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Suns Weekly: Ayton, Gordon, Mikal, Cam playing for their country

Formerly called Center of the Sun: Your weekly roundup of Phoenix Suns news, rumors, notes and videos from the prior week plus a preview of the week to come.

Welcome to the weekly news roundup of your Phoenix Suns. (Formerly called Center of the Sun)

I know this isn’t quite Phoenix Suns news, per se, but two fan favorites from the home grown 2019-2023 Suns, including a trip to the 2021 NBA Finals, get to don Team USA jerseys and lead the US into the FIBA World Cup this summer.

Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson are so twinny that they even signed nearly identical guarantees in their first post-rookie contract at 4 years, $90 million. Johnson, who signed two years after Mikal did, got the benefit of inflation with a combination of likely and unlikely bonuses that could bring his total package up to as much as $108 million. The ‘likely’ number is closer to $95 million.

They were both traded to the Brooklyn Nets last February for billion-time All-Star Kevin Durant.

Now, they are two of the 12 players who will represent the United States in the FIBA World Cup in August and September.

That’s huge for them, and likely gives them a career boost, but make no mistake this is the year for the young pups.

The 2023 USA Men’s National Team includes Paolo Banchero (Orlando Magic), Mikal Bridges (Brooklyn Nets), Jalen Brunson (New York Knicks), Anthony Edwards (Minnesota Timberwolves), Tyrese Haliburton (Indiana Pacers), Josh Hart (Knicks), Brandon Ingram (New Orleans Pelicans), Jaren Jackson Jr. (Memphis Grizzlies), Cameron Johnson (Brooklyn Nets), Walker Kessler (Utah Jazz), Bobby Portis (Milwaukee Bucks) and Austin Reaves (Los Angeles Lakers).

Sure there are four young All-Stars in the group, but most of the USA’s very best, including 2021 Olympians and current Suns Kevin Durant, Devin Booker and Bradley Beal, are skipping this summer because the next Olympics is only a year away. It’s very difficult on the body to play world championship level basketball during consecutive off-seasons.

Why am I even mentioning Mikal and Cam on a random Monday morning in August?

  1. Because I still love those guys
  2. Because I can’t stop chuckling at Cam Johnson’s pale upper arms. That guy has never seen a T-shirt he didn’t like!

And guess who stopped by Team USA practice this weekend?

This pic scraped from a video posted by USA basketball.

Team USA is still the top-ranked team in the tournament, just ahead of Spain (who won’t have Ricky Rubio for the first time in 20 years) and France (who won’t have Victor Wembanyama yet), but they finished 7th the last time they sent a B team to the Worlds.

The last Team USA FIBA World Cup team in 2019 actually looked a bit more talented than this one (with Jayson Tatum, Donovan Mitchell and Jaylen Brown among them), but that’s me looking at the roster with four years of hindsight. Who knows how we’ll be viewing this current roster in four years.

It’s just nice that current and former Suns are all over the last two iterations of Team USA — Durant, Booker, Beal (dropped out due to COVID), Bridges and Johnson.

We are also blessed to watch current Suns Deandre Ayton and Eric Gordon play for the Bahamas in their Olympic Qualifying tournament this month. Gordon once played for Team USA in the FIBA World Cup when they won Gold in 2010 and was on the ‘maybe’ list as recently as 2021. He will now suit up for the Bahamas (one of his parents is from Nassau), along with Ayton and the Indiana Pacers’ Buddy Hield. This will be Hield’s third time representing the Bahamas and Ayton’s first. Gordon, Hield and Ayton are expected to take the court together in Monday’s game.

Quote of the Week

“I have decided to stop my professional activity to take care of my mental health. I want to thank all the support I have received from the FEB to understand my decision. Today #LaFamilia makes more sense than ever. Thank you.” — former Phoenix Suns fan favorite Ricky Rubio said this week, of leaving the Spanish National Team for at least the near future. More on this in the last section.

Suns around the web

Last word on Sports — Beal was 2nd best offseason move in NBA

Fox Sports — Citing mental health, Ricky Rubio taking break from basketball

PHNX Sports — Breaking down the game of Drew Eubanks, by Danny Marang

ArizonaSports — Suns and Nuggets head and shoulders above the rest of the West

Bright Side — Suns unveil new base uniforms for first time since 2017

Spears — Deandre Ayton and Eric Gordon to play for Bahamas in Olympic Qualifier

Good Bright Side reads you probably missed

Each week I’ll highlight some Bright Side articles that didn’t get as many eyeballs as they should have. It’s worth your time to give these a look before they’re lost in the ether forever.


The Suns filled the second of their three allotted two-way slots on the roster with former first round pick, Udoka Azubuike. The Utah Jazz took Azubuike with the 27th overall pick in the 2020 Draft. He’s a big burly guy with career averages of 3 points and 3 rebounds per game, and will probably fill the role that Bismack Biyombo had previously filled for the Suns.

The Suns now have Drew Eubanks and Udoka Azubuike backing up starter Deandre Ayton. They may have been looking at Trey Jamison too, a center who wore #55 for the Suns summer league team last month, but the signing of Azubuike probably knocks Jamison out of the running.

And here’s the bottom line.

The Suns are now just a hair over the second apron if you only count the guaranteed money (i.e. only $300k of Goodwin and none of Ish Wainright).

Goodwin and Wainright would cost the Suns more than $13 million in salary and luxury tax charges if guaranteed, so don’t expect the Suns make any final decisions on those guys until they absolutely have to. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Ish released before the season starts, and replaced (or re-signed) by a two-way that doesn’t count on luxury tax bills.

Important Future Dates

Second week of August: NBA schedule released.

August 31: Last day for teams to waive players and apply the stretch provision to their 2023-24 salaries.

September 5: Last day for teams to issue required tenders to unsigned second-round picks; those players become free agents on September 6 if not tendered.

Late September: (specific dates TBA) Training camps open.

October 24: 2023-24 NBA season begins.

This week’s poll

I am really saddened former Suns guard Ricky Rubio’s announcement that he needs time away from basketball to focus on his mental health.

“I have decided to stop my professional activity to take care of my mental health,” Rubio said in a statement distributed by the Spanish Basketball Federation, or FEB. “I want to thank all the support I have received from the FEB to understand my decision. Today #LaFamilia makes more sense than ever. Thank you.”

Ricky is one of the nicest human beings I’ve ever met. He’s a team-first player — probably the one most successful at getting through to Ayton on a daily basis here in Phoenix — and cares more about the relationships than he does wins and losses.

While he’s had a pretty good NBA career, Ricky has always been Team Spain first and foremost. The former phenom has played professional basketball since he was 14 years old, and first played for Team Spain in 2008 at age 19. He’s been the starting point guard for Team Spain for their last six international competitions, either Olympics or World Cup, and was the MVP in their Gold Medal win in 2019 just before starting to play for the Phoenix Suns.

So when Ricky says he needs some time to himself and family, mere weeks before another round with Team Spain, you can bet this is serious and needs every last bit of love and good thoughts sent his way.

Rubio only played one season in Phoenix, the 2019-20 campaign, but he left an indelible mark on the fanbase and will always be one of my favorite Suns players ever.


How high does Ricky Rubio rank in your heart of hearts among this most recent fan faves?

This poll is closed

  • 21%
    Right at the top, alongside Book, CP3, Mikal and Cam
    (39 votes)
  • 52%
    In the next tier, right there with Kelly Oubre, Aron Baynes and Cam Payne
    (94 votes)
  • 25%
    In a tier by himself — there’s no one like Ricky
    (45 votes)
178 votes total Vote Now

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