During the 2020 offseason, the Miami Heat have been adamant about Goran Dragic’s free agency.
A month after helping push the Heat to the NBA Finals and then trying to overcome injuries in a season that ended with two title wins, Dragic was welcomed into his hometown of Ljubljana with Heat billboards in Slovenian which translated: “Your second family is always with you.
A two-year, $ 37 million free agent contract quickly followed, with teammate Jimmy Butler threatening with violence and joking if Dragic didn’t sign on the dotted line.
But it was then, when the Heat basked in the euphoria of an unexpected race to the Championship Series.
Now it will soon be decision time for the Heat, with the second year of the two-year deal a $ 19.4 million team option for next season.
This time around, there’s no playoff hangover. This time around, Dragic just finished a season where he missed 22 games and turned 35 last month.
This time . . . well, that’s business.
And that makes it a decision that has to come as much from the head as from the heart for Pat Riley’s front office.
For everything that has been as family-friendly for the Heat as that billboard last November in Slovenia, as well as the signs placed at Dragic’s home in Ljubljana celebrating his return in 2020, there were also cold staff calculations. by Riley over the years.
When the Heat couldn’t get over the playoff bump near the end of Riley’s first coaching tenure with the team, PJ Brown transferred to Charlotte in the 2000 offseason. A year later, Tim Hardaway, with his game in decline, was Dallas’ assistant. And two years later, the Heat established a payline with Alonzo Mourning, and he took from the Nets what the Heat wouldn’t offer. Then, of course, came the ugliness of the 2016 offseason with Dwyane Wade.
Brown was nothing less than the essence of the culture Riley’s imbued with upon his arrival. As for Hardaway, Mourning and Wade, all three jerseys are hanging over the Heat’s field.
And make no mistake, Dragic’s jersey should rightly be there as well. In his seven seasons with the Heat (one more than Hardaway; as much as during Mourning’s initial tenure), Dragic is ranked third in franchise history in assists, eighth in points and the fifth for the 3 points.
But now the question is whether the next time Dragic’s No.7 Heat jersey is seen at the FTX Arena, it will be on the pitch or in rafters.
Because unlike the Heat’s capped 2020 offseason, there’s some hard money to consider this time around.
Bypass Dragic’s team option and there could be up to $ 27 million in cap space that could be put into play in the market this summer.
But even if the Heat, as expected, bypasses the cap space and reorganizes itself through cap trades and exceptions, Dragic’s 2021-22 salary could also be what’s needed to balance a deadline trade. , and, say, Tyler Herro’s $ 4 million puts you in the stage of a deal for elite talent).
As it stands, the Dragic decision may not be about Dragic at all.
With overhead space, the Heat could potentially head to Raptors free agent Kyle Lowry as a playmaker replacement.
If medical reports support Victor Oladipo’s recovery from quadriceps surgery, Dragic could be asked to take a little less so Oladipo can get a little more, in balance with the luxury tax.
Even Kendrick Nunn’s free agency could be factored into the equation, as there is a limit to the eight-figure salaries that a team can hand out to small guards.
With the looming market for free agents limited in top-tier talent to playmaker beyond Lowry and possibly Dennis Schroder, it’s possible the Heat will buy another year of time with Dragic. And, at the very least, this season’s play by Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose, Mike Conley and Lowry has shown that there is something to be said for point guard 30-plus.
But this time around, the Heat’s judgment rush won’t start with Goran Dragic.
Because this time it’s not personal. It’s strictly commercial.
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