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What Goran Dragic’s comments tell us about the Nets

2022 NBA Playoffs - Brooklyn Nets v Boston Celtics Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

When the Nets signed Goran Dragic near the end of last season, it was seen as a coup, getting a veteran playmaker to fill in and back up Kyrie Irving and add some leadership. Dragic had been sitting for four months after being traded to the Raptors and asking for some personal time. The agreement for him to sit was mutual.

Another reason that the deal looked good was that, once again, the Nets had grabbed a veteran player just before the buyout deadline as they had with Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge in the past.

The veteran guard had reported interest from a number of teams, including the Nets, the Milwaukee Bucks, the Miami Heat, the Chicago Bulls and both L.A. teams. His connection with Steve Nash, Dragic’s mentor in Phoenix a decade ago, had won the day.

Last week, though, Dragic signed with the Bulls for the 2022-23 season and in an interview with a paper in his home nation of Slovenia two days ago, he described how maybe he should have signed with Chicago in the first place.

“I already talked to Chicago last year, but then things unfortunately took a different direction,” Dragic told Slovenian newspaper Vecer. “Well, not unfortunately, it just happened as it did and I chose Brooklyn. Last year I decided the way I did.

“I played with some stars, like Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, and I have to admit that it was quite difficult because the focus was not the team, but more the individual performances of the individual players.”

It was, as Brian Lewis reports Thursday, not the first time since he the end of last season that he had told a European outlet about his experience.

“It was really tough last year, but that’s part of the sport. I’m happy that I came to the club environment that I wanted, in which I know that I will play, where I can get to consistency again, and that’s what I’m most happy about,” Dragic told Sportal, via Google Translate.

“Last season, I didn’t play for four months, then I came to Brooklyn and immediately played 30 minutes, which was difficult. The season was really not successful, but the most important thing is that it is behind us, it is in the past and now we can only look forward.”

Dragic who was one of the Nets few bright spots in their sweep at the hands of the Celtics had given some hints of his unhappiness in April, comparing the Nets culture unfavorably with that of the Heat where he starred for seven seasons.

“Every day there was something different, something difficult.” he said post-game after Game 4 of the Boston series when asked about his experience in Brooklyn ... and whether he’d want to return. “I don’t know. It’s tough to say right now; my head is still hot. I don’t want to make any decision right now because I’m sad, I’m pissed, So I just need some time to process this better. But I love basketball. I still want to play another two, three years. So we’ll see about that.”

The combined comments suggest that the Nets drama last season —with Irving refusing to be vaccinated, James Harden demanding a trade and Ben Simmons on-again, off-again return to play — was even a deeper issue than believed and that’s saying something.

Now, of course, that drama pales in comparison to the off-season with Durant requesting a trade and Irving deciding to opt in following what appeared to be tough negotiations. While KD has not detailed his reasons for the request, more than one pundit has indicated that Durant is just tired of all the drama, wanted a better culture.

In fact, Dragic’s comments make one wonder if Brooklyn is as attractive a final destination for vets like him, Griffin and Aldridge. Bringing in All-Stars, even if at the end of their careers, is a key aspect in any contender’s chase, particularly one with a big payroll. Will free agents steer clear of the Nets and not just at the buyout deadline in March but in free agency in July? The Nets need those cheap signings with no cap space.

So far this summer, the record is mixed ... at best. Patty Mills did return for another two seasons at $14.2 million but the Nets have yet to sign anyone to the $6.5 million taxpayers MLE. Did they try to recruit someone but failed? Are they keeping it open for the purposes of future flexibility? We don’t know.

The two free agents they did sign — other than undrafted rookies — may wind up as good signings IF they’re healthy. T.J. Warren who has missed almost all of the last two seasons with recurring foot injuries, could be a low-risk, high-reward addition on a one-year, minimum deal. His last full season, he averaged nearly 20 points a game, including 31 in the “bubble.” Edmond Sumner also missed all of last season with a Achilles injury, but he is still rehabbing. His trainer told our Chris Milholen that he has yet to go 5-on-5. And as Ian Begley reported Wednesday, his deal is basically non-guaranteed.

“The guarantee in the first year of Edmond Sumner’s deal with Nets increases to $500,000 if he is on roster on 1st day of regular season, per league sources,” Begley tweeted.

Nothing will matter if KD is back. Same with Kyrie, but the Nets have a lot of repairing to do beyond mending their issues with their two superstars. Players talk to each other.