With Nash's deal done, Amare's should be next

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After giving the Phoenix Suns seven seasons of posterizing dunks and highlights, Amar'e may have played his final game in a Phoenix Suns uniform.

Does this look like the future face of your Phoenix Suns to anyone else?

Entering this offseason, the Suns’ so-called “Big Three” all faced major question marks as to their futures in Phoenix.

We knew they all wouldn’t be back, but we also knew they all wouldn’t be gone.

I have supported the Shaq trade throughout although the Suns received no talent whatsoever in return because I accurately figured that such a move would ensure nobody else would need to be jettisoned for salary reasons … at least so far.

Besides first-rounder Earl Clark, the Suns will now be able to field the same team as last year, only with Channing Frye manning the center position for about $19 mil less than the Shaqtus.

To me, that’s a good thing, especially since everybody will now be pulling in the same direction style-wise.

The next piece of the equation snapped into focus with the Nash extension, so now the puzzle is two-thirds complete with only the Amare question yet to be answered.

And expect it to take quite some time for that to happen.

When we first looked at the Suns this offseason, it was impossible to say what direction they would be headed in.

We were able to speculate on a number of scenarios that were out there, including cutting as much salary as possible for 2010 to get in on that action, but now there’s just the Amare variable left to deal with.

Steve Kerr has spoken about not even wanting to talk about an Amare extension before he shows the team what he can do in training camp in October.

That’s only smart in light of the severity of Amare’s eye injury and the fact that the last time the Suns threw a big extension STAT’s way, he ended up missing that season with microfracture surgery.

But the way the Suns are composed right now, they absolutely, 100 percent must find a way to eventually ink Amare to a long-term contract extension.

When you look at the core of this Suns team signed beyond this season (excluding Amare), you see a gaping hole for a big man scorer and a gaping hole for a future face of the franchise once the current face presumably hangs them up in three years.

As dynamic as that 2010 free agent class is being hyped to be, my list of players who fit those criteria anywhere close to as well as Amare does starts and ends with Chris Bosh. And don’t think for a second that has a chance of happening.

ESPN reported that next year’s cap could drop to somewhere between $50.4 and $53.6 million next year.

Not counting Amare, the Suns will be at a hair under $42 million next season if Grant Hill and Channing Frye pick up their player options.  That figures jumps to $46 million if the options for Jared Dudley and Robin Lopez are picked up as expected and it could be $48 million if Alando Tucker is picked up.

Assuming no Tucker but everyone else, the $35 million figure that would have been a reality without a Nash extension would have made the Suns a player next offseason, especially if Hill had declined his $3 mil-plus option. Then again, it’s possible nobody would have wanted to play here without the two-time MVP.

At this point it’s way too early to speculate how much Hill’s option year could affect the Suns’ 2010 flexibility, but the point is they’re not getting a max salary, franchise-saving type of guy next summer.

That is so long as they don’t sign the franchise player right under their nose.

With a luxury tax projected in the $65 million range, the Suns’ only chance at a 2010 splash is keeping their own big guy, and they could potentially do it without even being taxed.

In the past, my stance on an Amare trade has been I’m OK with it so long as they get young guns that can take this franchise into the next era.

With the young depth starting to develop and with the possibility of an OKC type of rebuilding plan scrapped with Nash officially in the fold, the Suns would most need a big to replace Amare in such a deal. Any team trying to make an Amare deal sure as hell isn’t going to be giving up a comparable big because if they had such a player they wouldn’t be interested in the first place.

Marc Stein reported that the Suns are still open to the possibility of an Amare deal, but they shouldn’t be.

It’s obvious that Kerr and Co. aren’t completely comfortable with the health of Amare’s eye and possibly even with the health of his knees as well.

He has been immature at times in the past, and it’s questionable if he necessarily deserves the kind of max contract he thinks he does.

Those Amare haters out there can pose the question, “Is Amare Stoudemire the best player on a championship team?” And the question at this point of his career is a defiant “Hell no.”

But wouldn’t you have said that about Paul Pierce two summers ago as well, before KG and Ray Ray entered the fold?

Players mature and commit themselves to winning and defense as they age, so why is it so hard to believe Amare will one day do that? He’s an uber-talented 26-year-old who has thoroughly improved his jumper and dribbling skills since he entered the league, and this analysis shows he’s not as bad of a defender and rebounder as you may think.

Honestly, I’m a bit worried this extension isn’t going to happen. Kerr has practically gone out of his way not to mention Amare being in his long-term plans, and if Minnesota had selected Stephen Curry, I kind of feel like I’d be writing about the Jordan Hill Era right about now.

But I’m not, so as the Suns wrap up Offseason 2009 and start thinking ahead to the Summer of 2010, they’d be wise to make their big 2010 free agency splash be the guy they’ve spent all summer trying to ship out.

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Tags: Amar'e Stoudemire

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