Buyer beware on Suns' Stoudemire
Amaré Stoudemire's allure is undeniable, but he's not a franchise player
The Suns are considering dealing Stoudemire before the trading deadline
Stoudemire can score at a high rate, but his rebounding and defense are lacking
Maybe it's the creepy fascination some of us feel in watching Phoenix general manager Steve Kerr and owner Robert Sarver remake a Suns team that, at its best with coach Mike D'Antoni, was a work of art in a punch-press league. You check out the Suns now and it's like the old Twilight Zone episode where the pretty girl in the hospital bed shrieks when her bandages come off, because surgery hasn't made her ugly enough to fit in with the other aliens.
Or maybe it's just that I'm tired of potential supplanting value, the prospect of what a player might become trumping the reality of what he currently is.
In any case, I'm having trouble getting excited about the Amaré Stoudemire trade rumblings. And I soberly suggest that drooling teams and their fan bases bring it down a notch as well.
The NBA, like nature, abhors a vacuum, so somebody was going to become the hot name bandied about as the league's trading deadline approached. Stoudemire is, at once, a surprising and perfectly understandable choice. Surprising, in that 26-year-old, four-time All-Stars are precisely the sort of players franchises try to build around. Perfectly understandable, though, given what seemingly drives the Suns these days -- change for its own sake and cost-cutting -- and in the ways Stoudemire has underachieved for them. And, frankly, in how he figures to underachieve for whatever team pays him, going forward.
Stoudemire's allure is undeniable. Had he gone to and stayed in college, Stoudemire still would be playing on his rookie contract, his performance across 2006-08 (22.7 points, 9.3 rebounds, 58.3 percent) the actual start to his career rather than his restart from microfracture knee surgery in October 2005. He has lots of basketball left in his lithe, yet sinewy build. What he does well -- scoring points, making a high percentage of his attempts -- he does exceptionally.
But he does not do enough. As a rebounder, Stoudemire ranks 60th in the NBA on a 40-minute basis (10.6), which means that at any given moment on the floor, there are 59 others across the league you'd bet on to grab that missed shot. That 40-minute extrapolation, you should know, is the only way Stoudemire gets into double digits; he never has averaged 10 rebounds per game (save for his monster 15-game run in the 2005 playoffs). Oklahoma City guard Russell Westbrook, a rookie seven inches shorter and 60 pounds lighter, has grabbed more offensive rebounds than Stoudemire this season. And the next opponent the Phoenix forward boxes off the glass will be, oh, the sixth or seventh of his whole career.
Defensively, Stoudemire is a potted plant -- or worse, because plants at least bend in the direction of the sun and heat. It's a glaring indictment, too, of one with such tremendous athletic ability, reducing his lapses on defenses to lack of know-how or want-to. His offensive game isn't without flaws, either; Stoudemire, while an improved jump shooter, is an opportunist as opposed to a technician, without a consistent, reliable low-post move to occupy defenders and benefit teammates.
The slackness in his game, his engine idling when it could be revving, accompanies Stoudemire off the floor. He has had the luxury of veteran cover in Phoenix, from Steve Nash and Shawn Marion in his formative years to Nash, Shaquille O'Neal and Grant Hill now in what logically is his prime. As a result, he remains the kid on the come who hasn't or hasn't had to take on more responsibility for the Suns' fortunes.
Look, nobody says it's all fun being Prince Charles or even Peter Pan, and the D'Antoni system didn't do Stoudemire's defensive grasp or appreciation any favors. But this is his team, too, as he was around for 44-38 as a rookie and 29-53 in 2003-04. At 46-33 since O'Neal first suited up for them last February, the Suns won't win 50 in the equivalent of their first full season post-Shaq. That's a total they blew by the past four real regular seasons.
Yet at a time when Phoenix seems to need Stoudemire most, on the court and in the locker room, he sounds like he's offering less.
"Half the time, it's pretty much on me,'' Stoudemire told Phoenix reporters the other day. "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.''
So he says. Maybe, in a league where certain players have brazenly shirked responsibility when they felt their paychecks weren't big enough, it's more quaint that Stoudemire would take an honorary captaincy so personally; he wore that "C" last season but got voted off that island by Suns teammates this year.
Teams lining up to bid for Stoudemire's services, though, need to file that comment. Suitors also need to consider the price: Stoudemire makes $15 million this season, is on the books for $16.4 million next season and can either opt out in the summer of 2010 or invoke a $17.7 million salary for 2010-11.
What they're hearing from him in Phoenix this week is: "It's kind of good that a lot of teams want me right now. ... When something like this happens, it's more of a business move than anything else. ... I know for sure, wherever I go, we're going to definitely be playoff contenders. I bring a lot to the table.''
What they ought to be hearing is: "No way do I want to leave. ... This is my team, I'm ready to take over and the way we've been playing isn't good enough. ... Sure, it would be nice if Luol Deng, Rajon Rondo and Rudy Fernandez were here, rather than draft picks sold off to save cash. It would be nice if the Matrix, Raja and Boris still were here, too. But I'm still here, so it's on me. ... If it's defense the bosses want, it's defense they will get. ... Shaq has been great lately but he's 36, so the burden really is on me. Same with Steve, who's 35. ... Listen, Dwight Howard doesn't get to have my career. I get to have my career!''
Instead, what they're getting is blather about staying a step ahead and turning even game- and character-indicting trade rumors into some sort of positive, from a player who arrived before he really achieved.
Steve Aschburner covered the Minnesota Timberwolves and the NBA for 13 seasons for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. He has served as president or vice president of the Professional Basketball Writers Association since 2005.