Goran Dragic said much that would win over Canadian basketball fans, as the Toronto Raptors prepared to begin training camp on home soil.
The 35-year-old veteran NBA point guard met with Toronto reporters at Raptors Media Day on Monday, as the team made its first public appearance inside the Scotiabank Arena before the pandemic halted play.
Dragik spoke brilliantly about his friend, Raptors legend Kyle Lowry. He spoke about the impact Canadian basketball icon Steve Nash had on his career. Perhaps most importantly, Dragic apologized for some summer comments that made it appear that he was hesitant to play in Toronto.
After nine seasons in Toronto, Lowry was traded in the summer – to Miami – for Dragic and center Precious Achiuva. Dragic explained that he would not continue to wear Number 7 in Miami as Lori’s iconic number in Toronto during the nine years he starred in Canada.
“Kyle, he brought a championship to this organization, so I believe maybe his jersey will be in the roof and that’s why I chose No. 1,” Dragic said. “I already had No. 1 – when I was with the Phoenix Suns – and I had a great season that year.”
Lori will continue to wear Number 7 as she joins the heats. First, the six-time NBA All-Star sought Dragic’s blessing for doing so.
“Me and Kyle we are good friends. I played with him in Houston, so we talk a lot,” Dragic said. “He knows my family, I know his family. So it was nothing , you know. He asked me the number I said, ‘Yeah, never mind, you’re my man.’”
Dragic was also asked on Monday about a comment he reportedly made to the media in his native Slovenia over the summer, when he was trading with the Raptors. Social media buzzed in August that he reportedly said Toronto was not his favorite destination, and that his ambitions were high.
“It turned out to be wrong. I apologized and I still want to apologize; that was not my intention,” said Dragic. “Organization and players, he welcomed [me]. It was really cool; All the boys are good. They want me to feel comfortable and I have been feeling comfortable here for the last two weeks.
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It will be the fourth team for the 6-foot-3 Dragic to have received an All-Star approval on his resume in 2018. Raptors general manager Bobby Webster said, “Goran has been a professional since the trade.
“He’s one of the big politicians, but he can still play and I think he can still lead,” Webster said. “And we’re going to need a little bit of it this year.”
Dragic said he had explored Toronto a bit since his arrival and got to know a few Raptors players. He averaged 13.4 points and 4.4 assists for the Heat last season. He learns that he can take on a mentorship role on this Raptors team that has lots of young newcomers – just like Nash mentored him when he was a young learner with the Phoenix Suns.
“I’m a professional, playing this league for 14 years, so I love basketball, I’m going to do everything I can to be a part of this team and help young players grow. “
Fans may remember Dragic most clearly since meeting the Raptors Heat in the 2016 Eastern Conference semifinals. Lori and Dragik faced off in several battles over the ball. Toronto won that series.
“I always remember that every time you play Toronto it’s a long, long night,” recalled Dragic of the atmosphere inside Scotiabank Arena.
The Wraps were last played at the Scotiabank Arena on February 28, 2020, before COVID-19 halted all games. There are only four Raptors left from that roster – Pascal Siakam, Fred VanValet, Ozzy Anunobi and Chris Boucher.
The Raps completed the 2019-20 season in the NBA Bubble in Orlando. While other teams in the league went home for last season, the Raptors were forced to stay in the US due to restrictions complicating travel to Canada. He practiced and played his home game in Tampa.
Players and staff have filtered back to Toronto in recent weeks to return to the gym. While the Raps usually take training camp on the road, they opted to hold it at home this year so they can feel at home inside their training facility — the OVO Athletic Center — and get used to the city again.
“I had no idea how much I enjoyed being here,” VanWallet said. “This is the longest time I’ve lived anywhere other than Rockford” [Illinois], and it’s the first major city I’ve lived in, so I have a high affinity with the city for a number of reasons — from my story to being in the NBA until winning the championship — and it’s really become my second home and me and mine. The family is really happy to be back.”
The first raptor training camp in nearly a decade that didn’t include Lowry would be weird. VanVleet says he talks to his former partner twice a week.
“We will try to pick up the slack that he left behind – the biggest raptor ever to do so,” VanValet said. “He will continue to be a mentor in my life and someone I will always depend on, and the funniest thing about the whole relationship is that he probably asks me for my opinion more than I do. So it really is basketball stuff. No, but it’s just our vibe and it’s a real relationship that we’ve developed and cultivated over five years. He’s my brother.”