Dragic nails his Portland audition as Rockets beat Blazers. Can the Rockets also win the fight — will they fight — to keep him?
Posted on April 10, 2012 at 1:34 am by Jonathan Feigen in Analysis, General
So this is what it is like to be the LeBron James of Slovenia.
You win Player of the Week in the morning, key a win at night and then answer a bunch of questions about becoming a free agent and what matters to you most. Money? Team? Minutes? A short drive to Nike headquarters?
Goran Dragic even has a collection of plaid shirts in case he wishes to sit down with Jim Graycic to announce The Decision on Slovenian cable. It turns out, this really is the Year of the ‘Dragon.’
“It was a little bit different,” said Dragic after the Rockets knocked off the Trail Blazers, a team desperate for a point guard and with the cap room for a spending spree. “Before, they never asked me this type of questions. ‘Are you going to come to Portland?’ Still, all the doors are open. We’re going to see what is going to happen this summer. I feel great in Houston. Hopefully, I’m going to stay in Houston.”
Earlier, he did say something about “I want to be a starter.” Still, he seems very open to staying in Houston if things work out.
That might be tough. The Rockets have to want him back, but they do have Kyle Lowry locked up for two more seasons. All the excitement over Dragic since he stepped in when Lowry went out is no greater than when Lowry carried the team early in the season, including with an even more thorough beat-down of the Blazers. The Rockets run tons of point guard pick-and-roll. Good point guards will look good.
Having been given the opportunity, Dragic looks like the real deal. As a starter, he has averaged 18.2 points on 51.9 percent shooting and 44.2 percent 3-point shooting, along with 8.7 assists. More than that, he seems at his best when his best is needed (which makes him more the Slovenian Manu Ginobili than LeBron James.)
“I told the guys,” Portland interim head coach Kaleb Canales said, “I think he’s kind of playing a little bit like how Ginobili looks out there to me.”
All that Jeremy Lin backlash in February, when Daryl Morey tweeted that it was a mistake to let Lin get away, seems forgotten considering the point guards he has and the moves he made to get them. If Dragic turns out to be special, as he appears to be, and is allowed to walk, the heat would be much greater.
The problem is with timing. The Rockets have spent years retooling the roster to have the cap space they would have this summer. It is not likely to be filled with a max-contract free agent, but could be extremely valuable in a trade for the kind of star player the Rockets have lacked.
That kind of deal does not come quickly. Free agent decisions will likely move much faster. The Rockets would have to decide whether to keep that space or fill it with Dragic and Courtney Lee.
A good case could be made for bringing back the free agent guards, especially the way the Rockets are coming together and both are playing. But the Rockets would have to decide that they can live longer without that signature star. It’s still possible to make such a huge trade with the trade pieces they have, but it’s tougher when teams might only make that move to cut costs before the heavier luxury taxes kick in.
That kind of deal is far from a sure thing – or even likely – in either circumstance, but if it is difficult with loads of cap space, it is brutally tough without it, as the Rockets have seen the past two seasons of coming close but coming up short.
All things considered, the Rockets should give themselves until the free-agent signing date to make that kind of deal. If they can’t by then, keep what they have and keep trying.
Even if the Rockets do decide to keep their free agents, Dragic would have to decide to stay with them. (Lee will be a restricted free agent.) A team like Portland can offer him big money and tons of playing time. Dragic might not be thinking about it now, but he will. He likes Houston, his teammates and coaches. But someone that came all the way to Slovenia to play ball, against the advice of many that said he was not ready, Dragic could be enticed to move again.
“It’s going to be a crazy summer for me,” he said. “Still, I have to get every game, try to be focused, play hard and try to make playoffs with Houston Rockets. What is going to happen after the season, we’ll see.”