This story was "due" a little bit earlier (Seth will just have to dock my pay), but I had trouble dealing with the trade situation. I don't think, however, it makes a huge difference. I'll get to that after the jump.
Let's look at the beginning of the Suns' season, where they are and whether they're living up to expectations. I've also got a personal stake in this one.
When the Suns were 14-3, I was crowing around the office. My boss asked if I was willing to put my money where my mouth was; he's a big Suns' fan, too, but just more of a pessimist (he's been around since the beginning, whereas I've only had a little over 30 years' worth of disappointment). He wanted to know if I'd bet the Suns win 55 games. I wouldn't. He said, "One gets you two," and I took the bet. $25 in Starbucks' gift cards if the Suns don't make 55; $50 to me if they do. I still say that, given the situation at the time and the odds given, it was a prudent bet. Over an infinite number of repetitions with the same starting position, I make money on that bet. That's 24-5 over the remainder of the season. I think I'm going to wait until it's mathematically impossible and see how close the Suns are to 50. Maybe I'll offer double-or-nothing at that point.
Looking at it now, getting to 50 would take a 19-10 record. Two out of three from here on out? Do the Suns need Amare to do that? No. Will the Suns make it to 55 if Amare stays? No.
What do we know about the Suns without Amare?
In the Dallas game, he was the leading scorer without playing in the fourth period. The Suns were losing until the fourth and pulled out the win. He then started having monstrous games against teams above .500 and the Suns won. In his last home game in a Suns' uniform, he had 24 and 9 with bad defense in a Suns' loss.
He was gone for Boris' lone productive year in the NBA. Don't say, "The Suns would've won it all that year if Stoudemire had been healthy," because we all saw what happened with the two on the court together.
I'm sure there are other instances, too, that support this position. Over his 7 seasons here, how often have you said, "He willed the Suns to victory."? Probably never. What about, "He carried the team to victory."? Probably a few times, but can you remember an important game? Whenever he's gone (physically or mentally), someone else seems to pick up the slack.
This leads me to conclude that the remainder of the Suns' season is not contingent upon Stoudemire.
Back to the Beginning
It was a great start, wasn't it? I don't remember how many times Eddie Johnson joked, "Aren't they other teams scouting Dudley and Frye?" Problem with that Eddie is that it apparently takes a full three weeks to get the word out and start incorporating it into team practices and meetings. Frye has been re-adapting to teams adapting to him and he's coming back to earth. I liken it to the real estate market -- there was a massive adjustment in home prices to adjust for the inflated value and we're now starting to see some growth back to where the prices should be. Frye is evening out and learing to live with his proper spot in the NBA.
More than that, every Suns fan now has hope moving forward -- with or without Max Contract -- because of the younger players. Even more than that -- Kerr and the scouting staff seem to know what they're doing, don't they? D'Antoni wanted Shaq, so don't count that move. For the most part, they've panned out well. What we have not seen is whether he's able to attract star talent. He's found good players to surround his stars, but he inherited the stars.
Phoenix sits at the seven seed, 4 games out of second (two other teams are also 4 games out, but the Suns' have more games and more losses) and three games from the ninth seed. I made the pre-season prediction of a 5 seed -- too high because of homerism, but I just couldn't give the Suns the home-court in the playoffs.
The Suns have a good back-up PG, and someone that is showing signs of being able to take the reigns when Nash moves on. The Suns finally have a seven-footer, and he is not a complete stiff.
Where are the Suns? Eh? About where we all expected. Pretty good but no sightings of Trophy Boy at USAC.
Rest of the Season
19-10 is not impossible. Games remain against Sacramento, Philadelphia, Clippers (twice), Indiana, Minnesota (twice), New Jersey, Detroit and Milwaukee. Troubling games include going to Dallas on the second night of a road back-to-back, Atlanta at home, going to San Antonio, two more games against Denver and a game against the Lakers. There are another dozen or so games that I'd put in the "winnable" category.
New Orleans isn't getting any better with Chris Paul on crutches. Houston starts a 6'6" center; it's a feel-good story, but didn't Rudy end up getting rocked? Memphis has slowed down and will need a strong push to get into the Final 8. Portland still has the ability to run out of steam and OK City is not battle-tested.
There's always hope, but I'd much rather rely on skill and preparation. With Nash in the playoffs, with several days between games and the possibility of injuries on other teams, there is always hope. I'm sure Nash will find a way to give us some excitement. If you don't love the ups-and-downs for the change in altitude alone, then you're probably not a real sports fan.
The real question is where the Suns go after this season. Kerr has put together a tough, scrappy bench. He was given some good players. If Amare goes, the Suns' transformation to the Dark Side will be complete (maybe not complete, but a heckuva lot closer). If the Suns are playing tough defense and scrapping out wins, will you be saying "Yeah, it wins but its not fun to watch, so I'm not a Suns' fan anymore."?