NBA

Goran Dragic apologizes for saying he has 'higher ambitions' than Raptors after trade from Miami

New Toronto Raptor Goran Dragic is in damage control for comments he says were taken out of context after the point guard was acquired last week in a sign-and-trade deal with Miami.

Sad to leave Miami after 7 years, point guard calls Toronto 'top-notch organization'

Raptors newcomer Goran Dragic is apologizing to the fanbase for comments, he says, were taken out of context when he told Slovenian reporters on Sunday that Toronto wasn's his preferred destination in a sign-and-trade deal with Miami. (Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images/File)

New Toronto Raptor Goran Dragic is in damage control for comments he says were taken out of context after the point guard was acquired along with Precious Achiuwa last week in a sign-and-trade deal that resulted in Kyle Lowry heading to Miami.

Making the rounds on social Monday was a brief clip with an accompanying English translation of Dragic stating, "Toronto is not my preferred destination, I have higher ambitions."

The 14-year NBA veteran's comments were made a day earlier while speaking to media in Slovenia, where the national basketball team was recognized for its fourth-place finish at the Tokyo Olympics.

"I told [reporters] that I had spent seven years in Miami and that would be the preferred destination for me because my family is there and everything, not Toronto," Dragic told Sportsnet.

"My message basically, to all Toronto fans, is I would like to apologize. It didn't come out the right way. I know they love their team, and they should be proud, it is one of the best organizations in the NBA. They've already won a championship and I didn't, so what I said, it really was not appropriate."

Dragic, who is well-respected and well-liked across the league, admitted feeling "sad" about the trade and explained the challenges of moving his family, including finding a school for his two children.

However, Dragic's stay in Toronto could be brief. The Raptors are rebuilding, he's 35 and has one year and $19.5 million US remaining on his contract.

The team reportedly is waiting for the trade market to materialize, so Dragic could open next season in Toronto and potentially get moved ahead of the trade deadline, likely slated for mid-February.

Raptors general manager Bobby Webster told Toronto radio station 590 The Fan he wants to hear from Dragic about his post-trade comments. There have been rumblings the player wishes to be reunited with fellow countryman Luka Doncic in Dallas.

"I think we'll just give it some time here to see how he would fit in and if he likes it here or not," Webster told The Fan. "We feel like we're gonna be competitive, we have a core — as we've talked about — that's been around for a while and has won at the highest level as well."

'Top-notch organization'

Dragic averaged 13.4 points and 4.4 assists 27 minutes for Miami last season, similar production to his 19 points and 4.4 assists during the Heat's run to the NBA Finals in 2020.

He was the Heat's best player when underdog Miami pushed Toronto the seven games in the second round of the 2016 playoffs.

"It's a top-notch organization. They won a championship two years ago, they have great players like [Fred] VanVleet, [Pascal] Siakam, Kyle [Lowry] was there, [DeMar] DeRozan was there, and they have probably the most passionate fans in the NBA and it's a great city," he says. "I've heard the best things about the city and the organization. You always want to be in these kinds of organization in your career."

For his part, Achiuwa said he would do "whatever it takes" to get the Raptors back to being a championship-calibre squad.

Asked what he brings to the table, the six-foot-nine 235-pounder replied: "Winning. Just a winning mentality."

"Doing whatever it takes to win basketball games," he added. "Rebounding. Guarding multiple positions. Creating offence for my teammates with screens, pick-and-rolls. Passing the ball. Just whatever it takes to win basketball games. Getting loose balls.

"For me, it's all about winning."

'Great experience' at Olympics

The 21-year-old Achiuwa spoke to reporters Monday from Las Vegas, where he had just taken part in his first practice with the Raptors' Summer League team.

Achiuwa averaged 5.0 points, 3.4 rebounds and 12.1 minutes in 61 games, including four starts, with the Heat during his rookie season. He was taken in the first round (20th overall) in the 2020 NBA draft.

Born in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, Achiuwa was part of the Nigerian team that finished 10th at the Tokyo Olympics. He called it a "great experience," saying it taught him how every possession counted given the shorter international game.

With a seven-foot-one wingspan, he is a good defender.

Achiuwa has said he wants to be remembered for more than basketball and looks to help others.

"I just hate to see people struggle," he said in a 2019 interview. "So, I try as much as possible in my power to change that."

He said he plans to continue his work off the court in Toronto.

"I want to give back to the community I'm in. I've already started, doing something like that" he said Monday. "And definitely go back home to Nigeria and do a lot of community stuff, help out kids, help out families in need. Just provide for them whatever way I can."

Sam Dekker returns to NBA with Raptors

On Tuesday, the Raptors officially signed free-agent forward Sam Dekker.

The team made the announcement in a statement, but did not disclose details of the contract.

The 27-year-old has spent the last two seasons playing overseas, including Russia and Turkey.

Before that, Dekker spent four seasons in the NBA with the Houston Rockets, L.A. Clippers, Cleveland Cavaliers and Washington Wizards.

Dekker played three seasons at the University of Wisconsin, helping the Badgers reach the finals of the NCAA Tournament in 2015. Later that year, he was drafted 18th overall by Houston.

With files from The Canadian Press

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