PHOENIX — If Amare Stoudemire is sweating where he’ll be a year from now, he sure isn’t showing it. At Media Day on Monday the attitude across the board was one of carefree bliss, which bodes well, according to head coach Alvin Gentry.
“Happy players play better,” Gentry said.
If this is true, the Suns are in for a hell of a season.
Media Day was full of optimism, and despite rumors that he could be first to go given a disappointing season, Amare showed no sign of uncertainty.
“I feel great to be honest with you,” he said. “I feel almost better than ever about this season, even though we’re not supposed to be the top team in the league right now.
“I think with us flying under the radar and the team that we have and the approach that we take, this year’s going to be great for us.”
After being sidelined with his eye injury for the last 29 games of the season, Amare seemed ready to get back on the court, this time serving as co-captain with Steve Nash and Grant Hill.
Face down offseason
Still, it was not without suffering that Amare was able to overcome the injury that has undoubtedly given him some newfound insight and maturity.
“The eye procedure was definitely something that was by far the hardest procedure I’ve ever been through in my entire life,” he said. “Going through that was difficult, frustrating — it wasn’t fun at all.”
Amare underwent three procedures, with the third causing him to lie face down 22 hours a day for 10 days.
He finally started training at full strength about a month and a half ago and said on Monday he was already back to operating at 100 percent, this time with a new attitude.
“I figure my first half of my career, you know, I’ve been through a lot, from knee surgeries to eye surgeries, and I feel blessed to be here today and still feel 100% healthy,” he said.
“Every time I go through an injury I try to make sure that I really focus in on what it takes to get better, so hopefully my second half of my career, which is what I think starting at now, will be a lot smoother.”
Nash joked that when comparing his medical file to Amare’s, (like himself) it was barely half the size. That’s really something when you consider all of Nash’s aches and pains and the fact that he’s got about a decade on Amare.
The desert without the Shaqtus
Despite telling Yahoo! Sports’ Marc J. Spears that he thought Shaq had another Suns season left in him, Amare seemed pleased with what the Shaq trade means for the upcoming season.
“Playing without Shaq, I think it’s going to be something new for us,” Amare said. “Going back to the run-and-gun offense and really being versatile out there as we used to be is going to help us. A lot of teams don’t want to see us when we get going up and down fast.”
After an explosive two months following the Shaq acquisition, there has been speculation on whether the absence of the Big Cactus will hurt Amare’s game. But during Media Day, Amare seemed cool and confident about playing without the Big Fella.
“I think when we first got Shaq a couple of years ago, for those two months I was just on a tear, and I think it was just the offense we had in place,” Amare said. “With Coach D’Antoni, he had an offense set in place and it’s the same offense that Alvin Gentry has.”
Back to the basics
Another common theme throughout the day was the players’ excitement to be returning to the fast-paced style of play that has been characteristic of the Suns.
Amare said this season brings all the players’ into their comfort zones, where they can be deadly offensively.
Echoing sentiments from Gentry that a stronger focus on defense was imminent, Amare said that rebounding would be a key factor throughout training camp and the upcoming season.
“I think over the years, I always had another 10-plus rebound guy with me,” Amare said. “But I think now Robin Lopez and a few of the other guys can be that guy.”
He emphasized that beyond a strong push defensively, the Suns would need to be analyzing and really understanding their plays.
As Amare said, every player has their weapon, and as long as those weapons are utilized the Suns should be just fine.
Like Gentry pointed out, the Suns don’t need to be the best at defense, they just need to be better. The offense can take care of the rest.
So what does the self-proclaimed Sun Tzu think it’s going to take to come out on top this season?
He says it comes down to two things. Step one, it seems, is perseverance.
“From the knee surgery to the eye surgery, there’s something about persevering, so that’s what it takes now,” Amare said. “Same as with as a team, you know the way we ended last year, we had to persevere through that and become a better team this year, and I think we are.”
In terms of the Suns’ placement toward the bottom of the playoff pack in the eyes of critics, Amare seemed perfectly content to persevere right past these expectations as well.
“Being doubted is something that you can always keep a chip on your shoulder,” he said. “It can motivate you to accomplish what you want to accomplish.
“You always want to be known as the best, so it takes being doubted to become the best and I think right now once we focus on what it takes to get back to the top, which is where we were a few years ago, I think we’ll be all right.”
And the other thing? It’s simple.
“Winning,” Amare said. “That’s the only thing right now. If we win, that’ll solve all the problems.”
Seems easy enough.