I remember the day Amare Stoudemire was drafted.
I was at a sleep-away camp the summer entering my junior year in high school and I snuck away to the computer area to see what the Suns did in the draft. I was happy to see them pick Casey Jacobson with their second first-rounder, a player I rooted for when he was at Stanford, but I was most intrigued about the raw high school big man with supreme athleticism they selected ninth overall: Amare Stoudemire.
Amare Stoudemire was a mystery at the time, a guy with a shaky high school background, an undeveloped game and all the talent in the world.
As a rookie Amare dunked on everybody and scored enough with his athleticism alone to be named Rookie of the Year, but he was purely an athleticism guy. Unlike so many failed NBA players who are only about athleticism, Amare has always gotten better.
First he worked on his handles. In the early going he was a travel or charge waiting to happen, and while that still occurs during Amare forays into the paint he’s also now one of the most devastating big men in the league at taking slower defenders off the dribble to the rim.
Next he added a jump shot, becoming one of the better mid-range jump shooters in the league running the pick and roll with.
Throughout the years Amare has evolved from a straight athleticism guy to a combination power/skill guy, a player whose flushes aren’t always as ferocious (OK, I said not always), but a guy who can beat you in a number of ways.
When Steve Nash signed with the Suns two years into Amare’s career the Suns had their dream pairing, a modern day Stockton/Malone only with more power. They were perfect complements, as Nash was better with a rim-rattling finisher by his side and Stoudemire was immeasurably better with MVSteve setting him up.
Although Barkley and KJ weren’t bad either, Nash and Amare will go down as the greatest Suns duo for their six-year run together due to the Suns’ success in this time and how seamlessly they complemented each other.
Phoenix Suns fans have seen the best and the worst of Amare. They’ve seen the 50-point game against Portland, the 49-point dominance against Indiana, the playoff series when he averaged 37 against Tim Duncan and the Spurs as well as the season-long greatness that has led to five All-Star appearances.
But Suns fans have also seen him at his worst. Although he tried a bit more than usual this season, he’s still a minus defender, a guy who doesn’t figure to ever get much better because he just has poor basketball instincts. His rebounding has always left much to be desired (how does a 6-foot-10 force of nature like Amare never average double-digit boards?) and he never was quite able to get the Suns over the hump in the postseason.
The Suns will miss Amare’s ability to suck in the defense, the way defenses often had to play 2-on-3 to defend the Nash/Amare pick and roll, which left countless shooters open from deep.
But they won’t miss his propensity to say stupid things at the wrong time or how he always wanted to be “The Man” even though everybody knew he was best playing the superstar sidekick to Steve Nash. His bickering with Shawn Marion about top dog status will also leave no happy memories.
Amare has seemed to mature, particularly this season when he kind of embraced the leadership role and often dropped major bills at team dinners, becoming a true part of the team off the court for the first time.
Amare AKA STAT AKA Sun Tzu will be missed in Phoenix, but him leaving is not the catastrophe it would be in Cleveland if LeBron James leaves. Suns fans generally fall into one of two camps: Either they’re glad the Suns let him walk because they don’t feel he’s worth a max contract or they feel he should have been given a max deal just to keep the Nash/Amare run together, not because they felt he would be worth such a deal at the end of the contract.
Many Suns fans who are disappointed with the Suns’ offseason are unhappy more so because they’ve thus far only pegged Hakim Warrick as Amare’s replacement.
Today feels like a day that’s been a long time coming. We’ve heard whispers about Amare being traded since the summer of 2007 when Kevin Garnett was potentially available in a trade, but through a microfracture weeks after signing his last monster extension with the Suns and a career-threatening eye surgery the Suns have always stood with STAT.
They have dangled him around the 2009 trade deadline, the 2009 offseason and the 2010 trade deadline but never got the right offer, ultimately deciding to hang onto Stoudemire and play out this hand.
Suns fans have been bracing for this day for years now, and it’s finally here. Yes, it will certainly be strange to see STAT wearing a different shade of orange playing a similar brand of basketball with the Suns’ former coach.
In the interim all they can hope for is that Stoudemire could be a means of upgrading the roster, potentially through a sign-and-trade involving David Lee or maybe even in a deal for cap space.
Whereas LeBron leaving the Cavs would be a messy parting, this should be an amicable divorce. Irreconcilable differences involving guaranteed money in STAT’s contract made this a marriage that had to end, particularly after the parties were so close to breaking it off so many times before.
Both sides should also look back warmly on the good days when Amare was posterizing hapless big men and leading the Suns far into the playoffs but just not far enough.
For the Suns he wasn’t the right player to build around having been unable to lead the franchise to the promised land even with the help of Steve Nash, especially considering all the risk at the back end of his deal.
For Stoudemire the Suns weren’t the right fit when a more attractive proposition arose, the grandest city in the world offering him the contract and bright lights he so yearned for.
Amare Stoudemire has come a long way since the Suns took a chance on that raw high school big man with as many red flags as talent. He’s become Amare Stoudemire, a name almost as synonymous with “Phoenix Suns” as Steve Nash.
This parting makes sense for both sides and has been foreshadowed for years, but you’ve got to wonder if both sides won’t realize how good they had it.