By Doug SmithSports Reporter
Sat., Nov. 13, 2021timer4 min. read
updateArticle was updated 3 hrs ago
It’s a Iuxury that not a lot of NBA teams have and one that many would like: a steady if unspectacular veteran who doesn’t play a lot but can when needed, a guy who doesn’t complain, who isn’t disruptive and is wise enough to understand his, and his team’s, circumstances.
It remains to be seen what fate befalls Goran Dragic in his season with the Raptors but when he had to make an emergency appearance Saturday, he did with the steady influence of a guard in his 14th NBA season.
With Fred VanVleet out because of lingering groin injury, Raptors coach Nick Nurse handed the starting role to Dragic, who didn’t light up the scoreboard but managed to get the Raptors settled down to start what turned into a disappointing 127-121 loss to Dwane Casey and the Detroit Pistons at the Scotiabank Arena.
“It was just to try to get some semblance of the offence running with something similar to what they’re used to was probably the reason,” Nurse said of the reason he started the veteran. “(He) sure played good tonight for not playing for a long time … he was tough and he was good at both ends for the most part and made a lot of plays.”
Dragic played 28 minutes, contributed 16 points, three assists and five rebounds, and was running the offence in the last few frantic minutes of a Raptors rally. He said he found out shortly before tip off that he would be starting.
“I was out of breath, but it was fine,” he said. “I find out (I was starting) before the game so I was a little bit surprised but I was ready. Just the lungs are a little bit tired, but that’s normal.”
Pascal Siakam scored 25 points before fouling out in the last minute to lead Toronto, which played more than well enough offensively to win. But the Pistons, who entered the game with the lowest-ranked offence in the league, shredded Toronto’s defence with 56 per cent shooting from the field while making 15 three-pointers.
Seven Pistons scored in double figures — No. 1 overall draft pick Cade Cunningham had just 10 points while Jerami Grant had 24 — as they found all kinds of openings in Toronto’s defence.
“We never really got a defensive presence at all and then when the game was kind of on the line there late, they just beat us one on one about three straight times,” Nurse said.
Neither VanVleet nor Precious Achiuwa, who missed Saturday’s game with a sore shoulder, are expected to miss extended time as the Raptors head out on a six-game road trip that begins Monday in Portland.
But with those two sitting out Saturday, Siakam’s minutes being monitored and Khem Birch working his way back after sitting three games with knee swelling, there was some innovation needed from Nurse. And that was before the third-quarter departure of Chris Boucher because of a sore lower back.
It’s always like that, though. Coaches plan and scheme and think about rotations and substitution patterns all the time and then someone comes up hobbling a bit. And there are matchups in a specific game can be exploited or players just play so well they can’t be kept off the court.
That’s kind of what happened with Dragic. After he appeared in the first four games, rookie Dalano Banton emerged as viable backup to VanVleet and Dragic dropped out of the rotation. It’s doubtful that, before the season began, Nurse would have envisioned the 46th pick in last summer’s draft supplanting a 13-year veteran in the rotation but here the Raptors are.
“You’ve got your ideas and you got your philosophies and you got your vision for the season, but that always takes a different kind of winding road each season,” Nurse said before Saturday’s game. “Even some of the things we’re running right now, which you could call set plays or set starts to our open offence, are things that we didn’t have on our menu anywhere even in our pre-season talks.
“And that’s common. Things develop with certain teams and certain personnel things and it will continue to evolve.”
Not unexpectedly, calls are starting to trickle in to Raptors management about Dragic, whose $19-million (U.S.) contract expires at the end of this season.
It usually takes 12 or 15 games for teams to figure out just what they are, what they have and what they need before any trade discussions can begin.
It’s about that time in the season and, according to NBA sources, the Raptors are getting preliminary, cursory calls on Dragic.
They would, of course, want to extract some sort of add-on in any deal. An extra draft pick, maybe a player with some contract obligations beyond this season to solidify the roster in the longer term: They know there is no rush to move the 35-year-old Dragic, who hadn’t played in 10 games before Saturday night.
The NBA trade deadline isn’t until February, neither he nor his agents are clamouring for a move right now. It’s a matter of things picking up around the league and that’s likely to come in the next month or so.
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