Jeff Hornacek became better known as a shooting guard, but you know he saw himself as a point. Kevin Johnson led to Jason Kidd led to Stephon Marbury. Yep, we’re counting Stephon Marbury.
The Suns have always had an electric starting point guard and that was the case in the summer of 2008. The team did, however, need a backup after it accepted the fate of the failed Marcus Banks signing two years earlier. Suns owner Robert Sarver remembers former executive David Griffin asking him for $500,000 on draft night.
“I go, ‘When?’” Sarver recounted Wednesday. “He goes ’10 minutes. We got to buy this draft pick, we got to get this guy from Europe.’
“I go, ‘tell me about him.’ He goes, ‘Here, well watch this real quick.’”
Watching a highlight reel of the mysterious point guard, Sarver remembers pointing out an impressive move — it was the Eurostep. That was enough convincing; he gave Griffin the $500,000, which was packaged with the 48th pick to move up to the 45th pick in the draft, where the San Antonio Spurs selected for Phoenix.
That’s where the Suns’ relationship with Goran Dragic, the NBA’s newly-crowned Most Improved Player, begins.
Learning English was Dragic’s first hurdle when the Suns finally handed over another $500,000 to his European squad as part of a buyout agreement. The next was getting accustomed to the speed and physicality of the NBA as a rail-thin 22-year-old. It was ugly at first.
“Somebody said that I’m the worst player in the NBA, and my last name should not be Dragic but ‘Tragic,’” Dragic said Wednesday, referring to a comment from former ESPN writer John Hollinger. “Every time I was in a practice court, I had this in my mind.
“Even people back home, when I went to the NBA they were questioning whether I was good enough, I’m skinny, I don’t have outside shot.”
When Dragic earned the NBA’s 2014 Most Improved Player award, it was the culmination of a long road to success that included a trade from Phoenix to Houston, and then a re-signing with the Suns.
“I’ll mention that I had the foresight to bring him back as a free agent,” said Suns president of basketball operations Lon Babby on Wednesday. “We won’t discuss why it was necessary to bring him back as a free agent.”
The ‘why’ on the surface was about the Suns regretting a trade of Dragic to the Houston Rockets in exchange for Aaron Brooks. Deep down, it was clawing out of a prolonged mourning process — Sarver admitted as much — once it was clear Phoenix needed to move into a new era.
The MIP trophy presentation included a stage in the pavilion of U.S. Airways Center. NBATV broadcasted the ceremony, which included a gathering of more than 100 Suns employees, some of whom were Dragic’s teammates. The event was, finally, an opportunity for Sarver, Babby and Hornacek to celebrate a season that included too many oh-so-close moments rather than significant achievements — the tenor during exit interviews seemed like the Suns truly felt they failed by missing the postseason.
Here the Suns rejoiced over a consolation prize for Dragic, who put in a historic season yet didn’t make the All-Star game. It was bigger than that, too. This was not only about the 2013-14 season, or the historically bad year before. The Suns were moving on.
Former Valley of the Suns reporter Tyler Lockman covered Dragic’s MIP press conference for FOX Sports Arizona and had a telling observation about the half-hour tribute to Dragic.
Steve Nash wasn’t mentioned.
— Goran Dragic (@Goran_Dragic) March 30, 2014