Ed. note: The opinion expressed herein does not necessarily reflect that of the entire BSotS staff, but Bright Side supports and honors all sides to a situation.
Since I remember, like from the year 2007, watching basketball I've always thought "just give the ball to Goran Dragić".
Because it's exciting basketball and because I trust him with the ball. His fearless attack of the basket always seemed like the best option, consistently guaranteeing a high percentage chance of getting points. While Slovenian basketball players like Jaka Laković, Sani Bečirović or even Beno Udrih made me start watching basketball and start following the Slovenian National Team, it was Goran Dragic who made me love basketball. I'll refrain from listing all the reasons why because this article is already going to get long, but his play last year when he had the reigns should be able to speak for itself.
From that you can probably deduce for yourselves how frustrating it has been for me personally to watch this year's Suns, since they have been doing the exact opposite - taking the ball away. I've been patient and I've been giving them constant breaks throughout the year, understanding the system and team needs though never fully grasping why the only All-NBA point guard on the team was being forced off the ball the most. Never seemed like a solid offensive scheme.
In all honesty it cut my fan spirit deeply when I found out Goran and the Suns were to split, it's like a real life OTP breaking up and we the fans are suddenly children of an ugly divorce.
For the sake of some article balance; I can see how Goran's statements about the Suns front office hurt the Suns Organization. I'll even go as far as to say his tone could have been a bit more pleasant (he did later explain himself on Twitter), though I doubt it would have changed the narrative much. Goran felt he couldn't trust the FO anymore and said as much, why in the world should he have kept quiet about it? It might be a business but we all know it's more than that to us fans. It's a commitment we make to go through good times and bad together, cheering for our guys always. And for me it is about the guys - the players, the ones who pour literally their blood and sweat on the floor every night, the ones who take our commitment seriously as well. You'd be hard pressed to find a player who embodies that like Goran Dragić. He committed to the Suns and to Suns fans and was in full right to explain why he was breaking that commitment.
The fact that Suns FO managed to alienate that player, who was also their best player (yes Ryan, best!) and then coming after him unnecessarily harshly when he leaves, should say much more about the FO than the player in question. And if it doesn't, I'll clear it up for you. Lets start at the new era of Suns basketball:
"When we thought about the beginning of a new era of Phoenix Suns basketball, we thought about who we wanted to be our pilot and who we wanted to give the keys to moving forward and all roads led back to Goran, who had a familiarity with our organization and our culture. He's comfortable here and he was the perfect choice."
This is what Suns President of Basketball Operations Lon Babby said at Goran's re-introductory press conference in 2012. That seems like one promise that was broken. After the first year, Goran was never let to be the pilot and he only got the keys for a little while last year when Eric Bledsoe couldn't play due to injury. He had to return the keys when the season ended or maybe a better analogy is the Suns changed the lock and gave a 70 million dollar key to EB.
Which was their choice, as was signing Isaiah Thomas. Maybe we were all delusional to believe the 3 point guard system might work long term when the Suns FO made it clear that was the plan. Either way, it hasn't really felt right even if the month of January was all about wins. The Suns were in the same battle for the playoff race as last year, except they actually had Eric throughout the season. So can we really say the Suns were better than last year? No. While they've been hanging on that 8th spot all season long, they were in 6th place last year before the All-Star break.
Every move made has been in the effort of making the team better. This is what Ryan McDonough claims and I do believe him, but to a point. Because if that was his goal, I can't understand why Goran was playing so much time without the ball. I'm actually really disappointed in Ryan. All those statements he made, to me, only show a very very hurt ego.
Don't get me wrong, I still think Ryan is a genius, and what he does with what he has is something to marvel at. But wanting to commit to Goran one day and then saying Brandon Knight was the best player in those trades is sort of contradictory. I have to wonder wether he actually convinced himself this was fact, because the alternative is he is lying.
