Goran Dragic credits Nets coach Steve Nash for the start of his NBA career. Now, he may be able to thank his mentor for his career’s final chapters, too.
For a second straight season, the Nets were big winners on the buyout market. Last year, it was Kevin Durant leading the recruiting efforts for LaMarcus Aldridge and Blake Griffin. This time, their head coach used his past to shore up the Nets’ present as they landed Dragic, the best point guard available.
Nash, who was the Suns’ starting point guard when Dragic broke into the league with Phoenix, sold the point guard on their background and the Nets’ immediate future, with a roster containing enough talent to win a title. Through Dragic’s 14 seasons, he has reached the NBA Finals just once, in 2020 with the Heat, but has not won a ring.
“I chose Brooklyn because I think they have a really good chance to win a championship, especially to play alongside [Durant], Kyrie [Irving], Ben Simmons, Aldridge,” Dragic said after practice Wednesday, his first time addressing media since agreeing to the pact Monday.
Dragic said he was pursued by six other contenders and that the decision was a difficult one — but was made easier by Nash, who has “been a great friend to me, great mentor.”
The Nets could offer the continuation of a friendship that began in 2008, when Dragic was a second-round pick by the Spurs who was quickly traded to the Suns, a team led by the veteran point guard Nash. They would sit next to each other on plane trips, and Dragic would watch the aging superstar go about his regimented routine the same way every day.
“At that time, I made that decision I was going to come from Europe to NBA — only because of Steve,” said Dragic, who was third-team All-NBA in 2014. “If that were some other team, I probably would have stayed in Europe another two or three years.”
The 35-year-old could have walked away from the NBA for good following a failed stint with the Raptors this past fall. Dragic played in just five games this season after being acquired by Toronto in the trade that sent Kyle Lowry to Miami.
Dragic left the Raptors in November and has sat out since. He was dealt to the Spurs at the trade deadline then promptly bought out.
The Raptors wanted “to go young, and they didn’t see me [being] part of that team,” Dragic said.
The buy-out kicked off a recruiting frenzy from the top teams for a point guard who averaged 16.2 points and 5.1 assists as recently as two seasons ago.
Nash and general manager Sean Marks met with Dragic in Miami, where he has lived for much of the season and had been working to stay in shape. Marks credited Nash, who preferred not going into detail on his sales pitch.
“When you recruit, you never give away your secrets,” Nash said.
Even as the Nets see an avenue toward New York City dropping its vaccine mandate and having a full-time Irving on the team, Dragic — whether for five minutes or 25 minutes per game — would be helpful. They are not sure when Dragic, who last played Nov. 13, could be ready, and Nash said it might be two or three games at least before he debuts.
Whenever he does, Dragic realizes the stakes.
“No excuses. No excuses anymore. Every game counts. It’s only, what, 23 games left?” Dragic said, correctly. “You don’t want to play in the [play-in game]. You want to be in the top six. This is our goal for now.”
Nash said there is “no clarity” on Joe Harris, who might need a second surgery on his left ankle.
“He is still working through things,” Nash said.
Ben Simmons took part in individual drills at practice. Though the media was allowed to watch the practice, the infamously shot-resistant star was working with Kyle Korver, a player-development coach and 3-point specialist.