Friday, February 13, 2009

Smell Like Billy Madison Just Left A Burning Bag On Your Porch? That's Amar'e

With the Phoenix Suns making Amar’e Stoudemire available everywhere but Craigslist, it begs the question: why are they willing, let alone eager, to unload a 26 year old big just entering his prime? It’s not often, though not without precedent (Chris Webber, anyone?), that a 6’10”, 250 lb, 4-time All-Star is on the block when he quite possibly has his best basketball in front of him. Does this say more about the state of the Suns, who are 28-23 and struggling to hang on to a playoff spot out West (currently a game behind Utah, who might pair a healthy Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer for the first time this season after the break), or Stoudemire, who is averaging 21 and 8 in a down year? What teams should be interested in the services of Amar’e?

Let’s start with Phoenix. Every fan of the NBA (outside of San Antonio) knows that the Suns got screwed in the 2007 playoffs. Had the Suns not been shorthanded in game 5 they might have gone on to win that series and been fortunate enough to face, and manhandle, a clearly overmatched Cleveland Cavaliers squad.

Ah, revisionist history. The Suns did have to play game 5 without Stoudemire and Diaw and they lost the series, setting the stage for their franchise-altering 2008 season, which included a trade to bring in Shaq, suddenly decide that defense was helpful in a quest to win a championship, and that Seven Seconds Or Less (SSOL forevermore) was not helping the defense or aiding in winning (of course your defense gets worse when you trade your best defender, Shawn Marion, for a guy who probably moves more in his sleep than while he’s defending the pick and roll, but I digress).

Mike D’Antoni is forced out; enter Terry Porter. This transformation, and identity crisis, was furthered earlier this season when Phoenix shipped Bell and Diaw to the Bobcats for Jason Richardson. Didn’t Porter want his team to play defense? Good idea sending away Bell, your best remaining defender, for a guy known as a scorer, but not for doing the little things that add up to wins.

Sorry to repeat what you already know, but I guess that makes it easier to see why the Suns would be so desperate now. Steve Kerr has decided that the only player who isn’t going anywhere is Steve Nash, meaning their window is nearly closed. This is not a roster that can compete for a title this year, and Kerr knows it. Nobody wants Shaq and his $20M/year salary for this year and next. The only piece they have with value is Stoudemire, and it’s said that they want a talented young player (preferably a forward), expiring contracts, and draft picks in exchange for him. Apparently, this would somehow make them championship contenders while Steve Nash can still keep his drool in his mouth.

I will quickly record here my thoughts on Amar’e Stoudemire.

The Good: He is an elite talent who, despite multiple knee injuries (microfracture surgeries are harder to come back from in basketball than Tommy John surgeries in baseball), appears to have fully recovered and can be an All-Star caliber player for 4-6 more years, perhaps even longer. He is difficult, if not impossible, to defend on the pick and roll or the fast break. He has the ability to regularly hit midrange jumpers spotting up or off the dribble. His ability to knock down free throws is a plus, especially considering his physical offensive play and propensity for drawing fouls.

The Bad: He wants to be “the man.” Typically, this is a good thing in your most talented player, as it shows a desire for greatness and success. In Stoudemire’s case, however, it just means he wants to make the most money on the team and get the most shots. When I think of someone being “the man” on their respective team, I think of someone you can go to on the offensive end in clutch situations (in addition to their consistent production throughout the course of a game and season), can defend his position at an elite level, is a leader with a good attitude, and makes his teammates better. Stoudemire is not interested in playing defense, does not appear to have leadership qualities, and may or may not make the game easier for his teammates.

So where should he go? Miami? Detroit? Dallas? New Jersey? Portland? Chicago? There aren’t a lot of teams in the league that couldn’t use a player like Stoudemire. It would be foolish for the Heat to include Beasley, however, and impossible to get Amar’e otherwise. I don’t think Kerr is interested in obtaining Rasheed Wallace (especially as a rental). I doubt very much that Dallas or New Jersey can make a deal happen, unless Kerr likes someone on one of those rosters more than I think he does.

That leaves Portland and Chicago as the most fitting destinations (not necessarily the most likely). The Blazers’ offer might include LaMarcus Aldridge, Jerryd Bayless, and Raef LeFrentz’s $12.7 million expiring contract. This trade makes sense for both teams, in my opinion. The Blazers would be getting someone to take the scoring load off of Brandon Roy, divert pressure from Greg Oden in his basketball maturation, and Oden could in turn take defensive pressure off of Stoudemire. A team that is already winning games would potentially take the next step from good to great – the hardest step for any NBA franchise to make. Phoenix wouldn’t be losers in this deal either, as they would acquire a PF with a team concept, a young and explosive ball handler to take some pressure away from Nash and play a little defense at the point, and an expiring contract – everything they hoped for. The Suns wouldn’t be contenders this year, but another good year from Shaq and Nash along with the development of Bayless and Aldridge could bode well for 2010.

What about my Bulls? As you probably guessed in reading my rudimentary scouting report on Amar’e, I’m less than thrilled by the prospect of having him in the windy city. If the Bulls trade away Tyrus Thomas or Noah with Gooden and a first they become a playoff team with Stoudemire. Unfortunately, they would be a low seed in the playoffs with minimal chance of winning a series and the possibility that Amar’e will be gone after just over a year (and if he isn’t it would be because the Bulls overpaid him). If Chicago has to give up Thomas and Noah then the trade would only be marginally helpful even in the short-term, and potentially devastating to the franchise long-term. The possibility of a Rose-Stoudemire-Deng triumvirate is only mildly exciting as a Bulls fan, as I think only Rose is capable of holding his own against elite players of his respective position. This isn’t to say that Tyrus Thomas or Joakim Noah will ever be stars in this league, far from it (especially in Noah’s case), but having Thomas and Noah wouldn’t preclude the Bulls from acquiring other talent, whereas the presence of Stoudemire (with the contract he wants) would.

In most scenarios I am completely behind the Bulls making a trade. They are a team with no identity outside of Rose and no hope of being very good as currently constructed. I would love to see them get rid of Hughes, Gooden, or both and maybe even get a basketball player in return (addition by subtraction is acceptable). What I don’t want, however, is to sacrifice an unwritten future for a present that has MEDIOCRITY stamped all over it.

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