Larry Fitzgerald and Goran Dragic: Winning makes a difference

Feb 18, 2015, 8:15 PM | Updated: 8:27 pm

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Less than 12 hours after word came out that Goran Dragic had no intention of re-signing with the Phoenix Suns, it was learned that Larry Fitzgerald planned on redoing his contract with the Arizona Cardinals.

It is quite a juxtaposition.

Of course, it would be wrong to look at each situation the same way. Dragic, 28, is in the prime of his career and is set to make a substantial amount of money in his next contract. Fitzgerald, 31, is on the downside of his career, and while still valuable, not worth what he once was.

Yet, where the scenarios are similar is that the players have most of the leverage in terms of where they will play. Fitzgerald chose to stay; Dragic wants to leave.

While we will never know every reason each player reached the decision he did, one thing that cannot be overlooked is that right now, the Cardinals are a winner and the Suns are not.

And Dragic, apparently, does not trust his team to become one.

Tell me, Arizona sports fan, did you ever think you’d see the day where a player would trust the Cardinals’ front office but not the Suns’?

But that mindset makes sense, and it makes it easy to understand why one player is staying while the other is going.

Winning games makes it easier to accept a lesser role, such as the one Fitzgerald has taken the last couple of seasons for Arizona. It makes it easier to accept the team adding talented wideouts Michael Floyd and John Brown, each of whom has led to a decrease in targets for the future Hall of Famer.

“I know he feels like it’s a special place,” Cardinals GM Steve Keim said when asked if Fitz’s diminished role came up during the negotiations. “He has a tremendous relationship with Michael Bidwill, our president and owner, so that really helped as well, to have those two sit down and talk things out.

“We knew all along that Larry wanted to stay a Cardinal, we just had to find that balance where both sides were happy.”

If this situation had come up two years ago, after Arizona won five games and changed its coaching staff, it would not have been a surprise to see Fitzgerald play hardball and force the Cardinals into granting him free agency. One of the best players of his generation, the chance to win is something that has driven him throughout his career and he likely would have viewed a change of scenery as his best chance to get back to the postseason.

But since the Cardinals have won 21 games over the last two seasons — and were arguably a little more luck on the injury front away away from being a Super Bowl contender this past season — he realizes there is no need to leave in order to win. He believes in what the Cardinals are doing, and with good reason.

The Suns, on the other hand, will likely miss the postseason for the fifth straight year in a league where more than half the teams reach the playoffs. Since Dragic signed with the team in 2012 (presumably with the idea that he would be the team’s leader and point guard), the Suns have proceeded to add more guards than any team could reasonably want, and it has not led to a better roster.

It’s no wonder Dragic feels betrayed and it’s clear why he is looking for a way out. That the reported list of his preferred destinations is absent of teams with winning records should not be cause to question his motives as leaving the Suns does not constitute surrendering a chance to win a championship.

The Cardinals keeping Fitzgerald while the Suns appear to be on the verge of losing Dragic does not mean the Valley’s football team is destined for greatness while its basketball team is circling the drain.

But in terms of public perception, it’s clear which team is coming out of this week looking like a winner. And the reason for that, largely, is because they are exactly that.

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