FRIDAY BUZZ COLUMN
Friday marks the one-year anniversary of the Heat’s trade for Goran Dragic, and for months, he has subjugated his ego and curtailed his scoring, while playing at a pace that doesn’t ideally suit his skill set, and with several older teammates who are accustomed to a more deliberate half-court game.
Chris Bosh’s absence, how ever long it lasts, will somewhat mask Miami’s inability to maximize Dragic’s talents. On Thursday, Dragic spoke to assistant coach David Fizdale after practice and was encouraged to be more aggressive offensively without Bosh, because, as Dragic said, “more shots are available” now.
But the big-picture conundrum remains: With the amount of cap space invested in Dragic (between $15.9 million and $19.2 million each of the next four seasons), can the Heat --- with this methodical pace --- ever get the caliber player who was third-team All-NBA playing up-tempo in Phoenix two years ago?
And if the Heat cannot make it work, one of many decisions for Pat Riley this summer will be whether to try to sign Memphis point guard Mike Conley, whose camp is very much aware of Riley’s high regard for Conley. Such a move, if it happened, would assuredly result in Dragic being dealt.
Let’s be clear: On many nights, Dragic does what’s asked of him. Over the past 20 games, he’s shooting 48.8 percent and averaging 6.6 assists, and his defense has been steady.
And though the dip to 12.2 points per game is surprising, nobody expected him to match the 20.3 scoring average he achieved during that watershed season in Phoenix. For as long as Bosh is out, Dragic figures to score closer to the 16.6 he averaged in 26 games with Miami last season, all without Bosh.
But let’s also be clear about this: On a team that ranks next to last in scoring (ahead of only Philadelphia), more is needed to justify the five-year, $85 million investment. And the onus is as much on Erik Spoelstra and Riley as it is on Dragic, if not more so.
Dragic’s numbers rank in the bottom half of most starting point guards. He’s 21st in scoring among point guards, 19th in assists (5.3, down from his 7.4 for Phoenix three years ago), 32nd in assist to turnover ratio (2.14 to 1), and 49th in three-point shooting at 33.1. That three-point accuracy, far below his 40.8 in Phoenix two years ago, is problematic because Dwyane Wade isn’t a good three-point shooter (21.9 this season, 28.7 career).
“It’s tough for him,” Boston guard Isaiah Thomas, who played with Dragic in Phoenix, said during a Celtics’ visit to Miami earlier this season. “He can’t be who he is: an aggressive, scoring guard who makes plays for himself and for others. It’s difficult for him to be the Goran Dragic everyone knows.”
So working in this Heat system, can he ever be the player he was in Phoenix?
"Phoenix was a different situation,” Dragic said. “I was the guy there. Here, I'm not getting those shots. But I don’t care about points. I know I need to get everybody involved so we can co-exist; that's the most important thing. If you want to win a championship, everyone has to make sacrifices.
“Nobody said it was going to be easy. [But] the most important thing to me is winning.”
Dragic, 29, said last week that even though the Heat has tried to run more, “we’re still next to last in the league in possessions. It’s tough. Hopefully, we start playing a little faster, have more possessions.”
He admits what is plainly obvious: He can run more when he plays with the second unit. Whereas the Heat is outscored by one when Dragic and Wade play together, Miami is plus 82 when Dragic plays with Justise Winslow and plus 90 when Dragic plays with Gerald Green.
Riley has tried to re-assure Dragic this season, telling him, ‘You are going to be OK.’ Spoelstra has tried to get Dragic involved in more pick-and-rolls, which Dragic appreciates. But the third-team All-NBA vintage version of Dragic likely isn’t going to resurface here with this style of play.
“I think they have to be careful of structure,” Wizards forward Jared Dudley, who played with Dragic in Phoenix, told our Ethan Skolnick in December. “He's someone, you've got to let him play, play in space. It's tough with their team, an older team at times. D-Wade doesn't want to go up, running up and down the whole time.”
