After much wrangling, more than a few doubts, and some international diplomacy, the Suns finally have landed the player they expect to be Steve Nash's backup this year.
A source confirmed to Sporting News that Slovenian point guard Goran Dragic—whose rights were acquired in June in a draft-night trade with the Spurs—is intent on signing a contract of at least three years to play in Phoenix.
There are still some administrative details to resolve for Dragic to get out of his European contract. He then must settle on a definitive contract with the Suns.
But this could set up a big win for the Suns. Dragic did not have a buyout in his contract with Tau Ceramica in Spain, and it was widely believed that he would have to wait until next year to join an NBA team. Before any deal with the Suns could be finalized, Dragic had to haggle with two European teams, negotiating a buyout that would persuade them to release him from his contract.
That process has been long and difficult. One of Dragic's American representatives, Rade Filipovich, joined his representative in Spain, Quique Villalobos, a week ago to begin working out a deal. Complicating matters is that Dragic's rights were technically owned by Union Olimpija in his hometown of Ljubljana, and he was on loan to Tau. Dragic had to work out a buyout figure that would satisfy both teams.
As recently as Monday, Dragic told a Spanish newspaper, "I have spoken with my manager and the people at Tau, and they all think it's better for me to stay here, and so do I." That sent mixed signals to folks in the NBA—but according to the source, the paper was actually using old quotes.
Rather than paying Dragic a standard rookie minimum, then, the Suns will have to pay him part of their mid-level exception to help cover the cost of the buyout he negotiated with Tau.
Phoenix should be willing to pay that, though, because the Suns have long been intrigued by the potential of Dragic, who is 6'4" and 22 years old.
In fact, on draft night, Phoenix considered taking Dragic with the 15th pick. The Suns decided to gamble on taking him in the second round, though, because second-round picks are not held to the rookie salary scale and would have the financial flexibility to work out an early buyout.
Phoenix ended up trading the draft rights to Malik Hairston (No. 48 pick), a future second-round pick, and cash for the rights for Dragic.
The Suns feel Dragic is intelligent and mature enough to step in and be Nash's backup this year.
Without Dragic, Phoenix would be down to some less-appealing options to back up Nash. The team was rumored to be interested in guard Jannero Pargo—more of a scorer than a point guard—or, failing that, probably would have had Leandro Barbosa revert from his role as off-the-bench scoring guard back to his old role as Nash's backup.
UPDATE: The Phoenix Suns, however, have denied that they have agreed a deal.