A hero has come to deliver us from a boring NBA trade deadline, and his name is Goran Dragic. Dragic told the Suns he will not re-sign with Phoenix this offseason, USA Today's Sam Amick reported on Tuesday night, which has led the team to field offers for the point guard.
This is a really complex situation with a cache of questions. As such, here's one man's attempt to explain all of the moving parts as of Wednesday morning. Enjoy.
How good is Dragic?
He's never been an All-Star, but he was named to third team All-NBA last season, which indicates he was one of the top 15 players in the league. He was also named the league's Most Improved Player, for whatever that's worth. Given his career numbers, however, that season is increasingly looking like the exception, not the rule.
According to basketball-reference.com, Dragic ranks 81st in PER among all players this season with at least 500 minutes. He's No. 47 in points-per-game (16.2), No. 46 in assists-per-game (4.1) and No. 58 in True Shooting (.573). Per ESPN.com, Dragic ranks No. 210 in real plus-minus overall (-0.97) and No. 36 among shooting guards. (It's unclear why ESPN lists him as a shooting guard, though the Suns are obviously confusing in terms of backcourt positionality. If he were listed with point guards, he'd be No. 39.)
In real plus-minus, Dragic ranked No. 39 overall in the NBA and No. 5 among shooting guards in his much better 2013-14 season.
It's probably safe to say that Dragic is roughly a top-50 NBA player currently and a top-12 or top-15 point guard. You would think the top 50 NBA players had 10 from each position, but that's not likely the case. It's a point guards' league right now. Given that, there are probably about 15-18 teams for whom Dragic would be at least a marginal -- if not a major -- upgrade in the starting lineup.
Why does he want out of Phoenix?
It appears that Dragic was miffed that the Suns not only paid co-star Eric Bledsoe handsomely in the 2014 offseason ($70 million over five years), but also signed point guard Isaiah Thomas. That latter move was seen by some as an insurance policy against Dragic's 2015 free agency.
Rumors have swirled that the locker room has become quite less jovial since Thomas arrived (perhaps due to Dragic's discomfort) and Dragic's minutes, shot attempts, assists, usage rate and -- most notably -- free throw attempts have all fallen this season. That could also be due partly to Bledsoe's health. He missed much of last season, giving Dragic a larger load.
A big reason why a smaller role might bug Dragic: He can be a free agent in 2015, and the role adjustments are likely to negatively impact his contract value. The Suns have also drafted several point guards in recent years, including Syracuse's Tyler Ennis in 2014. It's unclear if that plays a role in Dragic's mistrust, but as Bright Side of the Sun notes, it could be a factor.
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What about Goran's brother?
The Suns did sign Goran's brother Zoran (yes, seriously) to a two-year deal well above the minimum salary last summer. This is interesting because Zoran was not a major NBA prospect. He has not had any on-court role for Phoenix this season. But it does not appear that Suns GM Ryan McDonough signed Zoran to blatantly appease Goran -- the deal to bring in the younger Dragic was a total surprise to the elder. That doesn't mean McDonough did it solely for basketball reasons. It's just not a black-and-white issue. Zoran Dragic is not Chris Smith.
Regardless, if McDonough did intend to appease Dragic by signing his little brother, it didn't work.
What leverage does Dragic have?
Dragic has a player option for the 2015-16. If he declines it, he can become a free agent in 2015. Reports have suggested he will opt out and not re-sign with the Suns due to the aforementioned issues. That means that the Suns would face potentially losing Dragic, one of the team's two best players, for nothing. That is generally frowned upon. In order to prevent that from happening, the Suns appear suddenly open to trading Dragic for the right package.
Why is Dragic's list filled with bad teams?
Goran Dragic going? gone?
Goran Dragic going? gone?
Yahoo!'s Adrian Wojnarowski reported late Tuesday that Dragic is open to being traded to the Lakers (13-40), Heat (22-30) and the Knicks (10-43). The Lakers and Knicks are two of the four worst teams in the NBA, and the Heat's odds of making the playoffs are about equal to those of the Suns despite being six games worse in the standings.
L.A., New York and Miami are very nice cities, though, and the Lakers and Knicks offer Dragic an opportunity to have a massive role the remainder of this season considering that Kobe Bryant has been shut down and Carmelo Anthony isn't far behind. (The size of Dragic's role in Miami would depend on Dwyane Wade's health.)
