MILWAUKEE — The newest Net is expected to make his debut Saturday, with Goran Dragic listed as probable to face the Bucks.
The veteran point guard was signed as a free agent Tuesday, and is likely to suit up against the defending champions after a warp-speed ramp-up process.
“It’s not out of the question,” coach Steve Nash previously said about Dragic making his Nets debut on Saturday. “We have to assess how he comes through [Thursday and Friday], and see where he’s at Saturday. It’s probably less likely he’ll play Saturday, but I think in the next three games, he’s out there.”
But after Friday’s workout, Dragic went from less likely to more likely.
“I’m here just to help — to help whatever they need me to do,” Dragic said. “If they need me to run a second unit, I run a second unit. If I’m going to play, I don’t know, five minutes, 10 minutes, 20 minutes.
“I’m here because I want to win. I’ve been in the league — this is my 14th year — it’s all about winning at this stage of my career.”
Dragic hasn’t played in an NBA game since Nov. 13, when he was with Toronto. But after the Raptors went with more of a youth movement, the 35-year-old Dragic played just five games with them before heading down to train in Miami, where he has kept an offseason residence since his days with the Heat.
Now, after that long layoff — similar to Ben Simmons, still ramping up after having not played in a game since last June — Dragic seems on the verge of suiting up.
And whenever he makes his debut — whether it’s Saturday in Milwaukee or Monday against the Raptors — Nash is confident he’ll pick up the offense and defense seamlessly. Dragic was Nash’s backup for years in Phoenix, and the pair have maintained a friendship ever since.
“Yeah. It’s easy for a number of reasons: I think our relationship, his IQ, and his experience,” Nash said. “Those are all reasons why it’s gonna be simpler for him to understand what we do.
“Now, he might not look like himself for a while because he hasn’t played basketball in many months. But there’s no doubt that he’ll get up to speed as quickly as possible, and his understanding and ability to fit into the group will be about as easy as it gets.”
James Johnson — who played 175 games alongside Dragic from 2016-20 with the Heat — agreed it should be easier to implement the veteran compared to most others.
“He’s poised, he’s been there before, he’s a champion with his country. … It’s just having the IQ and having the maturity and someone who knows the game of basketball,” Johnson said. “His competitive nature is top-notch. His willingness to make big plays down the stretch and want those plays I think is just going to add another threat to help out this team.”
Dragic seems to have gotten up to speed faster than Simmons, who was acquired at the Feb. 10 trade deadline and is still ramping up.
Along with Simmons, Kevin Durant (right knee MCL sprain) and Joe Harris (ankle) will remain out against Milwaukee. After Nash had projected that Durant was likely the closest one to returning, it’s not inconceivable he could play in the home-and-home against the Raptors, on Monday at the Garden and Tuesday in Toronto.
The Nets are slowly getting closer to full strength, and Dragic can provide a veteran backup for Kyrie Irving, when the All-Star plays, and help soak up some of those missing minutes when Irving is unavailable for home games.
“Obviously different skills with him and Kyrie, but the ability to be a threat and remain a threat literally gives their guards no chance to relax because both guards, they’re attack guards,” Johnson said.
“Kyrie in or out, Goran adds a point guard to our roster. He adds experience, IQ, skill, toughness,” Nash said. “He’s definitely a player who’s not afraid to step up and make plays in big moments and in big situations. He’s been there before. I think he adds a tremendous amount to group.”