The Curious Case of Goran Dragic

Mar 16, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Phoenix Suns guard Goran Dragic (1) looks on against the Toronto Raptors at Air Canada Centre. The Suns beat the Raptors 121-113. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 16, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Phoenix Suns guard Goran Dragic (1) looks on against the Toronto Raptors at Air Canada Centre. The Suns beat the Raptors 121-113. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports /

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On July 5th, 2012, Phoenix had just completed a sign-and-trade with the LA Lakers, sending Steve Nash to Hollywood. The move had signified a changing of the guard in the Valley, leaving the Suns without its leader and face of the franchise. No longer a title contender, the team chose to “reload” instead of going through the strenuous rebuild. Under this new direction and philosophy, Phoenix took a chance on a player that had shown flashes of potential throughout his career yet could not maintain consistency until that point. . . . That player was Michael Beasley. It didn’t work out.

However, on the same day Beasley was signed to a 3-year contract, an additional player was brought into the Suns organization. Or to be more specific, brought back.

In a story that has become well known to Suns nation, owner Robert Sarver secured Goran Dragic’s commitment to Phoenix via phone call from a parking garage, with Raymond Felton (a player the Suns brass liked a lot) still scheduled to visit up to that point. The 34 million, 4-year contract was officially inked on July 11th, 2012, and met with mixed reviews. After spending his first three years with the organization before being dealt to the Houston Rockets, Dragic never averaged more than 7 points playing in the shadow of Steve Nash. In his only full season with Houston, Dragic averaged 11.7 points and 5.3 assists, not exactly mind-blowing numbers and certainly not warranting 8.5 million a season. Fast forward three years and that very contract is looking like the best bargain in the NBA, with the Suns facing a situation they did not expect.

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In a successful return to the Suns, Dragic averaged a career high 14 points and 7.4 assists in 2013, enduring himself to the fans and serving as the only shining light on the 5th worst team in the NBA. For an encore, all Dragic did was lead the Suns to 48 victories after the team was projected to finish in the Western Conference basement, establishing himself as the new leader in the desert. Individually the guard averaged 20.3 points, shot 50% from the field, 40% from three-point range and made the 2014 All-NBA Third Team.

With his selfless play, humble personality, bursting talent, and status as a model citizen in the community, if the Suns had a “face of the franchise” player, it was becoming Dragic.

Entering the 2014-15 season, the sky seemed to be the limit for the All-NBA point guard. Instead, things have gone much differently than planned. Now, Dragic’s job description has even fallen into question.

With the addition of Isaiah Thomas to the returning core of players from last year, the Suns looked to up the ante even more with their relentless run and gun style of play. A “three-headed monster” is what Eric Bledsoe, Thomas and Dragic were labeled entering the season.

Instead, that “monster” has proven to be inconsistent and a defensive liability all year, with Thomas and Bledsoe sharing point guard duties while Dragic- after a career year- has been forced to play off the ball more than ever. Playing primarily as a shooting guard, to say Dragic’s numbers have suffered would be an understatement.

His scoring total has dipped from 20.3 points a game to 16.2 and after averaging 5.9 assists last season in his natural point guard role, Dragic is now dishing out a pedestrian 4.1 a game. Most telling, Dragic is shooting 13.1 shots a game, down from just 14.4 last season. Nearly identical shot totals but highly different statistical outcomes show not only is Dragic missing more this season but he is struggling to get into the flow of the game, playing out of position.

While the change in position would be an easy sell if the Suns were winning, the team has failed to move more than 8 games above .500 to this point, entering All-Star break at a disappointing 29-25.

Off the win pace of last season and sacrificing the most out of any individual on the Suns, it wouldn’t take a rocket scientist to know the frustration Dragic must be feeling. After leading this team to within a single game of the playoffs last season, Dragic has been limited to a shooting guard role this season, rarely given the chance to do to what he does best, running the point.

Most season’s there wouldn’t be much thought given to these dynamics, however, this one is different, much different. The guard plans to opt out of his player option this summer and become a free-agent, a move that most had anticipated since last season. The plan had been simple: opt out, receive a significant pay raise from the Suns, sign long-term and Dragic would solidify himself as the true face of the franchise in Phoenix.

Not so simple anymore. The NBA Trade Deadline is Thursday and shockingly, Dragic has reportedly demanded a trade out of Phoenix due to the frustrating circumstances of the guard situation.

The fact of the matter is that the balance of the Suns has been off all season. Too many guards and not enough frontcourt help has hurt the team far more than it has helped them. After being so loyal to Phoenix back in 2012-turning down other offers to return to the same organization that had traded him before- Dragic deserves better than this.

The guard has been the consummate professional and team player throughout the season, never publicly voicing disappointment or creating controversy when most would. Dragic has led by example this year on a Suns team that has not quite endeared themselves to the fan base just yet. While Eric Bledsoe is undoubtedly the best player on the team, it’s the mild-mannered and charismatic Slovenian serving as the most well-known player in Phoenix. With the Suns struggle to fill Talking Stick Resort Arena as it is (22nd in the NBA in attendance), trading their closest “face of the franchise” type player since Steve Nash may not exactly ignite their fan base.

Thursday looms as a day that will bring answers to many questions for the Suns, specifically surrounding Dragic. Keep Goran, and the Suns must focus their last stretch of the season on making him as happy as possible to see if they can change his mind about staying here with the Suns.

Should Phoenix retain his services past the deadline but fail to make the necessary position change, they put themselves in danger of losing an All-Star caliber player for nothing.

If the Suns do the once unthinkable and trade the fan favorite, frontcourt help would undoubtedly be on the way but at the cost of Dragic’s leadership, maturity and ability as a playmaker, while limiting their point guard depth significantly.

For Dragic, there is not much more he could of done and there is not much more that can be done, it’s a waiting game now.

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