After a one-season playoff hiatus, which was driven by the departure of LeBron James and an injury to Chris Bosh, the Miami HEAT came up just one game short of advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals this year.
The franchise has been one of the most resilient in the league over the years and will have another test to overcome this summer. Wade, Whiteside and former All-Star forward Luol Deng among others are all headed to unrestricted free agency and the team isn’t in the most flexible salary cap situation to retain all three without maneuvering. Also, All-Star forward Chris Bosh is battling a health condition that could impact whether he ever plays again – depending on the source.
But with all of the uncertainty surrounding the franchise over the next month and a half, the HEAT do have one guy locked up through the 2020 season.
Point guard Goran Dragic has had flashes of brilliance since joining the team midway through the 2015 season, but he’s also been subject to prolonged bouts of inconsistency.
Team president Pat Riley says he will be leaning heavily on Dragic next season and also won’t give his guard any more excuses.
“Last year, [Dragic] talked about how crazy it was — the trade, his wife was pregnant, couldn’t find a house, went back [to Europe],” Riley said, according to Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald. “It was really unsettling. Now he’s settled.
“I said, ‘You can’t use that excuse next year. That’s over.’ We already gave you the, ‘I wasn’t settled; I wasn’t in shape; I didn’t play on the national team’ [excuse]. He’s got a free summer. He’s happy. He’s healthy. His No. 1 objective is to come back in October in better shape and a better player.”
Dragic averaged 14.1 points in 72 games this season while shooting 48 percent from the field. Riley believes Dragic is capable of much more and can become more efficient moving forward.
“I’ve see players at 32, 33, get better in certain areas of their game,” Riley said. “I keep telling him 50 [percent from the field], 80 [percent on free throws], 40 [percent from three]. I will give you 10 percent on your free throws because you’ll be tired from picking your [butt] up off the floor from getting knocked down all the time for all that space that [head coach Erik] Spoelstra is going to create for you. That’s another thing. Come on, you’ve got to create something just to make sure he gets space.
“He’s got to be a player that can create and score when there is no space. That’s part of the game also, because when teams start to take things away from you and the offense that the coach creates, what are you going to do? Sit you on the bench? No, we’re not going to do that to you. That’s up to you to go out of the box.”
Dragic averaged a career-high 20.3 points in 2013-14 while a member of the Phoenix Suns. But in Miami, Dragic has struggled at times adjusting to playing off the ball for extended periods due to the presence of Wade.
However, if Dragic’s post All-Star break numbers are any indication of future potential, then Riley’s wishes may be granted.
Prior to the All-Star break, he averaged 12.3 points, 3.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists, while shooting 47 percent from the field and 33 percent from three-point range. After the break, Dragic averaged 17.3 points, 4.6 rebounds and 6.7 assists, shooting 49 percent from the field and 29 percent three.
During the playoffs, Dragic had a number of huge games for Miami. He finished the postseason averaging 16.5 points, 4.9 rebounds and 3.9 assists while shooting 44 percent from the field and 35 percent from three.
The future outcomes of Bosh, Wade and Whiteside will get all of the headlines this summer, and understandably so, but Dragic’s play next season could be the difference Miami needs to get back into title contention.
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