The New York Knicks have gone from long-time lottery players to a playoff team and the Phoenix Suns have gone from long-time playoff team to the brink of the lottery after star forward Amare Stoudemire defected from Phoenix to New York this offseason.
When STAT visited Phoenix last week I broke down some advanced statistics to determine Stoudemire is playing at about the same level he did last year with the Suns and then we all watched Stoudemire have his way with Phoenix on his way to a 23-point, nine-rebound performance in which the Knicks blew out the Suns and fans gave him a hero’s welcome.
As the teams get set for a Monday matinee rematch in New York on Martin Luther King Day, let’s take one final look back at what transpired leading up to Amare’s departure and where the Suns went wrong.
The Suns considered trading Stoudemire at the trade deadline each of the past two seasons, which went a long way toward Stoudemire not feeling like he was wanted. After all, how many franchise player are dangled like a piece of meat two years in a row? For a player who needs to feel that love from the organization, it would have been tough to put that behind him and play the role of franchise guy, especially when a a team like the Knicks pulled out the red carpet for him.
There was still so much time and so many variables to consider in 2008-09, but around the 2009-10 deadline the Suns had a very difficult decision to make. All along, I stipulated that if the Suns could get a franchise guy they would be wise to sign off on an Amare deal. That’s why the rumored Golden State trade for Stephen Curry around the 2009 draft would have been so smart to give the Suns a guy they could build around but then last year wouldn’t have happened and in the end it was the Warriors who backed out, not the Suns.
Phoenix did not receive any such enticing offers around the deadline. It was rumored that the Suns could acquire J.J. Hickson and cap relief from the Cavs, who later reportedly took Hickson out of offers. The Miami Heat reportedly offered something with Mario Chalmers and a bunch of bit pieces.
At the time I argued against either of these deals, and even with the power of hindsight I stand by that today. The first question to ask is, “Are any of these players worth missing out on the conference finals run?”
You could see that Suns team jelling just before the All-Star break. You get such few chances in this league, and that’s especially true for a Phoenix squad with an aging core of Steve Nash and Grant Hill. Especially at this point, we don’t know how long it will be before the Suns are two games from the Finals again, and with a couple breaks last year really could have been their year.
Short of a future superstar like Curry, hindsight says the Suns absolutely made the right call, and even then I’d think twice about missing out on last season.
Sure, it would be nice to have a young power forward who can finish on the pick-and-roll, and the Suns surely could use Hickson, but he wouldn’t be worth ruining last season and missing out on any possibility of Stoudemire re-signing.
I don’t even have much of a problem in hindsight of the Suns not offering a full max deal. We need about four and a half more years of hindsight to know the right decision there. Nobody should be surprised Stoudemire is putting up the numbers he did or that the Suns badly miss him. We knew that for this year (and maybe even the next two) the Suns would be best off keeping him.
But if his health deteriorates to the extent he becomes the next Jermaine O’Neal getting paid max money for mid-level production or if he can’t play at all, this won’t look so bad.
Also, after the Lakers playoff loss, it just didn’t seem like Amare was the guy to lead this team to the promised land. He had not been able to do it all these years as a strong No. 2, so why make such an investment in him as a No. 1 due to his defensive and rebounding deficiencies?
The problem is the Suns didn’t replace him with anything close to a future franchise player, the main criteria I had for any Amare trade. All they did was replace him with a slew of role players.
There were a host of stud power forwards available that the Suns didn’t make much of a move for. Carlos Boozer would have been a great immediate fit (although he’s not a guy you can build around for the future), and David Lee and Al Jefferson could have been had although Lee was perhaps a bit overpaid and Jefferson would not be a perfect fit in the Nash system.
Still, the Suns needed to do something and hindsight tells us replacing Amare Stoudemire with Hedo Turkoglu, Josh Childress and Hakim Warrick was most definitely not the answer. Turk never fit and has since been shipped out while Childress is out of the rotation and Warrick only recently re-joined it.
Perhaps that’s what will happen when you go through an offseason without a general manager, but the Suns really seemed to lack much of a plan this past summer.
Another option would have been to roll over their assets to this offseason, but with no franchise guys really available (as in Carmelo isn’t coming to Phoenix) and considering the age of Nash/Hill I have no problem spending it last summer. I don’t dislike the Childress and Warrick signings in a vacuum either, it’s just they needed to replace that star power at the four both for the present and the future and they whiffed big in that regard.
This offseason the Suns built an inefficient team payroll-wise in that Alvin Gentry has 11 quality players at his disposal but feels he can only play nine for maximum effectiveness. That means over $10 million of salary generally sits on the bench for the majority of the game (Childress and either Warrick or Pietrus lately) while aside from Nash this is a team with no star power.
If the Suns can acquire this mythical future star somewhere down the line, perhaps they will end up in better position than they would have been considering all the problems surrounding Amare’s future health and the diminished odds of winning it all with a big man who’s not a great defender or rebounder.
Or perhaps the Suns are finding out how difficult it is to replace a franchise guy without a high lottery pick, the route they might eventually have to take to respectability.
With the power of hindsight, the Suns made the right call not dealing Amare at the trade deadline for another solid role player based on how last year turned out. Hindsight thus far also tells us the Suns’ biggest mistake in all this came by failing to replace his power forward production or acquire a future stud with the assets his departure freed up.