Why the Suns must re-sign Amare Stoudemire


PHOENIX — We should be talking about the Suns’ 19-5 run up the Western Conference standings. We should be talking about seeding and who we might want the Suns to face. And we most certainly should be talking about the next-level tear Amare Stoudemire has been going on to spark the Suns’ win streak.

But the dark cloud looming over the positive developments of the last couple months is this: this could just be Amare’s going away present.

The most terrifying and greatest thing is happening before our very eyes: Amare Stoudemire is really starting to get it. He’s got a lethal low post game and a consistent jump shot, he’s finally rebounding the basketball at about the rate he should and he looks to be at least trying on defense. At the age of 27 and with free agency looming, Amare is finally becoming the player we all hoped he would become.

That’s why the Suns must sign him to an extension. I’ve been of the opinion for months that the Suns should not overreact either way, meaning I would be fine with a trade that fetched comparable value or a reasonable extension, but I didn’t think the Suns should give him away for cheap or give him max money.

(Quick tangent: how smart does Kerr look for not dealing Amare for J.J. Hickson and the pu pu platter or the crap Miami was offering up. Could you imagine watching Amare go on this tear in Cleveland or Miami? Would that be worth J.J. Hickson???)

That all changes now. The Suns absolutely cannot lose Amare Stoudemire no matter the cost (and my oh my will there ever be a hefty price tag).

The Suns have the cap space to sign one and only one elite free agent (yes, I’m going there with the ‘E’ word). His name is Amare Stoudemire, and if he leaves with no compensation in return the Suns won’t have enough cap space to replace him with anybody above the mid-level range, and nobody in that tax bracket is going to be averaging a 30 and 10 any time soon.

We’ve gone through future scenarios enough times that most of you should know the Suns could be set to make a splash in 2011, but there’s no guarantees anybody will come or that they will get a big even close to Amare.

STAT is averaging a 30 and 10 over his last 11 games on 58.7 percent shooting and is in the midst of a career scoring month, with seven 30-point games and a pair of 40-pointers. That is insane. If we go back to Jan. 31 against Houston, the day after his infamous fourth-quarter benching against Dallas and subsequent turnaround, Amare Stoudemire has averaged 27.7 points and 10.0 boards on 55.9 percent shooting over the course of 23 games. It’s no coincidence that the Suns are 18-5 in those 23 games, and that’s long enough that it’s not a hot streak but a trend.

If he would keep that up for a season, he would set career highs in scoring and rebounding, and the shooting percentage is in line with what Amare’s done in the past.

“He’s playing as well as I’ve seen him play,” said Suns head coach Alvin Gentry after a recent win.

During this run, we are watching the transition of the label of Suns franchise player go from Nash to Amare. Over the course of these past 23 monster games for Amare, Steve Nash has battled injuries and struggled to put up the MVP numbers we’re accustomed to out of him, averaging 12.9 points but still 11.5 assists per game.

This is no knock on Nash, he’s still been special this stretch, especially in terms of passing the basketball obviously. But he spent a chunk of the Suns’ hot streak in immense pain and physically wasn’t able to be the scoring threat he was at the beginning of the season. That was no problem with Captain Amare around.

During this time Amare has gone from a dynamic offensive player who wasn’t worth big bucks and who teams would only throw crap offers for to one of the top-10 players in the league. Yes, I went there. Amare has been that good over the course of the last couple months.

He’s able to get his points efficiently within the flow of the offense (you will never see a more efficient 40-point game than Friday against Utah when he missed just two field goals and two free throws all night), and he’s able to elevate his game when it matters most.

During the fourth quarter Monday in Golden State, Amare went into full-on “F You” mode to take a Bill Simmons term, exploding for 18 points in the period, including all seven during the Suns’ clinching run that turned a three-point deficit into a commanding four-point lead. I know, he was doing it against an undersized D-Leaguer, but Amare Stoudemire basically said through his actions that there was no way in hell that he was letting the Suns lose that basketball game, even corralling a Grant Hill free throw miss and knocking down a pair of freebies in the clutch. Oh, and there was that dunk you may have heard of.

In short, Amare was a superstar Monday in Oakland.

What’s most amazing is that this all has gone down in the aftermath of the Suns dangling him like a piece of meat, practically begging teams to take him off their hands. The old Amare mopes and barely would grab 10 rebounds in a week under those circumstances.

Judging by his actions, you would have no idea he was the hottest name on the trading block. Externally it hasn’t affected him at all. He’s been scoreboard watching more than anybody, pimping out the “Phoenix” after big plays, and wholly concentrating on the task at hands without letting his future affect matters.

That takes maturity, the kind of maturity Amare didn’t seem to have in him even a year ago.

“Just overall I think he’s just been really focused in,” Gentry said. “He’s been really good. He’s been focused into what he’s trying to get done, and then very efficient in doing it.”

Are we mistaking focus for a contract run for the ages? Perhaps. We know Amare has had multiple knee surgeries as well as that career-threatening eye surgery. We know it’s taken him years to show any semblance of effort on the boards and on the defensive end. We know this stellar run could all be a mirage.

But I’m willing to take the chance. A future with Robin Lopez, Goran Dragic, Jared Dudley and Earl Clark sounds nice, but that unit needs a headline star. Particularly now that the Suns have found a perfect complement in the frontcourt in Lopez, a player who can take on the opposition’s best big and make Amare better on the defensive end, it would be a shame to see it end.

Re-sign Amare and the immediate future with another couple years of Nash and Amare looks bright, as well as a future with the Suns’ young guns headlined by Amare.

Lose him and you have Nash wasting away on a squad that’s mediocre at best, with a future dependent on bringing in a star free agent in 2011.

The Suns should play that “ka-ching” sound they do for Jason Richardson every time Amare goes for 30 again, because his price is going nowhere but up. It seems obvious he will opt out, and he could price himself out of what the Suns are comfortable paying.

But after waiting for eight years for Amare to become this player, the Suns must offer enough zeroes to ensure this is the start of the Amare Stoudemire Franchise Player Era in Phoenix rather than just a high-flying tease.