Schwartz: STAT must stay


The Suns need to fit Amare Stoudemire for a muzzle.

But they shouldn’t send him a one-way ticket to New York, Washington, Atlanta, Chicago or any other city that he’s made remarks about in the past few weeks.

I’m as scared as any Suns fan that Amare will devastate the franchise like Antonio McDyess did years earlier (remember that?) by leaving during the summer of 2010 as an unrestricted free agent with the Suns not even getting a Tyrus Thomas in return.

Along with the potential losses of Nash, Shaq and Grant Hill after this season if not before it, the Suns would essentially be starting over with no franchise player and no veteran assets to turn into draft picks and young players like the Sonics-Thunder did if Amare walks.

To put it bluntly, the Suns would be screwed with no marquee free agent likely wanting to take their chances with this mess, and it’s the scenario all Suns fans are dreading most.

On top of this, Amare isn’t exactly the kind of defensive and rebounding big man that championship teams are built around, major concerns exist with his knees and eye going forward, and then there’s that mouth of his.

Amare says stupid stuff all the time, such as the time before the All-Star break when STAT deflected blame from himself by reminding everyone, “I’m not a captain,” essentially throwing Nash, Shaq and Hill under the bus.

Then he reportedly recently said Tim Duncan is “not that hard” to play against, citing his 37 ppg series in a losing effort back in 2005, and he also mouthed off about being better than Chris Bosh. The journalist in me loves his brashness and honesty, but who in their right mind makes those kind of statements?

He’s also bashed Mike D’Antoni and Terry Porter on their way out the door (even though he’s now apparently interested in a reunion with Mike D?), and now he’s flirting with more NBA cities than my ex-girlfriend did guys just to make me jealous.

The thing is, the Suns can’t get jealous. They’ve got to hold their ground and hopefully continue a long-term relationship with Amare well into the future.

It would be premature for the Suns to toss Amare a max contract before seeing how he bounces back from an eye injury that he believes is more serious than his microfracture knee surgery in 2006, and at his season-ending press conference Kerr gave every indication that no max contract would be offered.

That troublesome eye of his is also the No. 1 reason the Suns must not trade Amare this offseason.

I worried before the trade deadline that the Suns would ship Amare off in a 60 cents on the dollar deal.

And that was before he suffered an injury more serious than microfracture.

According to The Arizona Republic, Amare won’t even resume physical activity until around the time of the draft. That’s not promising for those hoping STAT is dealt because the Suns’ best chance at getting a decent deal for Amare hinges on the availability of a high lottery pick in such a package (like Schmitz’s Washington deal).

No team in their right mind will offer up major assets for a player who suffered that damning of an injury without seeing him do an ounce of physical activity.

The Suns would be lucky to get a 40 cents on the dollar deal, and even at this point, if their best legitimate offer involved Tyrus Thomas and the pu pu platter around the deadline, what do you think the Suns will be offered this time around when Amare is two months and the playoffs closer to free agency and coming off a severe injury?

I would wholeheartedly endorse a variation of the Gay-Conley Memphis deal and I’d consider endorsing a deal starting with Washington’s No. 5 pick (although I hate Jamison’s contract), but with Amare being so erratic and likely wanting to test the market on top of his health issues, the value just won’t be there in such a trade.

What about at this year’s trading deadline, you ask? Maybe, but then nobody’s going to pay a king’s ransom for a couple months of a rental.

I’ve been adamant all along about the Suns not trading Amare just to trade Amare, and I just don’t see that right offer coming along.

While I have written about the virtue of potentially trading Nash and Shaq in the past week, the difference with Amare is that you can build around him. This will almost certainly be Shaq’s last season in Phoenix, and it’s doubtful Nash plays more than another three declining years.

But Stoudemire is a 26-year-old who just started the All-Star Game. Say what you want about his deficiencies – and many have – but he’s the type of guy who could develop into one of the top 10 players in the league.

Look at the improvements he’s made in his game already. When he entered the league he was a poor jump shooter, and his handles were so bad in NBA Live 2003 that he coughed the ball up every time he put it on the floor. So he wasn’t that awful in real life, but he’s improved to the point that jump shooting and taking big men off the dribble are some of his biggest strengths.

His rebounding and defense also might not be as bad as you think, according to this TrueHoop statistical analysis.

Plus, as much as people rag on him about not improving as much in those areas as he maybe should have by now, he has re-invented himself as a shooter and dribbler in past offseasons, so there’s still hope that he will improve in other aspects of his game eventually.

Finally, I understand it’s a terribly small sample size and he was barely going up against NBA players, but Amare put up 23 points in 20 minutes on 9-for-12 shooting and then 42 points in 36 minutes on 15-for-20 shooting in his only two games under Alvin Gentry (albeit against the banged-up Clippers).

That’s 75 percent shooting in both games, the second dominant performance coming after aggravating his super serious eye injury in the first quarter.

Needless to say, I can’t wait to see what he could do in this system with a healthy eye.

Amare has had nothing but positive things to say about Gentry, and I think his offensive game next season will be even better than what we’ve seen from STAT in the past.

Of course, there are many things to hate about Amare: He doesn’t always appear to be playing defense and hitting the boards with the most intensity, his former injuries make him a major risk for a huge contract down the road, and he opens his mouth and says way too much dumb stuff.

But when you weigh the pros and the cons you have to consider that his trade value likely doesn’t come close to matching his talent, you have to consider that he is still one of the most dominant offensive big men in basketball (and this franchise in particular certainly knows such players don’t exactly grow on trees), and you have to consider how good he can potentially be in Alvin Gentry’s system next year and for many years to come for the Phoenix Suns.

The Amare question remains the single biggest offseason dilemma facing the Suns, and how it ends up getting handled likely will go a long way toward determining their immediate and long-term future.

When Steve Kerr ends up making that decision he must consider this:

You can build around Amare Stoudemire, but you can’t build around the 40 cents on the dollar deal that might be out there for the Suns to make.

Therefore, while it would be devastating for the Suns to lose Amare for nothing in a year, it would be even more devastating to prematurely run him out of town.