Goran Dragic is a veteran of nearly 900 career NBA games, but he was still expecting to have some butterflies before tipoff Saturday night in Milwaukee.
Once those were out of the way, it was time for the point guard and the Nets to quickly begin meshing with a short runway beforeing on what they hope is a deep playoff run.
After a long layoff with the Raptors, a trade to the Spurs and a subsequent buyout that allowed him to sign with the Nets on Tuesday, Dragic will finally get back on the court for the first time in three-plus months Saturday night.
“First of all, I’m just pumped to be part of the team,” Dragic said Saturday after the Nets’ shootaround. “I was three or four months back home, spent some quality time with my kids. But of course you’re missing basketball. Basketball’s part of my life and I always play as hard as possible. I miss that. I miss that drive, I miss that excitement and everything.”
Dric got just one practice and two shootarounds with the Nets before making his debut. Because he had not played since Nov. 13, Dragic was expected to be on a minutes limit as he settled back into action.
But the 35-year-old did not expect the playbook to be an issue, courtesy of his history with Steve Nash. Dragic spent the first three seasons of his NBA career learning under the Hall of Fame point guard, who is now his head coach.
“The playbook is not hard,” Dragic said. “Most of the action is back from the day with the Suns, so I already got that covered. So it’s not going to be no problem.”
Once Dragic gets fully comfortable with his new team, though, it could open the door for Nash to use fellow point guard Kyrie Irving more to his strengths. Irving’s playing status is still dependent on whether the Nets are playing at home or on the road, but Nash said he can envision both point guards playing together when available.
“I think Kyrie is largely off the ball for our offense because that’s where I think he’s best,” Nash said. “We don’t necessarily want to use Kyrie to bring the ball up the court and facilitate offenses. We want Kyrie to bring an assassin out there. So, Goran can handle the ball and play with Kyrie. He can be off the ball. He brings a lot of versatility with his IQ with his shooting and playmaking. So I think all combinations are going to have to be a strength of ours, not necessarily putting people into labels or positions full time.”
In his last full season with the Heat in 2020-2021, dragic averaged 13.4 points and 4.4 assists while shooting 37.3 percent from 3-point range. But he knows that facilitating for others is how he best fits into this Nets roster and he is more than willing to play that role, especially at this point in his career.
“My job is to set [up] everybody else, especially the play calls,” Dragic said. “Try to get everyone in the right spot and then run the action. I know I can score, but with this team, probably we’re not going to need that.”
If that connection goes according to plan, perhaps Dragic will get the chance to run into his old team in a playoff series down the road.
“I love Goran,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said Friday at the Garden. “He’s a great fit anywhere. … You knew he’d be highly sought after by the championship-contending teams. I’m happy for him. I want him to be happy. He’s like family. Then of course, the cliché — except for against us.”