Inside Goran Dragic's Dramatic and Game-Changing Transition with the Miami Heat

Jared Zwerling@JaredZwerlingNBA Senior WriterMarch 5, 2015

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Entering last month's trade deadline, the Miami Heat needed to pick up the slack a bit—in terms of winning and pace, as they ranked last in the NBA in possessions per game.

They found both of those answers in arguably the best player moved on Feb. 19: point guard Goran Dragic, formerly of the Phoenix Suns. Since then, Dragic, who's averaging 15.9 points, 4.9 assists and 1.6 steals and maintaining the best shooting percentage in the restricted area for any point guard (.692), has helped the Heat to a 4-3 record while playing through back spasms and right shoulder pain.

With the speedy southpaw now running the show, the Heat's pace has improved by an additional four-plus possessions per game with an an uptick in their offensive and defensive ratings, according to NBA.com. So it's evident the winner of last season's Most Improved Player award has made an immediate impact in Miami—which was needed with All-Star Chris Bosh's season ending because of blood clots in his lungs.

Bleacher Report caught up with the 28-year-old Dragic on Tuesday to dive into his first two weeks in Miami—from being traded and getting situated with his younger brother, Zoran, to meeting his teammates and experiencing the Heat's championship culture. Below is a candid look inside Dragic's recent time and transition in Miami, presented from his perspective and edited for clarity and length.

Zoran and Goran Dragic—with Heat coach Erik Spoelstra—during their introductory press conference.
Zoran and Goran Dragic—with Heat coach Erik Spoelstra—during their introductory press conference.Issac Baldizon/Getty Images

It was hard in the days before the trade deadline because I had asked for a trade, so you don't know what the team is going to do. It's kind of an uncomfortable situation because you go to practice, you see your teammates, but they know that you asked for a trade.

Monday night's game against my former team was really physical, but I was happy that we won. I talked with my former teammates before and after the game, but it was a different vibe. It was weird, because now I'm on the opposite side.

When I now look back on what I said about the Suns before the trade—"I don't trust them anymore...I don't feel comfortable with my situation"—I feel bad, because it came out a little too harsh. I didn't mean it like that, but it happened in that moment, so I cannot go back and change it. I just said what I was thinking.

I'm an honest guy, and I had never said something bad about that organization. They were always great to me—they were like family—so I didn't mean that. But at the same time, I thought that the situation was not good anymore for me, so that's why it came out like that.

I apologized to Suns owner Robert Sarver. We had a good conversation—he was always there for me and my family. He knew that I was not going to re-sign with them, so I wanted to do something before the trade deadline and hopefully they could get some players or some picks. I really appreciated what he did—trading me.

My No. 1 wish was to go to Miami, who I found out later had tried to get me a couple of years ago when I was in Houston. Miami offered everything—a great market, great players, their championship mentality. They always want to do well, and I think that it was a good fit for me. I was pushing for this situation, but I still didn't know if the Suns were going to send me there. I was in a tough spot, but things worked out in the end.

I found out about Chris Bosh's situation on the in-flight Internet when I was traveling with my brother, Zoki (Zoran's nickname), from Phoenix to Miami on Feb. 19. It was hard, because I was so excited to play alongside him and D-Wade. Definitely it would be a different story with Chris on the team.

He's going through some tough times with his family, but I'm really glad that we heard some good news about him, that he's getting better. And that's the most important thing. That's why I'm excited to have him back hopefully next season.

After my first game against the Pelicans, which we lost, I sent Chris a text message, "You were missed tonight. Looking forward to playing with you. We'll do our part here, and when you're back, we'll be ready to go." I haven't had a chance to talk to him; he's with his family. I'm looking forward to meeting him in person. I played a lot of games against him and he always gave us problems.

Could Dragic and Chris Bosh be teammates next season? Dragic: "I'm really hoping to stay in Miami because I really like it."
Could Dragic and Chris Bosh be teammates next season? Dragic: "I'm really hoping to stay in Miami because I really like it."Lynne Sladky/Associated Press/Associated Press

The day after I arrived in Miami, on Feb. 20, I had my physical, and then toured the arena and practice facility. I also met team president Pat Riley in his office, and it was unbelievable. I still remember that meeting.

I got goose bumps when he was talking about everything that we try to do in this organization to win a championship, and that we're one step closer with me. That meant a lot. He even gave me a hard plastic card—about the size of a business card—that had a picture of the Larry O'Brien trophy and said on the other side, "We are family." I put it in my wallet right away. Pat said, "This is what it's all about. You can have it with you all the time."

What's impressed me about the Heat is that everybody is so connected. It doesn't matter if you're working in the front office or you're just a security guy at the game, it looks like they're in this to win a championship. You can see they're one big family, a lot of interesting characters, like Michael Beasley, who I played with in Phoenix. They're always going to be there for you, they're going to have your back.

I felt that right away when D-Wade texted me as soon as I landed in Miami. He is just unbelievable. He's a future Hall of Famer and he's such a nice guy, humble guy. I already have a close bond with him and spend a lot of time talking to him about basketball.

I didn't have a player like that in Phoenix. He also organized a team dinner for us in New Orleans. For Zoki, Luol has been spending a lot of time with him. D-Wade and Luol still talk to each of us after every game, checking on us.

