Goran Dragic Seizes Opportunity to Lead Young Toronto Raptors



TORONTO – Goran Dragic wants you to know something.

He is sorry.

Not sorry like most professional athletes or public figures are after putting their foot in their mouths. Not “someone in public relations told me to be sorry, so I’m sorry.” He’s really sorry.

Admittedly, the veteran point guard didn’t make a good first impression on his new team or fan base. Shortly after being acquired by the Raptors as part of the sign-and-trade deal that sent the franchise icon Kyle Lowry in Miami, Dragic was interviewed in his native Slovenia.

In the translated clip which quickly went viral, Dragic said Toronto was not his favorite destination. “I have higher ambitions, we’ll see,” he said.

Needless to say, it didn’t go well. Internally, the organization didn’t take it too personally. After all, the tall 22-year-old Precious Achiuwa was the player they’d targeted in a comeback for Lowry. Dragic, 35, and his expiring contract of $ 19.4 million were to be included for salary matching. The Raptors were struggling to redirect him to a third team until the trade was formalized following the moratorium.

However, you can see why Raptors fans might have felt looked down upon. Dragic could too, at least in hindsight; he has apologized several times for his comments since he made them. He knows first impressions are hard to come by, but he’s trying to redeem himself.

“It went badly,” Dragic said on Raptors media day on Monday. “I apologized and I want to apologize now too. It was not my intention.”

“But the organization and the players have welcomed [me]. It was really nice, all the guys are nice. They want me to feel comfortable and I feel comfortable… I’m a professional, I’ve been playing in this league for 14 years, so I love basketball. I will do whatever it takes to be part of this team and help the young players to grow.

Dragic is on the last nine of his career, but he still has something to give. He averaged 13.4 points, 3.4 rebounds and 4.4 assists in 27 minutes in 50 games with the Heat last season.

So, yeah, Toronto probably wasn’t her favorite destination. And that’s right, although it probably couldn’t have been said. At this point in his professional life, you imagine Dragic would rather chase his first championship ring or play alongside his friend and compatriot. Luka Doncic in Dallas.

On the surface, his comments may seem arrogant or disrespectful, but those who know Dragic or have followed him closely during his incredible NBA career know that he is anything but.

Whether it’s by his legions of fans in Miami, where he has spent the past seven seasons and is beloved, or by his former teammates with the Suns, Rockets and Heat, Dragic has always been well regarded in the league. By chatting with him even for a few minutes, it is not difficult to understand why. He is endearing, sympathetic and sincere.

It is a class act. When his friend and former Rockets teammate Lowry called to ask for permission to wear his No.7 with Miami, Dragic didn’t hesitate.

“We talk a lot, he knows my family, I know his family, so it was nothing,” he said. “He asked me for the number and I said, ‘yeah, no problem, you’re my guy.’ He won a championship and everything, so he deserved it.

Meanwhile, Dragic – who will rise to No.1 with Toronto – hasn’t even considered asking Lowry to return the favor, understanding and appreciating what the Raptors legend means for the franchise, and that his jersey will be. hanging from the rafters at Scotiabank Arena one day.

Dragic has great respect for the organization and what it represents. He sees the similarities between the Raptors’ culture and that of Miami and seizes the opportunity to come and help them move into a new era. Whether Toronto is his favorite destination or not, he’s determined to fit in.

“To me it didn’t seem like he didn’t want to be here,” said Chris Boucher, who has been training with Dragic since the veteran playmaker arrived in Toronto a few weeks before training camp began. “He’s trying to help everyone, he’s talking about winning, trying to tell us what we can do to bring another championship to Toronto. For me, if you ask me personally, I think he wants to be here and help us win. That’s what I see.

“He was fantastic,” said coach Nick Nurse. “I checked with him after the exchange, a few days after some of this stuff. We discussed the possible roles, and he’s just like “coach, whatever, I’m fine”. It is very pleasant to chat with him. He has a super high IQ. He loves the game, obviously, competes to win, plays smart. It was really, really fun to have.

How long will Dragic stay in Toronto? It remains to be seen. By all accounts, the team are still hoping to push him forward before the trade deadline, extracting a trump or two from a club preparing for a title race. The chances of him being a Raptor last February are low. Even still, there is a lot to offer a young team like the Raptors.

Without Lowry, Dragic fulfills a need at the guardhouse. You can insert it in the vacant starting space next to Fred van vleet or use it as a reserve, where it would provide much needed leadership to an inexperienced second unit.

While Nurse isn’t ruling out any of these options within days of starting camp, Dragic recently told TSN he’d rather come off the bench. It’s the role he’s played over the past two seasons in Miami (starting just 14 of 109 games) and the one he feels most comfortable with at this point in his career. This would allow Nurse to manage his minutes, take the pressure off Malachi Flynn in his sophomore year as senior ball manager, possibly reunite him with his former Heat teammate Achiuwa, and – depending on how the rotation goes – it could also pair him with rookie Scottie Barnes, whom he quickly took under his wing.

His eyes light up when he talks about Barnes. “He has a bright future, I can see it already,” he said of the fourth overall pick. Barnes already considers Dragic a mentor.

The 13-year-old vet has a lot of wisdom to pass on. He arrived in the league at the age of 22 after playing professionally in Slovenia and Spain. A second-round pick, Dragic played his first three seasons for free, having used his NBA salary to pay for the buyout with his Spanish League side. He has performed with the Hall of Fame, including Steve nash. He was a star.

He should also have plenty of enthusiastic mentees at one of the league’s youngest clubs. With the exception of Dragic, the average age of the other 19 players in the Toronto training camp roster is under 24. Dragic is the only Raptor in his 30s and has eight seasons on the next most experienced players. of the team (VanVleet and Pascal Siakam, who have both played in the league for five years).

Nurse intends to build on the four oldest players – VanVleet, Siakam, OG Anunoby and Boucher – to help fill Lowry’s leadership void, but it never hurts to have an old head around.

“The main thing I can contribute is that I’m a veteran,” Dragic said. “This is my 14th year in the league, so experiment and try to teach these young kids, give them a little support, basically the same as Steve nash made for me when I was in phoenix. I’m here for these guys and if they need me.

Dragic’s Raptors tenure may have got off to a rocky start, and it could end up being short-lived, but he’s here, he’s signed on and he wants to make the most of his time in Toronto, as long as he hard.

“I’m happy to be here, I’m just trying to be there for them and play hard,” he said. “I think that’s the most important thing, to give everything I’ve got.”


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