I’ve had a few tweets directed towards me, and seen some others retweeted by people I follow, underscoring the disparity in Goran Dragic’s career averages. Essentially, he played out of his mind last season, and has regressed to his career median again this year. I’m not exactly sure what’s being insinuated here. This isn’t exactly some novel discovery here. I thought it was pretty common knowledge that he had a career year last season and has tailed off in 2015 in having to play off the ball alongside two other point guards. What’s everyone’s point?
The question of value is a recurrent theme in sports, especially in the NBA where an artificial cap pervades. In a vacuum, Dragic isn’t worth the contract it will likely take this summer to keep him in Houston, if the Rockets are able to swing a trade. In a vacuum, maybe Chris Bosh wasn’t worth it either. Very few players are absolutely worth their max figures, in vacuo of external considerations. James Harden fits that bill; Dwight, even despite his injury problems, probably still is as well, for what he brings defensively alone.
Dragic means more to Houston, in theory, because he would represent what they would believe to be their missing piece. They would be willing to pay more than he is actually worth because they would believe he would complete them. Moreover, compounding this point are the time constraints and financial realities of the salary cap. Houston can’t wait around for someone who might truly be worth the max to become available, because they are operating on Dwight Howard’s diminishing timeline. Further, and even more importantly, the longer the Rockets wait, the longer they remain in the holding pattern they’ve been in for years whereby they have had to sacrifice continuity for the sake of flexibility. For instance, let’s say there’s only ten other guys in the league who you feel are truly worth a max contract. If you think you’re not going to move until one of those guys becomes available, you can’t resign any of your role players in the interim, the way the Rockets had to let Chandler Parsons walk this summer. If Houston gets Dragic, it can work to keep Corey Brewer and Josh Smith as well.
So the question isn’t whether Goran Dragic is worth the max. In a vacuum, he’s not. The question is whether he can be the final piece of a championship core that already includes James Harden and Dwight Howard. Resoundingly, I think that answer is yes, especially when weighing the odds and difficulty of acquiring anyone else.