dominating this stat, but apparently not.

  • Scott

    While obviously it was Blanks and/or Babby who pulled the trigger on the Dragic trade, I think Dragic was clearly sacrificed by Gentry in a move to cover flaws in his coaching.

    It was Gentry’s fault the 2nd unit wasn’t playable for any PG, including Nash. How I imagine it must have gone is that when management asked Gentry how things could be improved for the 2nd unit, which was losing games, Gentry blamed the PG (Dragic) rather than point at his own unwillingness to put a 2nd unit on the floor that could play together and have a chance.

    That’s why the solution came out to be sacrificing a draft pick to get a rental on a new PG, rather than changing who would play minutes with the 2nd unit.

    We’ve seen similar dynamics with the 2nd unit again this year, except that just recently someone has started giving the 2nd unit some plays, and sometimes Gentry will put a starter in to stabilize the 2nd unit. Since Telfair was signed at Gentry’s request, he’s not going to get any blame from Gentry, and that’s probably one reason why we didn’t see a move to get a replacement PG in before the trading deadline.