Dragic, happy to be living in Miami and fond of his teammates, tries to look at his situation maturely: “It's always pluses and minuses with everywhere you go.”
He’ll be asked to do more now, without Bosh, and he’s prepared to do it. The question is whether this team, when eventually at full strength again, will find a way to extract more from a player capable of it.
### Looks like the Heat will have several buyout options from which to choose, though signing a player in the next couple of weeks could push Miami back over the luxury tax threshold. Steve Novak, a career 43.2 percent shooter on threes, is expected to become available, and Wade tweeted tonight: "We have to get him a DWade Miami Heat basketball."... Please see the last post for more on the Heat's trades today.
### As of Thursday morning, the Dolphins still had made no contract offer to impending free agent Olivier Vernon, according to a team source. And Vernon will not be the least bit surprised if Miami slaps the $15 million franchise tag on him by the March 1 deadline. Hard to see Miami letting an in-his-prime pass rusher walk away without compensation.
The Dolphins want to keep Cam Wake, as we reported Jan. 3, and NFL Net's Ian Rapoport reported today that talks are ongoing on an extension that would presumably lower his 2016 cap number.
### Agent Lynn Lashbrook said the Dolphins haven’t had any contact with him regarding free agent Matt Moore, thus leaving him with no indication if Miami wants him back. Logan Thomas said Mike Tannenbaum told him he will have a legitimate shot to win the backup quarterback job.
### In his latest mock draft, ESPN's Mel Kiper surprisingly has the Dolphins taking Notre Dame offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley at No. 8, even though that isn't a need, and passing up on UF cornerback Vernon Hargreaves. Why?
"Adam Gase will be charged with getting Ryan Tannehill back on track," Kiper said, "and getting a potentially elite tackle is a good way to aid in that process, as sacks have plagued Tannehill throughout his career thus far. Stanley returned to Notre Dame and made himself more NFL-ready. The Dolphins would benefit if he's available here."
Kiper has offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil, QB Carson Wentz, DE DeForest Buckner, QB Jared Goff, DB Jalen Ramsey, DE Joey Bosa and LB Myles Jack being drafted before Miami's pick.
### Marlins second baseman Dee Gordon, profoundly humble, said he didn’t spend a single moment thinking about becoming the first National League player since Jackie Robinson to win both the batting title and stolen base title. Why? Because “I have to do it again this year," he said. "I didn’t do anything great."
### Marlins pitcher Edwin Jackson, who thrived in relief for the Cubs and Braves last season after struggling mightily as a Cubs starter, said he still looks “at myself as a starter” and is determined to win one of two open rotation spots.
### Former three-star receiver Dayall Harris, who left the University of Mississippi team after suspensions and played at a junior college, announced he will enroll at UM. The sophomore is eligible immediately and addresses depth concerns at the position. Mark Richt "said he doesn't recruit JUCO players not to come in and play," Harris told Canesport.
He joins Stacy Coley, Braxton Berrios, Malcolm Lewis, Lawrence Cager, Darrell Langham and summer arrivals Sam Bruce, Ahmmon Richards and Dionte Mullins as UM's scholarship receivers.
Harris, 6-3, was Rivals' 72nd-rated receiver in the 2014 class coming out of high school in Mississippi (where he was all-state), redshirted as a freshman at Ole Miss (where he was suspended for several infractions termed "minor" by local media there), left the school and played last year at a Mississippi junior college.
### This UM basketball staff is excellent at player development. One example: Sheldon McClellan has evolved from an undisciplined 38.2 percent shooter is his final season at Texas to 52.1 percent here, exceptional for a shooting guard. UM’s 47.6 percent shooting is its highest this century, and its turnovers per game are among the 25 lowest nationally....
Ja'Quan Newton, who missed Wednesday's Virginia Tech game with an illness, will return for Saturday's big game against North Carolina, Jim Larranaga said.