Suns, Amare bracing for a deal


PHOENIX – A year ago Friday the Suns owned the best record in the West.

A year ago Friday the Suns also dealt Shawn Marion for Shaquille O’Neal in a move designed to get the Suns deeper into the playoffs that instead started a cycle of flux that has turned a stable franchise into one in which virtually nobody is untouchable.

Since then Mike D’Antoni has fled to New York and Boris Diaw and Raja Bell were jettisoned to Charlotte in a deal that on paper gave the Suns a fearsome starting five. After a 9-3 start with J-Rich, the Suns have stumbled to eight losses in their past 13 games, five to losing teams.

“It’s a little frustrating at times always something else, something new, something happening,” Amare said after the Suns’ 115-105 win over Golden State in a locker room fraught with anticipation of the next move. “From acquiring Big Fella, to trading Raja and Boris, now trade talk about myself and last year we traded Shawn Marion.

“Over the last year it hasn’t stopped yet, so sometimes it’s hard to stay focused, but you have to. Once the jump ball goes up, you’ve got to focus on the ballgame.”

Although published reports have said the Suns are willing to discuss anybody but two-time MVP Steve Nash, the most likely Sun to be dealt based appears to be Stoudemire, who spoke with general manager Steve Kerr Friday morning about that very possibility.

“I definitely want to stay,” Stoudemire said. “This is my foundation. But it is business and I want to do what’s best for myself and also I’m pretty sure the Suns are going to do what’s best for the organization from a financial standpoint. So whatever happens, happens.”

Stoudemire added it was “tough” to get focused for Friday’s game.

“I think once the ball goes up, everything is put aside,” he said. “You get totally ready for the game, you focus in on the game and what takes place on the court. But beforehand it’s a little tough and frustrating – everything is coming at me at one time right now, but it’s all good.”

ESPN’s Marc Stein reported the Suns “will almost certainly” move a big name before the Feb. 19 trade deadline.

Dealing Shaq would be particularly tricky with his $21 million salary for 2009-10 and the fact he would only be an asset to a contender that’s unlikely to make such a big deal, unless of course those Los Angeles Lakers decide they need Bynum insurance.

Jason Richardson can only be traded by himself because league rules stipulate any traded player can only be traded alone for the next two months, although I’m not quite sure who came up with that one.

Leandro Barbosa is a possible trade candidate, but an LB deal is more likely in concert with another move because such a trade on its own wouldn’t result in the type of salary shakeup the Suns are looking for.

With Nash and likely Grant Hill not going anywhere, that leaves Mr. Stoudemire as the winner of the Most Likely to be Traded contest.

“We don’t have the momentum that we’d like to have, we are underperforming and there are financial concerns,” Kerr told the media. “So there’s things, there’s issues to talk about and to deal with and we have to do what’s best for our team going forward. That could mean doing something or that could mean doing nothing.”

Richardson understands the business having already being dealt twice, and he was reportedly so hurt when the Warriors traded him to Charlotte he didn’t even pick up the phone to talk to Bobcats exec Michael Jordan. With that experience behind him, J-Rich said he has talked to teammates who have had their names mentioned and told them to just continue to play.

“It’s nothing personal, and you’ve still got to continue to play,” J-Rich said. “It happens, that’s just part of the game of basketball. I know it’s tough for (Amare) being here for seven years, started his career here, there’s a lot of emotion in that. When you have your name in serious trade talks it kind of bothers you.”

With rumors swirling, Amare put another nail in his coffin with this quote told to The Arizona Republic concerning whether the criticism of him is unfair relating to the Suns’ inconsistent play.

“Half the time, it’s pretty much on me,” Stoudemire said. “But I’m not a captain. So you can’t put too much of the blame on me. It’s not my job to rally the troops and get everybody on board. It’s the captains’ job to do that. I pretty much play my position. I go out there and play hard and try to lead us in scoring and try to do the intangibles. I try to get better defensively, and I have gotten better defensively.”

When asked to clarify what he meant by those comments after Friday’s game, Amare elaborated by saying, “I think I’m somewhat of a leader here. I’m not a captain, but that doesn’t make me to the point I’m not a leader. I try to play basketball.”

He went on to say something about how he’s one of the youngest guys in the locker room even if he is a seven-year veteran, so what are guys like Nash, Shaq and Hill going to learn from him?

Besides the laughable notion about Amare trying “to do the intangibles,” he should understand it doesn’t matter who the captain is, if the boat is sinking everybody is going down with it.

That’s the kind of quote that makes Kerr have to ask himself, is that the kind of player I want to throw megamillion dollars at and entrust the future of my franchise with?

It appears that decision has already been made and the only questions are where and for whom?

It was a bizarre scene in the Suns locker room Friday night, where everybody seemed to understand that the next time they convened in US Airways Center after the All-Star break, they will likely be once again undergoing the tedious task of getting used to a new key cog as they did before with Shaq, J-Rich and head coach Terry Porter in the last 365 days.

If Amare’s solid 19-point, 15-rebound game was a parting gift to the fans who have been staunchly by his side waiting for his potential to blossom for all but the last month of the last seven years, he wasn’t thinking about how this could be the last time he puts on the home whites in the Valley of the Sun.

“No, it wasn’t a thought of mine,” Amare said. “You never know what happens in the near future. If it was my last game, I think I went out with a pretty big bang.”