Dragic says it’s time to move on, citing lack of ‘trust’ in Suns’ front office
PHOENIX — As Wednesday’s escalation of Dragongate began its march toward Thursday’s NBA trade deadline, Goran Dragic confirmed that he’s no longer happy with his role or looking forward to his future with the Phoenix Suns.
"I don’t trust them anymore," Dragic said following the Suns’ first post-All-Star-weekend practice, acknowledging that agent Bill Duffy had informed the Suns of Dragic’s commitment to leave the team in free agency this summer.
The "them" referenced is the front-office collective of general manager Ryan McDonough, president of basketball operations Lon Babby and owner Robert Sarver, and Dragic insinuated that they’d failed to meet his expectations.
"It happens too many times," Dragic said. "Two, three times. They give promises."
The first promise presumably occurred in July 2012, when Sarver convinced Dragic to return to the struggling Suns with the notion of running the Phoenix offense as its point guard.
The Suns would be his team and he’d be the ball-dominant point guard, a position that continues to become more fluid each year. With tempo, floor-spacing and ball screens increasing in focus, the lines separating positions — especially in the backcourt — are a bit blurry.
One year into that presumption of lead-guard status, McDonough arrived from Boston with the task of upgrading the team’s talent. According to most league observers, the one available player possessing the most "upside" was Eric Bledsoe, who happens to be a point guard.
McDonough skillfully landed Bledsoe in a trade with the Los Angeles Clippers, despite already having Dragic under contract for two more seasons (and a player option for one more).
Although there was some pre-training-camp trepidation by the players involved, the Dragic-Bledsoe partnership became a scoreboard success. True, Bledsoe was injured and played less than half the 2013-14 season, but when he and Dragic were in the same starting lineup, the Suns were 23-11 (compared with to two games over .500 when they weren’t).
Combining his work with and without Bledsoe, Dragic had his best NBA season. Working on and off the ball, he was rewarded with third-team, All-NBA status and was named the league’s Most Improved Player.
When asked, Dragic repeatedly said he enjoyed playing with Bledsoe, and that having a teammate capable of breaking down a defense made the game easier for him.
But with Bledsoe dribbling off toward restricted free agency and the Suns looking to add to their collection of talent and have at least two attack-mode point guards on the floor for big stretches of every game, McDonough signed Isaiah Thomas to a four-year, $28 million deal that generally was regarded as a bargain.
With the 5-foot-9 Thomas bringing a gunslinger attitude into his role as sixth man, however, the dynamic changed. Instead of initiating the offense when Bledsoe sits, Dragic now finds himself spotting up and running off screens while Thomas probes the defense.
Thomas has been really good doing what he does (scoring), but Dragic feels marginalized. He also feels his level of sacrifice was stretched when Suns coach Jeff Hornacek goes with three point guards at the same time. This requires Dragic to defend and block out small forwards.
"I don’t feel comfortable with my situation," Dragic said Wednesday. "It’s just different. Standing in the corner, it’s not my game. I want to be a point guard like I was in the past, all my life. To be a point guard, to run the team, to have the ball in my hands, to try to make plays for others. That’s who I am."
Hornacek acknowledged Dragic is being asked to adjust to different situations this year but said roles are a matter of perception.
"If that’s what he feels, that’s what he feels," Hornacek said. "We swing the ball from side to side, and he’s gotten the ball on the swing, but everyone has their perception of what’s happening out there. Is it what it was last year? No. But we’re four bounces or four plays away from being 33-21."
The reality, though, is that the Suns come out of the All-Star break at 29-25 and losers of five of their past six games.
"I see that we’re not going in the right direction," Dragic said. "That’s why I take action and try to put myself in a better position."
That position is point guard, and teams with need of assistance in this particular area were named on Dragic’s destination wish list.
Included are the L.A. Lakers, where Kobe Bryant (if he’s healthy enough to play next year and continues beyond) is as ball-dominant as they come.
The New York Knicks are on the list, but (for now) still use the point guard-stifling triangle offense and employ ball-stopper Carmelo Anthony.
Another requested contender, Miami’s Heat still have Dwyane Wade, who certainly will give up the main dribble-pounding duty — when he’s teaming up with LeBron James.
There are other suitors, and the Suns will attempt to find a reasonable trade return from one of them before Thursday at 1 p.m. (MT).
If not, they could keep Dragic, continue to take their best swing at making the Western Conference playoffs and hope having Dragic’s Bird Rights can change his mind via the monetary route.
"I don’t know . . . you guys need to ask that to the front office upstairs," Dragic said regarding the likelihood of him being in a Suns uniform when they resume play on Friday at Minnesota. "I was clear. Now what they’re going to do they’re going to do. The only thing I can do is practice and try to stay in shape and where my future is going to be, there I’m going to go.
"I’m professional," Dragic said when asked what would happen if a trade failed to materialize and he had to finish the season here. "I try to play every game as hard as possible."
The Suns also attempted to assuage his feelings of alienation by trying to move Thomas; according to reports, this wouldn’t be enough, an indication that just playing alongside Bledsoe was more duty-sharing than Dragic cared to continue.
"It’s hard," Dragic said of leaving a franchise and city he’s loved. "But at the same time, I wish them all the best. They were great to me the past five years.
"I’m always going to have a good memory of Phoenix fans and the city. I just hit that point of my career where it’s better for me and my family to move on."