Amare Stoudemire: From almost dealt to dominant


Exactly 41 days ago Phoenix Suns power forward Amare Stoudemire sat with his arms crossed, warmups on and a towel around his neck as he watched his team outscore the Dallas Mavericks 28-16 in the fourth quarter en route to a 112-106 victory. The 2002-03 Rookie of the Year turned five-time NBA All-Star sat for the final 12 minutes of the game, contemplating his future with the team that took a chance on him in 2002.

For weeks and weeks headlines of NBA rumor Web sites read: “Stoudemire headed to Cleveland?” and “Miami making a late push for Amare.” As every day passed, a new trade scenario popped up. The NBA Trade Machine became everybody’s favorite toy, and the idea of an Andre Iguoudala or Michael Beasley intrigued Suns fans and bloggers alike.

Amare admitted that he allowed the swirling trade rumors to affect his play, and his stats echoed that statement. He managed to grab only one rebound in 27 minutes during the Dallas game and averaged only 6.1 boards in the eight games prior, prompting head coach Alvin Gentry to say:

“We have to have him rebound better. We said right from the start that — he, Robin (Lopez) and Channing (Frye) — we need the combination of those guys to come up with 17-20 rebounds for us. They haven’t done that for us in the last few games, so we’ve got have Amare step it back up, really.”

But after the buzzer sounded in US Airways Center on Jan. 28 against the Mavericks, something changed. There were still 20 days until the trade deadline and the trade rumors were picking up, yet the lightbulb came on for STAT, as he handled the rumors with class by just focusing on playing basketball.

For a man who overcame the death of his father at age 12, the jail time of his mother as a teen, six different high schools in four years, and ultimately two major knee surgeries and a vision-threatening eye surgery, bouncing back from adversity is nothing new.

And STAT did exactly that. Three nights after the Dallas benching, Amare exploded for 36 points and 11 boards in an overtime victory against the Rockets. And from that point on, the onslaught hasn’t stopped.

In the six games between his benching and the Feb. 18 trade deadline, Stoudemire posted four double-doubles, while averaging 26.0 points and 11.3 rebounds per game. During that time the Suns went 5-1, with all five wins coming on the road.

“The last week or week and a half, he’s just been playing,” coach Alvin Gentry told The Associated Press after a win over the Hawks on Feb. 19. “He’s put it all behind him. He played well. I’m proud of the way he’s handled the situation. I think he’s done great.”

The trade deadline passed, and despite an almost-imminent deal to the Cavs for J.J. Hickson and Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Stoudemire remained a Sun. Now let’s fast forward a bit. Since the Amare benching against the Mavs, the Suns are 13-4 and have won or tied the rebounding battle in 14 of those 17 games.

STAT has been an absolute monster, and his increase in boards is a huge reason for the Suns’ recent success. In February STAT averaged 25.3 points and 10.1 rebounds. Four games into March Amare has upped the ante, averaging 27.3 points and 9.3 rebounds. But those averages don’t even tell how ridiculous he’s been during the last month and a half.

The offense is to be expected out of a prolific scorer like Amare, but it is the added defense and rebounding that have put the Suns over the top. Just look at his rebounding output at the beginning of the season to gauge his improvement on the glass. STAT recorded only three double-digit rebounding games during the first 18 games of the season. Over the last 17 games, Amare has recorded nine double-digit rebounding games, including games with 17 and 14 (three times).

He’s been everywhere, and it’s no coincidence that the Suns are playing their best basketball of the season while he is on this tear. When the trade rumors were flaring, it was easy to get caught up in potential new names and faces in purple and orange. But I argued that Amare shouldn’t be overlooked and taken for granted. ValleyoftheSuns readers apparently agree, as 83 percent of the 763 voters in our poll as of this writing think that not trading STAT was the right call.

His future in Phoenix after this season is still uncertain, but about three weeks have passed since the trade deadline and Stoudemire is still playing some of the best all-around basketball of his career. He handled the trade rumors with class, and he’s been all over the boards while dropping 30 on a nightly basis.

Stoudemire has overcome yet another obstacle, and has the Suns sitting in fifth place in an extremely competitive Western Conference. There was never any question that Amare had the skills and ability to do what he’s doing, he just needed a fire to be lit, which came from the Dallas benching and constant trade rumors.

Regardless of whether or not Stoudemire’s recent tear has been fueled by the extra dollars he could see in 2010 and the idea of playing with LeBron or Dwyane Wade, the Suns are winning, and all is well on Planet Orange for now.