While Zoki and I are on the same team again, we didn't have discussions about that before the trade. My brother has his own career. But I was happy because I know that it would have been an awkward situation for him to stay in Phoenix.

He's working hard, and the coaches, who are working with him before and after practice, are giving him a good feeling that he's wanted here. Time will tell on his role, but I'm hoping. He knows that he's a work in progress and it's his rookie season. But right now, he's feeling great here.

Exactly two weeks in, new backcourt buddies Dragic and Dwyane Wade have already formed a special bond, with the Heat veteran serving as mentor.
Exactly two weeks in, new backcourt buddies Dragic and Dwyane Wade have already formed a special bond, with the Heat veteran serving as mentor.Issac Baldizon/Getty Images

This was the second trade in my career, and it was a little bit easier because I already knew that I was going to get traded. So I was prepared, I was already packing my stuff. I think the hardest part is when you don't expect to be traded. That's what happened in my first trade to Houston in 2011.

After meeting with Pat, I had dinner at The Oceanaire Seafood Room in Brickell with Kenny McCraney, the Heat's director of team services who helps players adjust after a trade. He took me through the transition process and told me that he and Pat want to make things as easy as possible for new players, so they don't have to worry about anything off the court. They've really helped my agency, BDA Sports, through my move.

The team's attention to detail has been unbelievable. Kenny has filled me in on things like restaurants to check out, back roads to take to avoid traffic, VIP parking perks at the arena for my family, the best times to leave from certain parts of town to get to places faster, and he told me that when the bridge in Brickell is up, it takes 30 more minutes to get to the game. He even got me my Florida driver's license and made sure that when he shipped my Mercedes C63 AMG from Phoenix, it was cleaned and detailed when I received it.

Right now, Zoki and I are staying at a hotel in Brickell. I feel like we're playing for our Slovenian national team, because usually when you go away somewhere, you're staying in a hotel and you're hanging out all the time. Kenny and my agency have started looking into areas for me to live in Miami, but I want to be focused on only basketball right now.

After a Feb. 20 morning workout on the court at the JW Marriott Marquis Miami, Dragic got dressed up and drove to AmericanAirlines Arena for his first Heat press conference that afternoon.
After a Feb. 20 morning workout on the court at the JW Marriott Marquis Miami, Dragic got dressed up and drove to AmericanAirlines Arena for his first Heat press conference that afternoon.Courtesy of Goran Dragic

I miss my wife Maja—she's still back in Phoenix packing—but at the same time, she knows that this is my job and I need to be professional. I also miss my one-year-old son, Mateo, who's already dunking in diapers, and I actually have another kid coming later this summer. Same with Zoki, for his first kid. His wife is in Europe right now and will be coming to the states soon.

I'm going to stay in the hotel until the end of the season, and then we're going to see how the team is going to develop. I just want to be focused on trying to help the team as much as possible get to the playoffs. But at the end of the season, of course I'm going to think about that option of staying. I'm really hoping to stay in Miami because I really like it, but you never know. I'm a free agent, so I'm going to explore my options.

Overall, my first two weeks have been stressful. But I'm fighting against myself, trying to get more consistent. Hopefully when I'm more comfortable with my teammates and the system, it's going to be much easier. Luol told me, "If you're confused or you don't know what's going on, just call the high pick-and-roll. It's a little bit easier."

To be honest, it feels like I've never played point guard before. I was off the ball in the corner in Phoenix, and you lose that grip a little bit. But with every game I feel more comfortable and, of course, this is what I was working all my life to be—a point guard. And I'm happy with that.

I was talking to coach Erik Spoelstra about the system and how they were forced to play at a slow pace because they've had so many injuries. But actually he wants to play a fast pace—stressing that defense creates those opportunities—and I think that fits me very well.

We can get easy shots in transition. In four out of our last seven games since I've joined the team, we've scored over 100 points. When Chris comes back, he's going to set screens, he can space, he can post up. There are a lot of different situations that we can expose.

Dragic's first two weeks in Miami included taking part in the team's 18th annual "HEATapalooza" family festival.
Dragic's first two weeks in Miami included taking part in the team's 18th annual "HEATapalooza" family festival.Issac Baldizon/Getty Images

I haven't had time to explore Miami, but I have been speaking Spanish—I still need to practice a little bit—with most of the Hispanic journalists and local fans. They're some of the loudest ones that I've ever played in front of.

Here's something for them in Spanish: Estoy muy feliz de estar aquí y por la oportunidad de jugar con grandes jugadores como D-Wade y con suerte Chris Bosh. Estoy emocionado por lo que viene. (I am very happy to be here and for the opportunity to play with great players like D-Wade and hopefully Chris Bosh. I'm excited for what lies ahead.) I played in the playoffs once in 2010, and it was one of the best experiences in my life. So I want to get that feeling back.

I already feel different in Miami, and something clicked on Monday. After we beat the Suns, I spent time with one of my old coaches and other friends from Slovenia, who were in Miami all week for vacation. I had fun showing them inside the locker room. Then later that night, I had dinner with Zoki at Prime 112 on Miami Beach, and the manager of the restaurant welcomed us to Miami. D-Wade was there, too, and it was a great time. We were laughing together, happy from the win. He thanked me for having his back in the game.

At that moment, I really felt like Miami was home.

Jared Zwerling covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.


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