Having a massive role for a high-profile, high-revenue team is a great way to goose one's next contract. If Dragic's list includes those teams, it's clearly not because he wants to make the playoffs and win games. It's because he wants to sign the fattest possible contract in 2015. That, or he desperately wants to move to a major nightlife hub.
What about the other teams mentioned in the rumors?
Houston has been mentioned as a potential destination, but as Woj noted, Dragic and the Rockets' starting point guard, Patrick Beverley, share an agent (Bill Duffy). Beverley is scheduled to be a free agent in 2016. Given that a Dragic trade to Houston would negatively impact Beverley's value whether Beverley was included or not, don't count on it happening.
Boston and Sacramento have also been mentioned, despite not appearing on Dragic's list. The thinking is that the Celtics and Kings would take the risk of trading for a free agent-to-be because they believe in their chances to retain Dragic in free agency. Boston, Sacramento and Houston clearly have better assets than Miami, New York and the Lakers. If they are willing to take the plunge, that's a much better solution for Phoenix.
Indiana has also been mentioned in rumors, but that seems like a longshot unless a huge salary swap involving Roy Hibbert comes to pass.
Why are the Lakers an especially intriguing option?
The Lakers owe the Suns their first-round pick unless it falls in the top five. The Lakers currently have the fourth-worst record in the NBA. If that holds, L.A. would have an 83 percent probability of landing in the top five in the NBA Draft Lottery and retaining their pick. If the Lakers trade for Dragic, they would very likely see those odds shrink to about 21 percent, if not worse. By trading Dragic to L.A., the Suns could effectively quadruple the odds they will have a lottery pick in the 6-9 range in 2015.
Of course, doing so would effectively concede a playoff race they currently lead by a half-game. That could have seriously bad implications locally, and especially for the players already on the team. This plus the Lakers' dearth of assets makes the idea far less appealing.
What options will Dragic have going forward?
Dragic actually has a number of options if things don't go his way this week. He can, as mentioned, opt out and become a free agent in July. Several teams will have cap space and a hole at point guard. He can choose from those teams while competing with Rajon Rondo for free agent dollars.
Alternatively, he can exercise his player option for 2015-16 for $7.5 million and delay free agency until 2016. That would mean taking a pay cut of at least $4 million for 2015-16 -- he'll fetch north of $11 million per season this season even if things go wrong. But 2016 is when the salary cap will explode, as discussed in Tuesday's Hook and a bit more below.
Finally, Dragic could conceivably opt out and attempt to sign a one-year deal, either with the team that holds his Bird rights, or as a rogue free agent. Teams aren't typically keen on signing major players to one-year deals, though. The Suns would almost certainly reject such a ploy, knowing what could happen on the other side (Dragic leaving for nothing in the boom of 2016).
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Why should Dragic opt in and delay free agency?
This is what I think Dragic should do, regardless of whether he's traded this week. He should opt in, play out the 2015-16 season and hit free agency in 2016. There is going to be a ridiculous amount of player salary available, and the individual player caps will soar. Dragic isn't worth a max contract under the current salary regime, and he certainly won't be worth a higher max under the new regime. (His 2016 max would start north of $20 million. He's not getting that unless he reverts to 2013-14 form and improves from there.)
But the max is a marker, and there's plenty of room between what Dragic hopes to sign for this offseason (the $12-14 million range) and what he can get in 2016 ($15-18 million, if not more). It is likely to be a free agent feeding frenzy the likes of which the NBA has never seen. The famous 2010 free agency period is going to look like child's play. So many bad, high-revenue teams are going to have so much cap space and grand plans to land multiple high-profile players. It's conceivable that every single team in the NBA could have at least $15 million of cap space, depending on how this summer shakes out.
The salary cap is going to rise 50 percent. Think about that for a second. Perhaps Dragic is less risk-averse than I, but that's a gold rush so massive it's hard not to consider strongly. (Note: it's not my money or my future we're talking about here.)
What will happen with Dragic?
My bet is that the Suns will either cut a deal with one of the teams not on Dragic's list (Celtics, Kings, Rockets), or refuse to trade him and see how things shake out. If the Suns keep Dragic, one would expect Phoenix to quickly find a new home for Isaiah Thomas in an effort to appease the Slovenian.