Former Teammates Dragic, Barbosa Reunited
When Goran Dragic heard the Suns were signing Leandro Barbosa to a 10-day contract, the Slovenian point guard knew exactly who he needed to talk to.
Jay Gaspar, the Suns’ equipment manager.
“Where are you going to put his locker?” Dragic asked.
“I don’t know yet.”
“Put it next to mine.”
Thus was a Suns friendship renewed between two players who are now enjoying their second stints in Phoenix. The pair formed the backup backcourt for the team from 2008-2010, often injecting youth and speed into the game.
The speed is still there, the youth only slightly diminished. Barbosa is the oldest player on a very young active roster at 31 years old. Dragic is 27.The duo also shares a unique cultural bond. Despite hailing from separate continents Dragic (Europe) and Barbosa (South America) found their personalities similar due to their respective experiences with international basketball and paths to the NBA.
Their common ground extends to languages, where they bridge the gap between Slovene and Portuguese with English and Spanish.
“We just have a good relationship together and it’s a great thing, because I want to have a good chemistry with the team and he’s the one that’s been helping me out with that right now,” Barbosa said.
The friendship doesn’t stop at the arena doors. The teammate guards will hit up restaurants and movies, especially on the road.
Hanging out has picked up where it left off, but each acknowledges having gained a healthy respect for one another during their three and a half years as non-teammates. Less than two months after Barbosa was traded from Phoenix in the 2010 offseason, he found himself facing Dragic’s Slovenian national team in the 2010 FIBA World Championships. Both then-former teammates scored in double figures as Slovenia edged Brazil by three.
“Friendship is friendship outside the court, but when we go on the court, we want to defend our country,” Barbosa said.
They kept tabs on each other in the years since, including when they met in NBA matchups or while one or both were involved in international competitions. Barbosa watched the majority of Dragic’s games at EuroBasket 2013, where the Suns point guard averaged 15.8 points, 4.5 assists and 3.5 rebounds per game for his host nation of Slovenia.
After Dragic led his team to an upset win over top-ranked Spain, Barbosa was one of the first to text him congratulations.
“When we go to the national team, we play totally different,” Barbosa said. “We can be more aggressive and we have a green light. I’m sure that happened with Goran, especially [last] summer. He did a great job.”
Now back in Phoenix, Dragic appreciates Barbosa’s return to the Valley for its basketball value as well. Twice already, the Brazilian Blur has helped the bench turn close games into blowouts that have allowed his friend to rest entire fourth quarters.
With Barbosa in tow, Dragic sees the Suns even more capable of adhering to Head Coach Jeff Hornacek’s constant mantra of “run, run, run.”
“It’s so much easier with him to play the way we do,” Dragic said.
Barbosa has found it easy to reestablish the on-court chemistry with his friend. Familiar mini-plays like backdoor cuts or lanes in transition have produced a handful of easy points despite a severe lack of practices this month.
“It’s a great time to come back and play together again,” Barbosa said. “We know each other very well. I recognize him every time he’s in a couple spots on the floor. That’s a good thing. He does the same thing.”
After the game is over, the duo forms the veteran corner of the Suns locker room, one that is only too happy to see a collective second time around in Phoenix.
Barbosa didn’t know about the locker request. He’d figured it was kind luck. Finding out otherwise turned out to be even better.
“We are good friends. Especially back in the past, we always were together,” he said. “I guess he wanted the same situation [as before] and I appreciate that from him.”