Will he stay or will he go? Amar'e faces tough decision
Amare Stoudemire has the opportunity to opt out of his contract this summer
If he opts out, he gives up the $17.67 million guaranteed and enters free agency
It will be one of the deepest pools of free-agent players in recent memory
PHOENIX -- Relatively speaking, Phoenix Suns All-Star center Amar'e Stoudemire has one of the most difficult decisions to make of any NBA player this summer.
After this season, Stoudemire has one year left on his contract that will pay him $17 million.
However, Stoudemire also has the opportunity to opt out of his contract and negotiate a long-term deal, either with Phoenix or with another team that has cap space.
If he waits, he risks having to negotiate a contract under what certainly will be new, more-restrictive parameters of a collective bargaining agreement.
If he opts out, he gives up the $17.67 million guaranteed and enters free agency in one of the deepest pools of players in recent memory, including LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Joe Johnson.
On top of that, he has a history of injuries -- including microfracture surgery on his knee -- that make it a gamble for any team signing him.
And so, does Stoudemire take the $17 million and play out his contract?
Or, does he give up the money and hope he can get a more lucrative deal in an atmosphere of uncertainty?
"I wouldn't say the decision is difficult," Stoudemire told SI.com. "I think the decision really boils down to winning. That's the most important attribute as far as me with my decision this summer. My decision this summer is going to be based on whether we can win or not."
And so how will he know if they can win?
"I'll have to see how this season plays out," Stoudemire said. "See how the season goes and then have my agent and the front office here discuss what the future plans are and go from there."
The answer sounds a bit nebulous and evasive, so I try to nail him down.
So if you are successful in the playoffs this season, then you'll stick around?
"Yeah. Probably so."
And if not?
"You never know. We'll have to wait and see."
This interview session came right before the Suns suffered a bad home loss to the Chicago Bulls, dropping their record to 25-19.
But that loss is part of a deeper trend for Phoenix. After starting the season 14-3, they have gone 11-16, at times looking old and worn down even as they try to play up-tempo basketball.
All-Star point guard Steve Nash said after Friday's loss that he and Grant Hill were joking in the cold pool that some days at the morning shootaround they feel so tired and sore they wonder how they'll ever play that night.
And the Suns never have proven during Stoudemire's seven years in Phoenix that their style of play can advance far enough in the playoffs to win a championship.
When I asked whether he has told general manager Steve Kerr and the front office how he feels about building a winner, Stoudemire said it is their job to put the team together.
Winning aside, Stoudemire's decision must come during one of the most tenuous periods in labor negotiations. Virtually everybody involved in league front offices believes there is going to be a lockout after next season, after which the players will have less of the overall pie from which to draw their salaries.
Additionally, Stoudemire currently plays for one of the more cost-conscious owners, Robert Sarver, who last offseason tried to trade Stoudemire's salary to the Golden State Warriors before negotiations fell apart amid concerns that Stoudemire would not remain in Golden State long term.
It is unclear how well-versed Stoudemire is on the issues. He said he thinks the outcome of the negotiations for a collective bargaining agreement will be shorter-term contracts.
"They may lower the years (on contracts)," he said. "I don't really think they are going to lower the max number. I'm not sure, it is going to be negotiated, but I think what they are going to try to do is negotiate the number of years of the contracts for the max deals."
When I tell him the league wants to reduce the percentage of basketball-related income (BRI) that is available to the players, thus reducing the salaries of players, he says, "I don't think that is going to happen."
He may be right and he may be wrong. League officials believe NBA commissioner David Stern is determined to lower player salaries. However, oftentimes players like Stoudemire are grandfathered so that they can build a contract off their previous salary.
The other factor is Stoudemire potentially entering the free-agent market with James, Wade, Bosh and Johnson. With only so much money to go around, somebody is likely to be left out.
"It is not going to affect my decision at all," Stoudemire said. "Me and Bosh are the only ones who are playing the power forward or center position. So that is not going to be a factor at all."
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