Even with a less than perfect cell phone connection from Ljubljana, Slovenia, the regret in Goran Dragic’s voice is heard loud and clear.
It’s late and the 14-year NBA veteran is a bit tired, very disappointed in himself and even more apologetic for the comments he made to the Slovenian media that he feels were taken out of context and that have caused a stir and could potentially poison the hole. for the highly respected and beloved point guard before he even set foot in Toronto, potentially his fourth NBA city.
“My message basically, to all the Toronto fans, is that I would like to apologize. It didn’t come out the right way. I know they love their team and they should be proud, it is one of the best organizations in the NBA. They’ve already won a championship and I haven’t, so what I said, it really wasn’t appropriate, ”Dragic said.
He was having a fun day in his hometown on Sunday before a short clip with an English translation of a conversation with some local media began to skyrocket on social media Monday afternoon and detonated a stink bomb in Toronto.
Slovenia’s national basketball team was being honored in the city center after returning from the Olympics with a more than respectable fourth place to prove it. For a country of two million people it was a huge deal and, although Dragic did not play, as the centerpiece of the team for a long time, his views were sought after by the media.
Inevitably, he was asked about his trade from Miami, his NBA home for the past seven seasons, to the Raptors, where a quality 35-year-old point guard in the final year of a $ 19.5 million contract could reasonably expect to be traded. . sometime between now and the trade deadline.
In the clip that makes the rounds Dragic says “Toronto is not my preferred destination, I have higher ambitions, we’ll see.”
Dragic isn’t trying to pretend he was misquoted, just that the larger context was missing.
“I was downtown and the journalists were there and they asked me about Toronto and they basically took it out of context.
“I told them that I had spent seven years in Miami and that that would be the preferred destination for me because my family is there and everything, not Toronto.”
The irony is that almost from the moment Dragic and big sophomore Precious Achuiwa were listed by Miami as their contribution to the sign-and-trade deal that resulted in Raptors icon Kyle Lowry addressing the Heat, the expectation was that Dragic would be traded again, given his value to contending teams, and the Raptors serving youth aren’t really in the late point guard market right now.
It’s just that the Raptors are waiting for the commercial market to materialize, which means Dragic could end up starting the season in Toronto.
And make no mistake, Dragic can still play. He averaged 13.4 points and 4.4 assists in 27 minutes for Miami last season and scored 19 points and 4.4 assists during the Heat’s run to the NBA Finals in 2020.
Dragic is widely believed to be hoping to join the Dallas Mavericks so he can reunite with fellow countryman Luka Doncic.
But the Raptors have to get the return they want, otherwise they are happy to have an experienced and respected playmaker start the season with them and see how things unfold.
“Listen, it was translated and I think I’d like to get it straight from him just to understand exactly what he meant by that,” Raptors general manager Bobby Webster said on the subject at 590 The Fan. We’re just going to talk about all the issues, obviously we feel like we’re going to be competitive, we have a core, as we’ve talked about, that has been around for a while and has won at the highest level. too.
“So think we’ll give you some time here to see how it would fit in and whether or not you like it. I think he’s a professional and he’s been around a lot and he obviously has a right to want to make the most of his years as his career comes here … so I don’t think it’s in any way a slight or anything like that. “
One school of thought is that the Raptors could be expecting a package that includes Moses Brown, the 21-year-old eight-foot player who averaged 8.1 points and 8.6 rebounds in just 22 minutes for the Oklahoma City Thunder last season.
Since Brown’s contract cannot be included in a larger deal until October. 1 due to a technicality in the Collective Bargaining Agreement, this could take a while.
And there is no guarantee that Dragic will be carried over until the trade deadline, probably set for mid-February. There is no guarantee that they will exchange it.
It’s a lot of uncertainty for someone with a couple of school-age kids who have only known one NBA city, but that’s what NBA life is like in the final year of a manageable contract, and Dragic knows it.
“I can not lie, of course I was sad [to be traded]Dragic said. “First of all, I spent seven years in Miami and the second is that I have two children and a family in Miami and you have to move to a different city, you basically need to start over and find a school and everything, it has been difficult. “
And get squashed on social media by fans of your potential new team before you even put on your uniform?
Less than ideal.
“It hurts. It hurts because I didn’t mean that and it’s not easy to get all these messages from fans and all that,” Dragic told me. “That’s why I wanted to explain myself.”
He’s more than familiar with the Raptors and the city. He was the best player on the Heat when Miami pushed Toronto all seven games in the second round of the 2016 playoffs. Most of his Miami career coincided with the Raptors’ rise to the top of the NBA.
You don’t need to be told what Toronto is about.
“It is a first-rate organization. They won a championship two years ago, they have great players like VanVleet, Siakam, Kyle was there, [DeMar] DeRozan was there, and they probably have the most passionate fans in the NBA and it’s a great city, ”he says. “I have heard the best things about the city and the organization. You always want to be in these kinds of organizations in your career. “
Perhaps not now or, at least, in these circumstances.
But is it clear that Dragic spends part or all of the season with the Raptors? He already knows his role, he’s been playing it for years, on and off the court.
“I am a little older, I have a lot of experience. I always know how to deal with the locker room and be a leader, ”he says. “VanVleet is one of the best point guards in the league, he showed it last year, so it would be a privilege to play alongside him.
“My job at this stage of my career is to be there for the young players and give them advice and everything and try to make the game easier for them.”
And: “I have always been a professional. You can ask a lot of people. Wherever I have played, wherever I go to play, I will be a professional and do my job, “he says.
“I love basketball, I love to play and I will give 100 percent wherever I play. Right now I’m [with] Toronto and that’s the main thing to think about. “
It hasn’t made things easy for him to start his Raptors career, however long it lasts, but one way or another, Dragic is determined to get it right.