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What to do about Amare


Last week Amare Stoudemire made national waves by telling ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith that he wants “to be that guy. I want to show the league and the world that I feel like my game has improved to that level,” before adding he’s not sure he can do so in Suns head coach Terry Porter’s system.

He later told local reporters he worked hard in the offseason “to really be in the class of the D-Wades and the LeBrons and the Dwights. … Right now, I’m a little frustrated.”

To Stephen A., Amare not so subtly pointed to his potential 2010 free agency by adding, “You should look at the teams you might want to play for. The city you may want to live in. The system you may want to play in. The economy. The cost of living. Everything. It’s about what’s best for you.”

And so with those comments Amare did what’s best for him but not what’s best for your Phoenix Suns.

STAT does have a point about wanting to be more of a focal point in this offense, but only to an extent.

He may yearn to be in the category of the D-Wades, LeBrons and Dwights, but none of those superstars enjoy the support of players like Shaq and Nash to take away touches.

Even so, Amare is the focal point of this Phoenix Suns basketball team by a quick glance at the stats, even if it doesn’t feel that way sometimes from watching a game.

He averages almost seven more points than anyone (21.9 ppg), plays over four more minutes than anyone (a career-high 38.0) and takes three more shots than anyone (13.2).

Those are go-to guy stats, even if his points and shots are down a bit like everyone else’s on the team as the Suns’ pace has slowed.

I do agree with what Amare’s saying between the lines in that he should be getting some of the touches down low Shaq gets, although he would never say that out loud because of how much he respects Shaq (which is also the reason I thought the pairing would work even if it cuts into Amare’s touches a bit).

The Suns should make establishing Amare as much of a priority as they do establishing Shaq by running pick-and-rolls with him and Nash and letting STAT take his man off the dribble. Fast, slow or in between, the Suns will be a better team with Amare taking more shots.

However, Amare should be worrying more about the Nashs, Shaqs and Raja Bells of his team than the D-Wades, LeBrons and Dwight Howards of the NBA. He should be focusing on being the best player possible for the Phoenix Suns, not pimping his superstar ego in interviews with Stephen A.

As for the other part of the ESPN interview, Phoenix fans should be very, very worried about the possibility of Amare changing zip codes in two years.

Every NBA fan knows the summer of Twenty Ten will drastically change the league’s landscape. It seems like half the NBA is preparing for a free-agent splurge that summer, but not every team will land the superstar it so desperately covets.

The Suns’ long-term plan, in my opinion, has always been to take two more shots at a title with the Amare-Nash-Shaq triumvirate and then rebuild around Amare.

Besides Amare, who can opt out during the summer of 2010, the Suns are only committed to $9 million of Boris Diaw, $7.1 mil of Leandro Barbosa, around $2 mil of Goran Dragic and under $2 mil options liked to be picked up on Alando Tucker and Robin Lopez.

That’s just over $20 million, possibly giving the Suns enough dough to re-sign Amare to a huge extension and add another key piece.

Or they could blow things up and hope potential free agents find Phoenix enticing even without much to offer roster-wise.

I think the Suns would be crazy to even consider dealing Amare this year. The Suns certainly don’t look title-worthy at this point, but we knew November would be rocky, and it really wasn’t that bad before the last two games.

This team still has three high-caliber players, including one who believes he’s in the class of the LeBrons, and a solid supporting cast. In theory, it can play fast with Nash and slow with Shaq, with a forward in Amare who can score on anybody.

Two bad games and a month’s worth of bickering doesn’t mean it’s time to pull the plug just yet, although the Suns do need to find an identity and solve that ugly turnover problem while they’re at it.

Thinking long term, making Amare happy should be priority numero uno. He should be the present and the future of this organization, and a best-case scenario for 2010 would be re-signing Amare, adding another big gun and re-signing Nash for reduced money and a reduced role, a la Stockton in his later years.

Worst-case scenario is Amare bolts, nobody wants to play with Diaw and Barbosa and the Suns drop into the lottery but can’t even rebuild that way because Oklahoma City owns their pick from the fleecing of a Kurt Thomas trade.

So play this season out, see how things go, and then consider rebuilding over the summer.

At that point if things didn’t work and with nobody getting any younger, you could acquire a boatload of talent for Amare and completely blow things up with Shaq’s $20 million expiring contract, Nash’s $12.25 mil expiring deal and even Raja’s modest $5 million expiring deal.

Or they could just trade Amare, let the other deals expire and hope to lure a big free agent to pair with the fruits of the Amare deal.

But that’s getting way ahead of ourselves.

For now, Amare needs to just shut up and play.