Photo Credit: Mike Ehrmann/Bleacher Report
After the long-expected departure of Kyle Lowry finally materialized at the start of free agency, Raptors fans are gearing up for the dawn of a new era in Toronto.
In a sign-and-trade deal with the Miami Heat, Toronto acquired veteran guard Goran Dragic and young forward Precious Achiuwa, the latter being an exciting addition to a budding young core.
But uncertainty beckons over Dragic’s role with the club, and whether he may ever suit up for the Raptors. In an interview with a Slovenian news outlet earlier this month, Dragic was quoted saying, “Toronto is not my preferred destination. I have higher ambitions.” Following some outrage online, the 35 year-old apologized for his comments, saying that he meant no disrespect to Toronto.
No matter how you spin it, the Slovenian’s time as a Raptor has started off on the wrong foot. What matters now is how the front office and coaching staff view their new asset, and how they see him contributing to the organization this season.
Here are some of the most likely avenues the Raptors will explore.
The case for keeping him around
First of all, Goran Dragic is no slouch. After being picked 45th overall in the 2008 NBA Draft, Dragic has carved out quite the resume over his 13-year career. He has appeared in 867 games, averaging 13.9 points-per-game over that span. Known for his all-around play, he can get buckets on offence, shooting 36.4 per cent from three for his career, while also operating as a savvy defender on the other end of the floor.
He earned the 2013-2014 NBA Most Improved Player award, after averaging over 20 points-per-game for the first time in his career. His impressive season with Phoenix also earned him third-team All-NBA honours. He made his first and only All-Star appearance in 2018.
After losing the franchise’s most important player, the Raptors can certainly use another veteran guard that has seen just about everything the league has to offer. Not only can his experience help guide a young team through an uncertain period, but his skills can also be useful to Nick Nurse. Dragic’s playstyle fits the profile of player that Nurse likes to have on his team. While Fred VanVleet is expected to fill the role that Lowry has left vacant, having Dragic come off the bench, and even fill in for FVV at times, would certainly solidify Toronto’s guard rotation. While we’re not quite sure what the team will look like when the season tips off, The Dragon could definitely be a serviceable piece.
The case for trading him at the trade deadline
This case sort-of goes hand-in-hand with the case to keep him on the roster, as he would likely be a highly-coveted addition to a contender at the trade deadline. A guard of his caliber, capable of doing just about anything asked of him, is very attractive to any team in the NBA, but certainly to those who are looking to solidify their roster with a proven veteran to make a run at a championship.
If he has a relatively good season with Toronto, suitors at the deadline will be ready to pay a pretty-penny for him, potentially sending an enticing prospect or a package of draft picks to the Raptors.
The case for trading him before the season
Even prior to his comments in Slovenia, there were plenty of rumours involving a trade to flip Dragic for more assets before he could even don a Raptors jersey for the first time.
The trickiest factor in the Dragic debacle is his $19.44 million salary, which makes trading him away quite difficult. One name that has surfaced multiple times, and seems quite likely at this point, is a trade sending him to the Dallas Mavericks. Dallas is desperate to find Luka Doncic a reliable running-mate, and who better than his fellow countryman Dragic? While this may be a complicated option due to the Mavs’ bloated cap situation, the rumoured return might be really enticing for Masai Ujiri and Co.
John Hollinger of The Athletic reported that Toronto and Dallas might already have a deal in place. The report states that the Mavericks could be willing to part with centres Moses Brown and Dwight Powell, including another smaller deal to match salaries, to secure the services of Dragic. Powell, a native of Toronto, has turned into a reliable rotation piece, and can be useful off the bench as a defender and rim-runner. The juicy component of the reported deal, however, is 21 year-old Moses Brown, who averaged 8.6 points and 8.9 rebounds per game last season with the Oklahoma City Thunder. Brown was involved in the deal that sent Kemba Walker from Boston to OKC, and was then flipped to Dallas for guard Josh Richardson. In a loaded front-court boasting the likes of Kristaps Porzingis and Willie Cauley-Stein, it sounds like Dallas would be comfortable with dealing Brown if it meant adding Dragic.
The reason why this deal must wait is because Brown was already dealt once this off-season, and his salary can only be aggregated as early as October 1st. So it is very possible that Dragic is already on his way to Texas, and that we all have to wait until October for the deal to be announced. If so, there is a lot to be excited about for Raptors’ fans.