The Phoenix Suns may be setting themselves up to lose yet another buzzer-beater after having been dealt a tough hand by one of their best players just two days before the NBA's trading deadline.
If the Suns don't deal Goran Dragic by 1pm AZ time tomorrow, they run a very big risk of losing him for nothing this summer. His agent informed the Suns yesterday that he will use this player option to opt out of the final year of his contract and will NOT re-sign with the Suns this summer, despite the Suns having the ability to pay him the most money.
Before we get into the 'why', let's discuss the 'what'
What can the Suns get for Dragic?
That's a big, huge question. What the Suns preemptively leaked to Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski over the weekend was that they wanted a young, potential All-Star AND a first round draft pick in return for the PG. That's a big haul, but in the end it appeared that a long-term Dragic is worth more than that to the Suns.
However, now that Dragic's agent has not only leaked the ultimatum but also leaked the teams to whom Dragic would sign a new contract - ie. the preferred destinations - the Suns have been stripped of a great deal of leverage.
If any teams NOT on the list want to acquire Dragic, they have to know he won't commit to a new contract. If he won't commit to a new contract, then there's no reason to give up a lot of assets to acquire him. The Suns will be lowballed by the likes of Houston, Sacramento and Boston (per Stein, these teams still want Dragic).
For the teams that ARE on the list, they know that the Suns will get lowballed by everyone else so all they have to do is outbid a handful of teams. So again, the Suns will get lowballed by offers.
If the Suns don't get a palatable offer in the next day, they will have to keep Dragic and hope they can turn him around by summer. The Suns have repeatedly said they would not sacrifice the future to enhance their playoff chances this season, yet dumping Dragic for next to nothing is not part of the Suns' modus operandi.
Why wouldn't an Isaiah Thomas trade appease Dragic?
Reportedly, first by Sam Amick, Dragic wants out of Phoenix this summer regardless of what they do with Isaiah Thomas.
Paul Coro has heard that Dragic had lost "trust" in the Suns.
Dragic has lost trust in the Suns organization because they have brought in two other point guards, Eric Bledsoe and Isaiah Thomas, and reduced his playmaking role since he returned to Phoenix during free agency in 2012 to be Steve Nash's heir apparent.
No one really saw this coming. Most insiders assumed that Dragic would be fine if the Suns traded Thomas, allowing him to return to his role of last season which propelled him to third-team All NBA.
But now Dragic cites a lack of trust in the Suns front office to put him in a position to succeed for the rest of his career. That lack of trust could stem from the Suns continuing to acquire players who play Dragic's position.
Since being formed in April 2013 with the hiring of Ryan McDonough and his brand new staff to join president Lon Babby, the Suns new front office has traded for PG Eric Bledsoe in 2013, drafted PG Tyler Ennis in 2014 and signed free agent PG Isaiah Thomas in 2014.
At the same time, the Suns have drafted two shooting guards (Archie Goodwin and Bogdan Bogdanovic), signed a third (his brother Zoran Dragic) and traded for two more (Gerald Green in 2013 and Reggie Bullock last month).
That's EIGHT new guards over 18 months who either play the position that Dragic wants or the position to which he has been moved.
So just moving Isaiah Thomas won't likely make Dragic feel comfortable as a major playmaker for the Suns organization for the next several years.
Why did the Suns acquire so many players in Dragic's place?
The Suns entered the summer of 2013 having come off the worst season in franchise history since their inaugural season 40+ years ago. They needed to upgrade their talent, and Dragic himself even begged for another playmaker to supplement their rotation.
Drafting Archie Goodwin and trading for Eric Bledsoe - the most sought after trade acquisition of the summer - in 2013 were just steps toward improving the overall talent on the roster.
But then, as the Suns were outplaying their expectations, the front office quickly realized that both Bledsoe and Dragic could bolt in free agency within the next year unless the Suns paid them handsomely. Bledsoe was a restricted free agent in 2014 and Dragic was likely unrestricted (player option) on 2015. What was costing $10 million in 2013-14 could quickly balloon to $30 million per year in 2015-16.
But the Suns still wanted to keep both players, even at that expense. The salary cap is expected to rise to the $90 million range, or more, in 2015-16 and beyond, so spending 30% of that on 40% of your starting lineup is not exhorbitant.
However, knowing one or both could bolt anyway, McDonough's team began acquiring assets to backfill a potential loss and accumulate assets for a big trade. Did they go too far? In just the past 9 months, the Suns acquired SIX new guards while also still having Eric Bledsoe, Gerald Green and Archie Goodwin in the fold from 2013.
Whose to say the Suns will stop acquiring new guards? And at some point, the Suns will have to trade several of them or start playing them.
