With the news that erstwhile MVP candidate Chris Paul is out for most, if not all, the rest of the regular season and the Suns clinging to first place in the West, will the Phoenix Suns join other contenders in the push to sign Goran Dragic for the rest of the season?
Yes, Suns fans, I’m talking about that Goran Dragic.
That Dragic who at age 22 cinderella’d a Suns playoff run with 29 points in game three of a demon-vanquishing sweep of the Spurs. That Dragic who returned to the Suns a few years later, won the NBA’s Most Improved Player award and led them to their best post-Nash season (48-34) of a decade of Suns basketball. That Dragic who was always happy with Suns fans, always smiling and positive, and developed into a true-blue winner as a starting point guard. That Dragic who has been an All-Star, made an All-NBA team and helped carry a Miami team to the 2020 NBA Finals.
He’s also that Dragic who forced his way from the Suns in a huff when General Manager Ryan McDonough minimized him a year after that exciting 48-34 season. That Dragic who was patronized by McDonough in a lame attempt to placate him by signing brother Zoran to an NBA deal.
That Dragic who was openly thrilled to join a team in Miami that’s loyal to players and geared to win every season.
That Dragic who anyone who knows him would tell you he will NEVER play for the Phoenix Suns again.
That Dragic, by the way, is 35 years old now, has sat out all but 5 games this season, and missed 20+ games to injury each of the prior three seasons. He was traded from Miami for another aging point guard, Kyle Lowry, who simply had not declined quite as fast as Dragic yet.
Why am I bringing him up then?
He’s a free agent now, having been bought out of his contract by the San Antonio Spurs last week after being traded there on deadline day by the Toronto Raptors. Dragic can sign with any team, and apparently has received heavy interest from a number of contenders who want to shore up their playmaking depth.
The Warriors are among the teams in the crowded mix for buyout market darling Goran Dragic, league sources say. Milwaukee, Chicago, Brooklyn and the Clippers are also vying for the former All-Star guard.— Marc Stein (@TheSteinLine) February 18, 2022
More coming soon: https://t.co/LGN9cVpMwn
Golden State. Milwaukee. Chicago. Brooklyn. LA Clippers.
And very likely the Miami Heat, on the down low. The Heat traded Dragic and his huge contract to Toronto last season to acquire Kyle Lowry. There’s an NBA rule disallowing a player to get bought out, only to return to the team who last traded him in that same season. But now that Dragic was traded again, from Toronto to San Antonio, he’s free to sign with anyone but Toronto now.
That’s six teams ‘in’ on Dragic, none of them named the Phoenix Suns. The Suns instead acquired Aaron Holiday from the Wizards last week to be a new version of Jevon Carter — a sparkplug off the bench on both ends. Holiday is not a great playmaker though, and was supposed to provide insurance against backups Elfrid Payton and Cameron Payne, not All-Star Chris Paul.
Now with Chris Paul out for 6-8 weeks due to an avulsion fracture (separation of bone from tendon) of his right thumb, forcing him to keep the thumb immobile for at least 3 weeks but possibly up to 12 weeks, the Suns need starting point guard insurance.
Can Cameron Payne step up for 6-8 weeks as a starting point guard? He’s never been successful in that role. How about Elfrid Payton or Aaron Holiday? Those are even worse options.
Maybe Devin Booker becomes ‘Point Book’ and just moves to point guard for a few weeks. He’s good at that, but doesn’t take care of the ball well and being a primary ball handler could wear Book down.
At the very least, Book will do a lot more playmaking for much of each game alongside Payne/Holiday/Payton, and possibly reserve his ‘Point Book’ solo tour for closing minutes. However, there’s danger in that. Why use a lineup of Booker, wings and DA in the closing minutes if you haven’t already built consistency with that lineup throughout the game? One of the reasons the Suns are 24-3 in clutch time is because the 5-man starting lineup knows each other so well and (as of now) leads the league in minutes played together.
Using an unusual lineup to close games for a few weeks will produce inconsistent results, at best. Just last Wednesday, with Book/wings/DA or Book/wings lineup in clutch minutes against the lowly Rockets, Houston went on a 13-2 run in closing minutes to take a 114-11 lead before the Suns reversed that with a 13-7 run of their own in the final two minutes.
Count me as a person who does not trust a Book-as-the-only-playmaker closing lineup, though. Book’s handle just isn’t tight enough, and he’s too prone to hero mode with pull-up threes (his least efficient shot, actually) if the first option is cut off. If you recall, a big turn of events in that Houston game was Mikal Bridges catching Book’s airballed three under the basket for the put-back (Book was fouled on the shot, uncalled).
I’d rather Book plays with another ball handler (no, I don’t count Mikal Bridges as a ball handler). The most reliable might be Cameron Payne IF he returns to pre-2022 mode, but the 2021-22 Payne is inconsistent too and too prone to mistakes for a regular closing lineup role.
Sure, Book could elevate his handle and decision making in closing minutes with Chris Paul in his ear constantly. Sure, Cam Payne could become 2020-21 Payne again to earn big minutes. And sure, Aaron Holiday could be the difference-making juice the Suns need.
But I can see how Monty Williams might not want to count on those developments. He can coach to them, but he can’t count on them. Yet.
That’s why the Suns might want to kick the tires on a one-time starting point guard for Finals team in Miami if Dragic is willing to let bygones be bygones.
And maybe Dragic could turn back the clock a bit for another magical finish, getting big minutes for a few weeks with the best Suns team he’s ever played on.
A Dragic fan can dream, right?