NBA & Atlanta Hawks

Goran Dragic deals with new Heat reality after nearly being dealt

By the end of last season, the question was whether 7-Eleven would be back in business for the Miami Heat, after injuries held Dion Waiters and Goran Dragic out of the lineup for extended stretches.

The drama continued with the Heat apparently attempting to trade Dragic to the Dallas Mavericks in the complex June machinations that landed free-agent Jimmy Butler from the Philadelphia 76ers.

That Dragic still is in Heat colors is a story unto itself, with the Heat, according to multiple reports, having believed that the Mavericks were taking on the former All-Star on June 30 to help facilitate the Butler sign-and-trade, with Dallas instead believing it was acquiring Kelly Olynyk and Derrick Jones Jr. Ultimately, Hassan Whiteside was shipped off to Portland to make the salary-cap math work in the deal that sent Josh Richardson to Philadelphia.

Tuesday, back working at AmericanAirlines Arena in advance of the Oct. 1 start of training camp, the 33-year-old former All-Star reflected on the night he almost became an ex-Heat player, as well as what now comes next with Heat.

"If I'm honest, I did not hear it," Dragic said of the chaos of the Butler signing, which took place while he was back home in his native Slovenia. "I heard it after, a little bit. Because when that was going on, I was asleep. I was sleeping. I didn't know what was going on. Of course, the next day, in the morning, I received a lot of texts.

"It was a little bit crazy, because at first you didn't know if the deal went through or not. So a lot of my friends called me and were asking me. But I did not have a clue, because I just woke up."

From that moment, he said he put the matter in the past tense.

"I didn't speak with anybody, not with my agent, not with the Heat, so I just let it go," he said.

Now, back since late last month and very much still on the Heat payroll, the reality is there might not potentially be a place for either Dragic (jersey No. 7) or Waiters (No. 11) in the Heat's first five.

With Butler arriving as a possible replacement for Waiters at shooting guard, and with ongoing intrigue about Justise Winslow eventually emerging as the Heat's long-term answer at point guard, Dragic finds himself in a far different Heat landscape than the one he left at the end of last season's disappointing 39-43 lottery finish.

"For me, it's the same approach," he said. "I'm going to fight it. I'm going to do my job. That's it. At the end of the day, Coach decides who's going to play, who's going to start. The only thing I can control is my preparation and how I play games and how I practice. Those are the only things I control."

Already under control, he said, is the surgical right knee that contributed to limiting him to just 36 appearances last season.

"My leg is way stronger than last year," he said. "Basically the right leg is stronger than the left one. I'm doing some basketball drills, some lifting weights. Everything is going like we planned."

In addition to Butler stepping in as an expected leading man, the Heat also added draft picks Tyler Herro and KZ Okpala, as well as big man Meyers Leonard, while dealing away starters Whiteside and Richardson.

"I think we're a better team," he said. "The only thing that's going to change is probably rotation and some minutes. But, at the same time, a lot of guys, they know the process, how we're going to prepare, how we're going to look at training camp. We just need to build the chemistry.

"Every year, even if you come with the same team, every year is different."

The likely means a recalibration for coach Erik Spoelstra, which would come with Dragic entering the final year of his contract. The last time Dragic stood on the eve of a final season of a contract he was dealt from the Phoenix Suns to the Heat at the 2015 NBA trading deadline.

"I don't even think about it, because I'm more in the present, because I'm trying to get back to being healthy this year," he said. "So this is my priority, just to stay focused and do my job. And when the time is going to come, then I'm going to think about my future."

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