No wonder Dragic has trust issues.
How else might Goran have lost trust in the Suns?
Dragic's closest friends on the Suns teams were Robin Lopez, Steve Nash, Jared Dudley and Channing Frye. The Suns unceremoniously dumped all of them in recent years.
For at least three of them, it was at the right time of course. Nash has hardly played since being traded in 2012. Dudley was more than worth it as the cost for Bledsoe, a potential All-Star. And Frye has been on the decline this season in Orlando. Lopez was traded at his request in 2012 after being usurped by Marcin Gortat at the center position. Dragic rejoined the Suns after Nash and Lopez left, but he still keeps in contact with those guys and likely didn't hear a lot of encouraging words about the Suns from them.
The Suns made the right trades and free agent decisions in these cases, but in the end they let go of all of Dragic's confidants. He doesn't have any close relationships in the locker room at this time, short of his brother.
Speaking of Zoran...
Did brother Zoran hurt or help the Suns cause?
After re-signing Eric Bledsoe, the Phoenix Suns quickly struck a deal with Goran's brother Zoran Dragic, who really wanted to jump to the NBA.
Zoran is an NBA-caliber player, but he's not better at this point than the guys ahead of him on the roster. And even since signing Zoran, the Suns acquired yet another shooting guard in Reggie Bullock.
The Suns likely thought Zoran's presence would help keep the Dragon breathing fire in Phoenix, but it's also possible that having a close family member in Goran's ear every day helped bolster Goran to his sudden demands.
There may also be trust issues with the Suns related to Zoran's lack of playing time. He's hardly seen the court this year after playing 30 minutes per game overseas the last few years and 10 years of international competition overall. Now with no playing time this year, his stock - even overseas - may have taken a hit.
Is that what the Suns promised when Zoran signed the contract? Maybe, maybe not. But I don't think he expected to sit quite so much this season.
Did the Suns do Goran wrong?
This is, of course, debatable. Maybe, maybe not. I'll leave that to you guys and gals to hash out in the threads.
On a personal side, you never want to see the organization you trust to be hiring replacements left and right behind you. You're always looking over your shoulder.
On a basketball side, you never want to be moved from your natural position into something unfamiliar with no end date in sight.
And on the business side, playing Goran off the ball so much may hinder free agent offers next summer. Goran likely did not want to be low balled by the Suns next summer if other teams backed off from their pre-free agency claims of big offers.
Did the Suns do themselves wrong?
Did McDonough and co. really screw up? In retrospect, even he admitted as much last week. He admitted the roster was top heavy last week and vowed to change it if he could.
But if you extract yourself from the personal part, maybe you start to see where the Suns were coming from.
The facts that we cannot ignore are that Goran will be 29 next year, the first year of a potential $15-20 million/year contract. He has played year-round basketball since joining the NBA seven years ago, and when placed into the position of sole playmaker last season (when Bledsoe was hurt) he wore down toward the end of the season. Some of us forget that Goran was badly hobbled as playoff time approached.
While the Suns could afford to pay Dragic in free agency - what with the cap going up so much in future years - did they really want to outbid every other team for Dragic's services?
Yes, he was third team All-NBA, but the 2013-14 was a major outlier in Dragic's career. He's shooting nearly as well this season, but at least some of his drop in free-throw-rate has to be attributed to Dragic and not all to the scheme. His three-point shooting has dipped back to careerl-matching levels, far below the 40% shooting on threes he poured in last season.
Still, he's a sure fire scorer in half court and transition and the Suns will sorely miss his high field goal percentage on drives and fast breaks, as well as his playmaking and firey personality.
Did Goran do the Suns wrong?
This is, again, debatable.
On the business side, he at least gave the Suns a heads-up, providing them a chance to get assets in exchange for Dragic now rather than just walking this summer for nothing in return. The Suns can now get something for Goran, as opposed to Channing Frye last year. But by making the demands so public, he's taken away a lot of the Suns leverage in negotiations.
On the basketball side, I imagine that coach Jeff Hornacek is quite surprised and disappointed today. He has long said that Goran Dragic is very much like he was, as a player. Not a pure point guard, but quite effective. Hornacek moving easily over to the shooting guard position during most of his career, and likely thought Goran would do the same.
Did Goran do Goran wrong?
Goran is doing what's best for Goran. He's looking to get a full time gig as point guard, and he wants to do it on a team of his choosing and at the price tag he deserves.
How can you fault him for that?
Hurt feelings aside, this is best for Goran. Many of us, including me, wanted all those things for Goran IN PHOENIX - role, money and happiness.
But if he's not getting that here, be should go somewhere that will give it to him.