Only time will tell how good Brandon will be in this system, but comparing a 3rd team All-NBA guard who has been playing completely out of position all year to a guy who was basically the force of offence on his previous team seems ridiculous and makes no sense. Even Ryan himself said at the end of last season Goran was essentially top 15 in the league. Lets just pretend that didn't happen, for the sake of saving face. And while we're at it Markieff and Eric also don't need a national seal of approval, lets call them better too. Eric and Keef have both been great for the Suns this year, but then again so has Goran and we all know who's been handling the ball more.
That "I want to win under my conditions" crap Goran was ever so subtly accused of makes even less sense, particularly because they were winning MORE when Goran was more involved. It's not about winning under "his conditions" it's just about winning. There was a stat I saw recently; a comparison of wins-losses when each PG attempted at least 15 shots. Goran is at 15-4, EB at 10-9 and IT 4-4. I'm gonna go out on a limb but getting Goran more involved might have improved the team enough that they wouldn't have lost those oh so close games that Jeff keeps giving as examples of how "good" dare I say "better" they are this year. The league won't just let the Suns into the playoffs because they lost so many close games. It was a buzzer beater loss? Take half a win. That adds up to what? Two more wins, so technically they're at 31 wins and OKC should get the hell out of the 8th spot. Well that was before we lost these last three in a row :(
Another thing that still isn't sitting too well with me is the FO's dealing with national team participation. Goran already gives his everything and the FO has the audacity to ask for even more by suggesting he not play for his country. No one rational would have blamed Goran for sitting out the World Cup last year, but it was his prerogative to play and solely his decision to make. And feeling up to it, in the end he did play, but lets not pretend his restrictions didn't have some effect on the Slovenian team's performance. Imagine anyone else taking those restriction as well as Goran; completely understanding Suns concerns and abiding by their "suggestions". And even this is a bit hinky, since per the Collective Bargaining Agreement; "NBA teams can't take any steps to dissuade their players from participating in such competitions, such as asking their players not to participate or making public statements suggesting they do not want their players to play in these competitions." OK so I got that from cbafaq.com (point 76) because the actual CBA is 500+ pages long, but Larry Coon seems like a reliable source.
I remember Lon Babby very publicly discouraging Goran from playing last year (from 9 minute mark on): "We will fight hard that he does not play on his national team". Classy. If you're breaking agreements like that in the open (without repercussions I might add) who knows what you're saying and (not) doing behind closed doors.
Then Goran comes into the new season not in the best shape because like the FO wanted he was taking it easy in the summer. And his reward? Play him off ball and just let EB and IT dribble away our possessions. Again, how is this best for the team?
In light of all this, Ryan's "I feel like we've conducted ourselves with honesty, integrity" seems like a big stretch.
I won't pretend to know which promises Goran was referring to that the FO supposedly broke, but all in all they're not coming off awfully trustworthy here. Meanwhile, Goran Dragić has been nothing but honest and forthcoming in every single story I've read or written about him. That's why his statements on not trusting the FO were taken so seriously. In the last 10 years of his basketball career he has managed to build a great public image and I can't imagine him going completely against it by lying now. To want out so badly, that he publicly made it clear he would not re-sign, the FO must have done more than "ruffle Goran's feathers".
By the way, in case you missed it, at his Miami Heat introductory press conference Goran thanked Robert Sarver and the organization again for everything they've done for him and wished the Suns all the best. You know, because he is a nice guy, who is not as good at firing cheap shots.
Oh, I haven't even mentioned the acquisition of Zoran Dragic. Maybe it wasn't all a deception but it seems there was some bending of the truth at least; they definitely wanted to make us believe he was signed for his skills not for his brother. Yet they played him a total of 14 minutes in 54 games and send him away the same moment it became clear Goran wasn't re-signing.
Do you see why I doubt you Suns front office? There are so many holes in your story I'm gonna go ahead and compare it to Swiss cheese because making silly jokes at inopportune times seems like the right way to go about this. With your attitude FO, you're making it very hard to remain a fan. Good thing I cheer for the players.