Remember when the Miami Heat was closer to landing the top pick in the draft than a playoff spot?
Miami began the season with an 11-30 record and questions surrounded the availability of veteran point guard Goran Dragic on the trade market.
As of February 9, Miami is only two games out of the final Eastern Conference playoff spot. Dragic is having one of his best individual seasons, and has played a key role in the team’s resurgence at 30 years old.
After hearing his name mentioned in trade rumors previously as a member of the Phoenix Suns, and earlier this season in trade talks with Rudy Gay, as Basketball Insiders previously reported, Dragic changed the way he views the trade deadline.
“Maybe in the past, a few years ago, I was really into it,” Dragic told Basketball Insiders in late January. “I was really nervous all the time. I was reading articles. When I got traded the first time it kind of changed me because then I realized this is normal, this is part of the business. Now I’m not even paying attention about that, I’m only focused on basketball, because it can mess your head up if you’re not mentally strong. I don’t want to read those or even hear those rumors. I just want to do my job.”
The organization appeared to be going “Gonzo for Lonzo” or “Folding for Fultz” as tanking slogans before Miami’s 12-game winning streak. However, while approaching 31 in May, Dragic never lost faith in Miami’s management to quickly rebuild going forward.
“I feel good confidence, great, because first of all, I trust completely the front office,” Dragic told Basketball Insiders. “Pat Riley, and Andy [Elisburg] and Mickey Arison’s family, they know what they’re doing. They’ve already proven that in the past, and I’m not worried about the future because we have a lot of good, young players who are developing their game in the right directions. It’s going to be an interesting summer for us, but I feel fully comfortable that we’re going to bounce back quick.”
Dragic was traded to Miami a few days before the trade deadline in 2015 as part of a three-team deal with the Phoenix Suns and New Orleans Pelicans. Miami traded Norris Cole, Justin Hamilton and Shawne Williams to the Pelicans and traded Danny Granger, a 2017 protected first-round pick and a 2021 first-round draft pick to the Suns to acquire Dragic.
After getting traded to Miami and signing a long-term deal, has the experience been what Dragic thought it would be?
“I feel great in Miami,” Dragic said. “Everything that I thought, it’s a first class organization. The city’s awesome, the players are great, coaches, everything is great. I understand that this is part of the business that sometimes the team changes quickly, but everybody is going through that. I’m always a positive guy, I always work hard, and I try not to look negatively, but try to look to the future, try to look at positive things and get better.”
Dragic and Hassan Whiteside have become the faces of the franchise after the free agency departure of Dwyane Wade and the loss of Chris Bosh to blood clots. A year ago on February 9, Bosh played his last game with the team. In the absence of Wade and Bosh, Dragic is shooting a career-high 45 percent from beyond the arc and Whiteside is averaging career highs in points (17.1), rebounds (14) and minutes per game (33).
Dion Waiters has also played the best basketball of his career, including receiving an Eastern Conference Player of the Week award during the team’s 12-game winning streak. Waiters is averaging career highs in 3-point percentage (.387) and assists per game (4.2).
Tyler Johnson, who signed a four-year, $50 million restricted offer sheet with the Brooklyn Nets before the Miami Heat matched, has become a capable bench scorer, averaging a career-high 13.6 points per game. James Johnson has also provided the bench with a lift averaging a career-high 11.7 points per game on 36 percent shooting from beyond the arc.
“You have a lot of guys who is working hard, a lot of new faces on this team, nine new players who have never played together,” Dragic told Basketball Insiders. “It takes time to develop that chemistry. Nobody says it’s going to be easy, we struggle at the beginning, but now, the last two weeks we’re playing really good basketball. We feel like we improved much in those areas, and hopefully, we can climb back.”
Who needs Wade, Bosh or LeBron James in Miami when the team has Okaro White, the team’s good luck charm? Miami has gone 12-0 since signing White.
With Dragic and Waiters forming a potent backcourt, Whiteside proving last season wasn’t a fluke, James and Tyler Johnson filling the stat sheet off the bench and some good luck from White, Miami is sizzling towards a potential playoff berth.
For more Miami Heat coverage, check out Jesse Blancarte’s latest story for Basketball Insiders.
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