When the Miami HEAT acquired point guard Goran Dragic at the trade deadline during the 2014-15 campaign, the franchise was still reeling from the impact of losing four-time MVP LeBron James in free agency the previous summer.
Miami was desperately seeking reinforcements after losing arguably the best player in the game for nothing in return and the prevailing thought was that Dragic would become a key supporting cast member alongside All-Stars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Team president Pat Riley had also given center Hassan Whiteside a chance to salve his NBA career.
Fast forward almost two years. Wade is now lacing his high tops for the Chicago Bulls after departing in free agency this past summer and Bosh’s future is uncertain due to a recurring blood clot condition. The team is now being led by the duo of Dragic and Whiteside, who are now the team’s best players.
Ready or not, the HEAT are now carving out a new identity. But the 2016-17 campaign has gotten off to a rough start. As if overcoming the absences of Bosh and Wade wasn’t daunting enough, the roster has been ravaged by injuries to start the season.
Basketball Insiders recently caught up with Dragic to discuss the departure of future Hall of Famer Dwyane Wade, being thrust into an expanded role, injuries ravaging the HEAT, his chemistry with center Hassan Whiteside and whether he thinks the team can still make a run at the playoffs.
Basketball Insiders: Goran, have you ever been a part of something like this? With all the injuries, how are you guys getting through this?
Goran Dragic: “If I’m honest, no, never. This is the most injuries that I was a part of and we just need to play. I know we don’t have enough guys, but we never use excuses. So, hopefully after this road trip, the guys are going to come back. It is what it is – this is part of the business, part of the NBA – and we’re going through some tough times. We just need to be focused and look [at the] positive.”
Basketball Insiders: You were banged up earlier in the season and are playing a lot of minutes now. How are you holding up?
Goran Dragic: “I’m good. The body isn’t a 100 percent of course, but I feel pretty awesome. I’m in good shape. I had some problems at the beginning of the season, but now I’m okay.”
Basketball Insiders: Now, with Wade leaving, of course, and Bosh not being around, a lot of this team’s offense is about the chemistry between you and Hassan Whiteside. How do you think you two guys are getting along together on the court? Do you feel like the cohesion is getting stronger?
Goran Dragic: “Yeah. Me and Hassan, we have a good chemistry. We worked on it a lot last season and we feel like that every game is better and better. Even now, I know what he’s going to do, he knows what I’m going to do, so we’re on the same page.
“But still, this is a young team, we have a lot of newer faces than last year, and we just need to find that good chemistry that we had in the preseason. But, it’s kind of hard because with all those injuries, players are out [so] it’s always a different starting lineup or different players on the floor. Hopefully, that won’t happen in the future.”
Basketball Insiders: Obviously, when you got to Miami, Wade was such a big part of the culture. When you found out he was leaving, were you in a bit of a shock?
Goran Dragic: “Yeah, I was in shock because he was there 13 years. I would never imagine he was going to go somewhere else because, the Miami HEAT, everyone knows that was D-Wade’s team. But I understand, this is a part of the business. When that happened, I was talking with him and I wished him all the best in Chicago. He’s a good friend of mine, and it is what it is. We’re all professionals, so we need to do our jobs and I had to embrace a new, bigger role, but I’m fine with that.”
Basketball Insiders: I know you guys are still just trying to work through some things and trying to get healthy, but do you think this squad has the talent to make a playoff run this season?
Goran Dragic: “I think so. We’ve shown how we can play. I know the record doesn’t show that, but most of those games were real close, it was only like three or four points difference. It’s just those little things that we need to correct. But, like I said before, with all those injuries it’s really hard to find continuity with all those players. Hopefully, we’re done with injuries and we can focus on that.”
Miami is currently 7-15, which puts them in the 13th seed in the Eastern Conference. The HEAT are ranked 14th in defense (allowing 103 points per 100 possessions) and they’re ranked 24th in offense (scoring 100.4 points per 100 possessions).
Miami will face two familiar faces today and tomorrow, as they play LeBron James and Cleveland Cavaliers tonight and then Dwyane Wade and the Chicago Bulls tomorrow – with both games being on the road.
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