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After a disappointing start to the 2010-11 season, the Phoenix Suns decided to part ways with point guard Goran Dragic. Dragic was paired up with a first-round pick and sent to the Houston Rockets in exchange for jitterbug Aaron Brooks. The Suns were on the outside looking in on the playoff race and decided that Brooks gave them a better shot to win moving forward. Dragic was shooting just 28% from three at the time of that trade which was a huge decline from his breakout campaign in 2009-10 season. Dragic had shown a ton of potential in Phoenix’s playoff win over the San Antonio Spurs the previous season and several people around the league, including myself, were beginning to think he had the stuff to be the heir apparent to Steve Nash in Phoenix. But his slow start concerned the Suns front office enough to move him at the deadline.
That decision has come back to haunt the Suns franchise big time. Each and every day Dragic moves closer to a monster pay day this summer as he continues to play like a top flight point guard for the Houston Rockets. Phoenix gave up on Dragic way too soon, opting to trade him away for an inefficient chucker in Brooks. Brooks didn’t play well during his time with the Suns last season and he’s still playing overseas in China, which means he likely won’t play more than a month, if at all, for the Suns this season before he becomes an unrestricted free agent. In exchange for half a season of Brooks the Suns gave Houston a tremendous young point guard in Goran Dragic, one capable of running an offense efficiently as both a creator and scorer. As Kyle Lowry has missed an extended period of time with an injury, Dragic has finally gotten a chance to control his own team and he’s been fantastic.
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In his 13 starts this season Dragic is averaging 16.5 points, 9.3 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 1.9 steals per game. Dragic is also shooting considerably better as a starter. His shooting line as starter of 52/42/84 is far superior to his 42/26/75 line as a reserve. These numbers shouldn’t surprise anybody. His numbers as a reserve are similar to the ones he posted the year he was traded. After breaking out in the 2010 post-season Dragic hasn’t produced well as a back-up. It seems as if he knows he deserves a starting role and he hasn’t looked very engaged as a reserve since then. It’s understandable. In pretty much any other situation Dragic could have started in the 2010-11 season but with Steve Nash in town a promotion was impossible. After slumping, Dragic got traded, which should have been beneficial for him, but alas, he ended up with a team that had another breakout point guard in Kyle Lowry putting in a strong claim for the starting job.
Now that he’s finally got a chance to start for the Rockets, Dragic is killing it, and he’s making himself more money each time he takes the floor. While the Rockets will make a strong push to keep Dragic (they could consider dealing Lowry and their top draft pick to move up to the top five in the draft and commit to Dragic as the long-term starter), it’s unlikely that they’ll be able to offer him a starting role. In that scenario, it’s hard to envision Dragic not hitting the open market looking for a new home (Utah? Indiana?).
As Dragic continues to prove himself, the Suns are stuck watching from afar at a player that they definitely should have held onto. Phoenix’s back-up point guards right now are Sebastian Telfair and Ronnie Price and every time Steve Nash leaves the floor the Suns offense absolutely falls apart. Even though Dragic isn’t as good as Nash, when he was spelling Nash a couple of seasons ago, the Suns could actually manage to stay afloat.
While Dragic may have continued to struggle had he remained with the Suns that season that doesn’t mean Phoenix shouldn’t have kept him. And choosing to trade him for Aaron Brooks was flat out dumb. Dragic was someone with a flair and feel for the game similar to Nash’s, a quality you’ll find in just about nobody around the league. He clearly learned from Nash while he was his understudy even if he felt he had outgrown his reserve role. Had Phoenix held onto Dragic they would have been able to trade Nash this season while having a clear plan for the future. The Suns could have easily rolled into next season with a Dragic, Nicolas Batum (acquired for Nash), Markieff Morris, Marcin Gortat, Jared Dudley and a lottery pick (e.g. Terrence Jones or Perry Jones III) core. That’s not so bad.
Now, assuming Nash wants to contend for a title as his career nears it’s end and signs with another team, the Suns will be stuck with a couple of nice young players but with nobody to run the show. Even with a load of capspace, their options would be extremely limited.
The ultimate irony here would be if Nash signs with someone else and Dragic chooses to return to Phoenix to become their starting point guard of the future. It’s a plausible scenario (the Suns have money to spend and Dragic may be comfortable with that coaching staff) but if Dragic ends up going elsewhere then the Suns will be forced to watch him grow into a top 10 point guard in the league over the next few seasons as they sift through the grade C options left on the market. I’m sure the Suns believed they were making a good decision when they traded Dragic for Brooks and they surely couldn’t have foreseen Brooks being completely absent this season, but in terms of ability, the Suns made a huge mistake giving up on Dragic because of a half-season slump. And they’ll be regretting it for many years to come.