Where does Amare Stoudemire rank among the 2010 free agents?

Amare Stoudemire hasn't been himself through two games of the Western Conference Finals. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

Amare Stoudemire wants max money, but how does he compare to the other 2010 free agents? (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

PHOENIX — For years Phoenix Suns power forward and free-agent to be Amare Stoudemire has yearned to be mentioned with the LeBrons and Wades of the NBA. The ‘superstar status’ is and has been a driving force in his search for a max contract.

“I’m friends with all of those guys, from Dwyane and LeBron and Chris, all those guys are friends of mine so I’m pretty sure we’re going to have a conversation here and there,” Stoudemire said in his exit interview. “It’s a big free agency this summer, for all of us.”

The five-time All-Star has expressed that he deserves to be placed near the top of the 2010 free agent list in the past, and explained that the only reason he hasn’t been as hot of an offseason topic is because his first priority has always been re-signing in Phoenix, while the other hyped free agents have been searching for a new area code.

“I think they were the guys more so looking to become free agents. From my standpoint here I was looking to stay here, so I think the world kind of figured that and just left me out of the talk a little bit,” Amare explained. “Just the fact that I have my loyalty here and they saw it, so that’s why (the general public) mentions LeBron and D-Wade and Chris Bosh.”

However, the fact of the matter is that Amare is just a notch below guys like LeBron, Wade and Bosh. But since he isn’t in that group, how exactly should STAT be valued in the historic 2010 free agency?

The top spot obviously belongs the The King. LeBron will get as much money as he wishes, under the salary cap rules of course, and is deservedly the most touted free agent of the 2010 class.

D-Wade is and should be the second-most heralded free agent, as he’s proven year in and year out to be a top-three guard in the league and the type of player who can lead his team to a championship (see 2006).

Amare would probably like to slot himself right after Wade and James, but there are a pair of big men that belong ahead of him on the free agent totem pole. Bosh, who averaged 24 points and 10.8 rebounds this season, edges out STAT thanks to his consistency, board work and slightly less awful defensive ability.

There is no question that Amare has the talent to be as good if not better than Bosh on a regular basis, but the lanky lefty has yet to have his effort and basketball IQ questioned, and he also hasn’t gone through two knee surgeries and a career-threatening eye surgery. Bosh still hasn’t had the chance to showcase his talent on a big stage, which is where Amare has been criticized, but all in all he is a more complete player who should garner more interest and cash flow this offseason.

Another big man that should be valued more than STAT is Dirk Nowitzki, if he opts out of course. Most everyone around the NBA expects him to re-up with Dallas the second Mark Cuban opens his checkbook, but it is looking like Dirk will in fact opt out of his current deal. Dallas can pay him more than any other team, but there are a few situations (like Phoenix) that make sense for the former MVP.

There aren’t really any arguments against the fact that Dirk is a better player than Amare and should be more sought after than STAT. He’s almost un-guardable, his stroke is uncanny for a seven-footer and he has experience in big games as a closer in crunch time.

But after the quartet of LeBron, Wade, Bosh and Dirk is where Amare fits in. He’s still too inconsistent and incomplete of a player to be mentioned as a top-notch superstar, but he does bring more to the table than guys like David Lee, Carlos Boozer and Joe Johnson.

At 19.5 PPG and 11.2 RPG Boozer is no slouch and crashes the boards with a vengeance, but Amare offers more of an offensive repertoire along with a fear factor that the Jazz forward can’t match. Lee is also an interesting prospect, but 2010 was his first season averaging 20-plus points per game and STAT is a much more established player.

Johnson has had a nice career for himself in Atlanta, but the simple fact that he’s a guard brings down his value and he’s been plagued with an inability to take over as the No. 1 guy. Much like Amare, he’s stuck in the middle between being a low-end No. 1 option and a really good No. 2 option.

So STAT is just outside of the “elite” tier of the 2010 free agent class, but just above the second tier, making things that much more confusing for the Suns. Because when Amare plays like he did in February, March and April, he deserves to be the guy to round out the upper-echelon free agents. But when he has an underwhelming postseason like he did in 2010, it’s hard to think of him as much better than the Boozers, Lees and Johnsons.

It is the possibility that he might solidify himself as the player he showed he can be in the second half of the season that will have GMs feeling the urge to give him max money this summer. But then again the questions and concerns are certainly there as well. So with all of that being said STAT is just below the cream of the crop, but just above the second tier of 2010 free agents.

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