Five weeks after agreeing to leave Russia’s CSKA Moscow and join the Phoenix Suns, Gabriel Iffe Lundberg was finally able to practice with the best team the NBA has to offer.
Quite the step up — a real ‘turning lemons into lemonade’ moment, to be sure. The 27-year old Lundberg, a native of Denmark, was a rotation player in his first Euroleague season for high-level CSKA Moscow when Russia decided to invade neighboring Ukraine.
Who is Iffe Lundberg, you ask?
Per the CSKABasket.com website after Lundberg signed a new contract with them last summer:
Danish National Team leader had a great 2020-21 season. After three years in Spain, where Lundberg’s best achievement was winning the FIBA Champions Cup with Tenerife, he moved to Zielona Gura from Poland. In the ranks of the Greens, he averaged 20.6 points and made 5.4 assists per VTB United League game, won the Polish Cup and became the MVP of the tournament, attracted the attention of the “big” clubs and at the end of February received an invitation to CSKA.
In the final part of the season, Iffe proved to be one of the important parts of the Army Team. In the Euroleague, the debutant of the top tournament played in 15 games, averaging 11.3 points (67.7% of two-pointers, 43.6% of three-pointers), 2.5 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 0.9 steals in 20.1 minutes, in VTB United League - in 13 games averaging 9.7 points, 2.0 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.3 steals in 21.6 minutes. Together with the red-and-blues, Lundberg became the champion of the VTB League and Russia, a participant in the Euroleague Final Four, and a Newcomer of the Year in the VTB League.
Playing for CSKA Moscow was the highlight of Lundberg’s young career, until the Russia-Ukraine war threw all that into flux. He made the quick decision, for the safety of his family, to leave the country before the airways were shut down, but needed to get out of his CSKA contract first. Lundberg, like a pair of other CSKA Moscow teammates, initiated and paid the buyout terms of the CSKA contract, according to Eurohoops.net.
“It’s been a very hectic couple weeks, to say the least,” he said, in perfect English, about getting his visa, getting out of the situation in Russia back to Denmark, waiting for the visa to the states, and joining the team in Phoenix.
Now and his wife and son gets a feel for being a part of the best team in the best league in the world.
“It’s been amazing,” he said of the support he’s gotten from his native Denmark. “I am aware that I am not only representing myself, but also my country.”
Now, you’re asking: Why the Suns?
Why would the Phoenix Suns pick up a player this late in the season who won’t beat out anyone in the current rotation and can’t even stay on the roster past mid-April due to the two-way contract he signed?
For one thing, the Suns really like him.
“James [Jones, General Manager] spoke so highly of him,” Suns head coach Monty Williams said today after watching Iffe play for the first time. “And we wouldn’t have him here if we didn’t believe he could play.”
There’s a possibility that Iffe and the Suns are only doing this out of convenience — to give Iffe a taste of the NBA he wants dearly and some space away from the Russian conflict, without impacting Iffe’s future overseas.
But it’s also possible that this acclimation period to the Suns could lead to something better, if Iffe decides to stay in the U.S. to persue an NBA career.
You probably missed it, and so did I, but John Hollinger of The Athletic included Lundberg among potential free agents to sign LAST summer, right at the bottom of his ‘more than minimum, less than midlevel’ group as the 23rd best free agent available.
23. Gabriel “Iffe” Lundberg, CSKA Moscow
No, not the guy from “Office Space.” A 26-year-old Danish guard, Lundberg is a late bloomer who bounced around the lower levels of Europe for years before rather suddenly emerging as an NBA prospect in 2020-21 by abruptly turning into a lights-out shooter off the dribble. Lundberg hit 37.1 percent of his 3s across all competitions, which is more impressive when you consider half his shots were triples and he took one every five minutes. His defense at the NBA level is a question mark, but he does rebound and had a high steal rate.
Lundberg won’t get much, if any, playing time with the Suns in the next two weeks but now he’s here and could be attractive to teams (even the Suns) this summer when half the league becomes free agents every summer.
For now, Monty Williams just wants to see how it goes.
“He’s got great body for a guard,” Williams said today. “And he really shoots the ball a lot better than I anticipated. I saw how easy he shoots the ball. He’s got a body, he’s square, and that means he can take a pounding when he’s going to the basket.”
Williams even opened the door to Iffe getting on the court in the season’s final days.
“We’ll do the best we can as far as simplifying what we do,” Williams said. “So that if he gets on the floor he’ll have an idea as to how we operate and how hard we play... There could be an opportunity in the last few games, just based on what we’ve done (securing top seed, best-ever Suns record).”
Iffe, for his part, loves what he sees.
“To see the sense of awareness, the sense of happiness that this group shares, I really like that,” Lundberg said. “They practice with 100% focus. Very intensive.”
We’ll see what happens. As it is, Lundberg is now with the team and just as available as fellow two-way play Ish Wainright, who also happens to be a 27-year old signed from overseas by James Jones.
Suns travel to California to take on the suddenly reeling Golden State Warriors, who are without Stephen Curry (foot) and sat Draymond Green and Klay Thompson against the Memphis Grizzlies the other night.
With a win, the Suns would tie the franchise-best record of 62 wins, and still have 6 more games to play to top that and become the new standard for Suns basketball.