The Phoenix Suns roster of 15 players includes nine that are US nationals, plus six who represent other countries in international competition.
If you watch the FIBA World Cup next month, you might see as many as three current Phoenix Suns competing with their national teams.
Let’s review which of the Suns players are participating on their national teams.
Devin Booker, USA — OUT
The Suns most prominent American player is Devin Booker, who previously participated on the US Select Team of young players who would practice against the senior national team in 2016. He was also named in 2018 as one of the pool of 35 to be considered for the senior national team for the 2019 FIBA World Cup competition.
Two months ago, the 22-year old Booker declined an invitation to join the senior national team this summer. He was invited to the training camp roster which begins this week in preparation for the FIBA tournament that takes place in September, but he quietly declined.
“Obviously, USA Basketball is something I want to be part of, moving forward for the rest of my career,” Booker said to me at his annual ProCamp in Phoenix this week. “So turning down the invite was hard to do, but it was the best for my career and the Phoenix Suns.”
He noted that many other top players have since opted out as well. The national team will be playing in the FIBA World Cup over in China for the first two weeks of September. To join the team, Booker would have to work out with them through August, then compete through mid-to-late September and be finished just barely in time for training camp.
Even without Booker and the other stars, Team USA is still the big favorite to win the Cup.
The Suns will be opening training camp in the last week of September. Booker made it clear he wanted that time to be with his Suns teammates at the arena, and to be rested and healthy when training camp starts.
“It was a hard thing to do,” Booker said. “Just the work load. After the season I had last year, going through a lot of injuries. I wanted to focus on my body, focus on the new team that we have, the new coaching staff, get everybody acquainted. I don’t think I could do that overseas in China. So it was a tough decision. I sat and talked with my family a lot.”
Mikal Bridges, USA — IN
Like Booker before him, and Robin Lopez and Miles Plumlee before Booker, the Suns do have a participant in the Team USA camp this month in Las Vegas.
Mikal Bridges has accepted the invite to the USA Select Team to practice against the senior team before they head to China for the tournament. The Select team is made up of young players in the league who want a chance to practice against the league’s best.
Our own Brendon Kleen, who also contributes to Forbes Sports, caught up with Mikal to discuss his opportunity to be around some legendary coaches and some of the game’s best players.
“Learning more about the game,” Bridges said. “Learning from Jeff Van Gundy, what he has to say. Being up there with Coach (Gregg) Popovich, learning from great coaches, playing against the best. It’s a lot of learning pieces, but just going out there and playing my game.”
Bridges will be done with the Select team by late August, so this will have no impact on getting to know his new teammates in voluntary pickup games throughout September as they begin to arrive for the upcoming season.
Deandre Ayton, Bahamas — OUT
The Bahamas have not qualified for the FIBA World Cup, though with Ayton and Buddy Hield around for the next decade it’s quite possible we will see a Bahamian rise in the coming years.
Aron Baynes, Australia — IN
Baynes has played for the Australian National Team since 2010, including a pair of FIBA World Championships in 2010 and 2014, plus the Olympics in 2012 and 2016.
Don’t expect to see Baynes in Phoenix until just before training camp starts in late September.
Cheick Diallo, Mali — OUT
Diallo’s national team is Mali, who has never made it to the FIBA World Cup. Their best finish in any FIBA competition was way back in 1972 in the FIBA Africa tournament. Diallo has not played any competitions for the Mali team. He moved to the US in 2012 to play basketball.
Ricky Rubio, Spain — IN
Rubio is already playing “friendlies” overseas with the Spanish National Team to warm up for FIBA. Spain is ranked #2 in the world, behind the #1 ranked US. He is joined by Marc Gasol and Willy Hernangomez in the big tournament.
Rubio has played for the senior national team since he was a 17 year old prodigy in 2008, where he became the youngest ever to appear in an international Final in Spain’s loss to the US. His teammates that year included current and former NBA players Pau Gasol, José Calderón, Rudy Fernández, Marc Gasol, Raúl López, Jorge Garbajosa, and Juan Carlos Navarro, among others.
Like Baynes, Rubio won’t be showing up in Phoenix for the season until just before training camp, short-circuiting any opportunity to get acclimated to his teammates in voluntary pickup games.
Dario Saric, Croatia — OUT
Dario Saric’s Croatia will not be competing in the FIBA World Cup, as his country lost in the qualifying rounds in February. Saric was frustrated that the qualifiers occur during the NBA season, making it impossible for him and others to help them win games.
Saric has previously admitted he would ‘absolutely’ be a better NBA player if he wasn’t so worn out from playing for his national team each summer, so maybe that’s a good thing for his ultra-important year with the Suns.
“It means so much to me (to play for Croatia) but you know it’s going through your mind maybe if you skip some summer you will be a better player. Maybe you have more time to spend in the States to work on your game. Absolutely, I think I would be a better player if I didn’t play [the last] five, six years on the international team every night. I think I would be a better player but at the end of the day, everything is about winning and you want to win with your national team, too.
“It’s just so hard to talk about it. It really matters for me. This way I choose is maybe wrong, maybe right, but I really enjoy being there and playing with those guys and to represent my country.”
In the first 13 games of the 2018-19 in Philadelphia, Saric shot 36 percent from the field, including 30 percent on threes. He was traded to Minnesota just 13 games into the season for All-Star Jimmy Butler, and recovered to shoot 45/38 the rest of the year. That was three straight years of ultra-slow starts for Saric in the NBA. During the first eight games of the 2017-18 season, he shot just 32 percent from the field (recovered to 45 percent for the season). The first 10 games of his rookie season saw him at just 39 percent.
Saric will be playing the final year of his rookie deal this season, and will be one of the best free agents on a really really bad free agent market next summer. The Suns will have the right to match any offer for Saric, who will be a restricted free agent next July just like Kelly Oubre Jr. this year.
Elie Okobo, France — IN
Okobo is slated to join the French Men’s National Team this summer in the FIBA World Championship. Okobo had this to say in April.
“I think we have to be ambitious and fight for a medal. But for this, the training camp and the whole preparation will have to go perfectly well for everyone and we have to be healthy from day one. A competition like a FIBA Basketball World Cup is very intense and, as many teams are going to be ambitious, we will have to be physically, mentally and collectively ready for this competition,” the Suns’ guard explained.
Okobo joined the senior national team two years ago, and hopes to make the final roster again this month.