Do the Phoenix Suns want to trade Goran Dragic or don't they? That's the big question this week, and one the Suns almost certainly want to answer with WE DON'T! WE WANT TO KEEP HIM!
But it's not that simple, and the complexity has little to do with money. Committing $30 million to your starting back court (14 for Bledsoe, 12-16 for Dragic) is perfectly fine in a landscape where $30 million counts just 30% of the projected salary cap in 2016-17 going forward.
The real problem is long term fit of the current pieces on the roster. The team is regressing with three-point-guard rotations lately, culminating in losing 5 of 6 games (and 7 of 10 overall). When you can't effectively play your three best players together, that's not a good roster balance.
The real problem appears to be that, while playing three points at once seems like a potential passing and scoring bonanza, the three points the Suns accumulated are not good enough at playmaking to make this thing work. If you had one or two pass-first types in there, the passing game could be tremendous. But you don't. None of Dragic, Eric Bledsoe or Isaiah Thomas is built to consistently make plays for someone else first, with scoring a secondary option.
But even so, these particular three shoot-first players COULD be deadly - and were for a while this season - if they totally bought into the program and shared the ball enough to make everyone feel they were making equal sacrifices for the good of the team. But alas, what happened was Goran Dragic giving abdicating too much of the playmaking to Thomas and Bledsoe, and Thomas being squeezed of his (perceived) rightful minutes.
Now the 2015 trading deadline approaches, and everyone is coming out of their closet with requests for change. The GM wants change. The President of Basketball Operations wants change. And at least two of the three point guards want change.
Isaiah Thomas fired the agent who got him signed to the four-year contract this summer to ultimately be a backup. And now Goran Dragic is making it clear he isn't happy playing off the ball for 80+% of his minutes.
According to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports,
The Suns clearly want to keep Dragic. It was team owner Robert Sarver who called Dragic in July 2012 to bring him back to the valley after an ill-fated trade to Houston. It was Ryan McDonough and Lon Babby who brought Goran's brother Zoran over here for a two year contract to realize his NBA dream. And it was Lon Babby just last week who equated trading or losing Dragic to being electrocuted.
Dragic loves Phoenix. He spurned other offers to accept the Suns contract offer in 2012 even after being traded in 2011 because he has roots here. He considers Phoenix his US home. And now his brother is even here, playing for the team.
But he never wanted to be a shooting guard for most of the game. He doesn't want to commit to being a shooting guard for the next 4+ years. With Thomas and Bledsoe under contract for at least three after this one, this week and July are the only two opportunities for Dragic to "force" the Suns to promise him a PG future. He can ask for a trade (of one of the others or himself) this week, and he can sign a contract with anyone he wants in July.
The Suns, for their part, have to be forming contingency plans.
The Suns don't want to lose Dragic. Why would they? Dragic produces at a very high level whenever he's given a chance. He may not be a perennial top-15 in the NBA, but he did turn his latest opportunity to run the show into a 3rd team All-NBA Selection last year.
But is Dragic better than Eric Bledsoe? As a complete player, maybe not. Bledsoe has a bright future and already produces on roughly the same level as Dragic while providing highlight reel defensive plays on a nightly basis and showing an ability to defend players of varying quickness and size.
Is he better than Isaiah Thomas? Dragic is certainly more versatile. But the difference between Thomas and Dragic is that Thomas is under long-term contract, while Dragic could walk away this summer even if the Suns clear the decks for him this week to finish the season with last year's role again.
If I were a betting man, I'd guess that tomorrow's meeting with agent will include both sides coming clean on a good idea of what will keep Dragic in the valley past July:
- Would Goran be happy with Thomas and Bledsoe on the team if the Suns matched any offer this summer (ie. top money, low PG minutes)
- Would Goran be happy with last year's role back, splitting time at PG next to one of Thomas or Bledsoe, and would he commit to giving the Suns a potential discount (below max) to stay if the Suns could accommodate that roster change?
- Or, does Goran just really want a full-time PG position back, which would require the Suns to relocate both Thomas and Bledsoe in order for Dragic to re-sign in Phoenix this summer.