Why Amare Stoudemire HAS To Opt Out

Amare Stoudemire is known for "saying things". Which isn't to say he's a liar. Far from it. Amare is a guy who likes to talk and doesn't mind telling people what they want to hear. If you are in Washington DC or Atlanta or New York and you ask Amare if he would like to play in your city he's going to say, "sure". He's also going to say he loves Phoenix and would like to stay.

It might seem like these things are inconsistent but as a long time Amare-watcher who's had the chance to talk to him directly on numerous occasions in a variety of circumstances this is all par for the course. Amare talks and says things. Sometimes they are said without full context and can be taken for more than he intends.

Today's comments feel like something else to me. This seems like public posturing as part of the on-going negotiations.

Amare shut down all conversation about trade related matters before leaving town for this road trip last Friday and then today he talks to an out-of-town reporter for AOL Fanhouse and happens to drop this little bomb about leaning towards "opting-in"?

What prompted that?

To paraphrase a theory from John Gambadoro on Sports 620 KTAR, the timing implies that Amare and his agent are trying to send a message to teams like the 76ers, Wizards and maybe the Warriors. Those teams might be interested in Amare for cap relief and be willing to trade for him under the assumption that Amare will opt out this summer.

Amare however, can make more money if the team he's traded to uses it's Bird Rights to sign him to a longer and bigger deal.

In other words, it's in Amare's interest for him NOT to go to a team that WANTS him to opt out. So he talks about not opting out to dissuade those teams from trading for him.

It's a highly Machiavellian theory but one that has a ring of truth.

Or maybe Amare is just talking off the cuff and there's no meaning what-so-ever in what he said today. That also is entirely possible.

Regardless of what he said today, Amare HAS to opt out this summer and here's why:

1. New deal is more money than final year

Amare will make about $17.7m if he picks up his option. Most people (and I agree) believe that he may not get that much on his next contract on a year to year comparison BUT any deal he signs will be for multiple years and will have a combined guaranteed value that far exceeds that $17.7m.

Just look at some of the deals signed recently: Charlie Villanueva got 5 years, $37.7 million. Paul Gasol got 3 years, $57m.

Amare is looking for a 5 or 6 year deal in the neighborhood of over $100m which puts him in Rashard Lewis/Gilbert Arenas territory. In today's environment teams aren't going to want to give Amare a deal like that but he should be somewhere between $60m and $90m which is FAR more than $17.7m

2. New CBA means he can't wait

Amare might believe that he could pick up his final year at $17.7m and then sign his big contract in the summer of 2011 which in theory would yield him more money. But that's silly because the Collective Bargaining Agreement expires at the end of the 2011 season which would leave Amare without a contract right in the middle of those negotiations. Most people think the new CBA will cut players' salaries by 20% or more.

If Amare doesn't get his deal this summer than he would be giving up the potential to make a lot more money. With the possibility for a hard salary cap in the new deal, a guy like Amare faces making close to $9m in the new structure but if he signs a long term deal now it would likely be grandfathered in.

3. Teams have cap space now

Last summer Carlos Boozer surprised a lot of people by not opting out as expected. This has been held up as an example that Amare might follow. There's a big difference though. Last summer there were very few teams with cap space available to spend on a big name free agent.

This summer - the Summer of LeBron - has been part of teams' plan for years. 7 to 10 teams have spent the last two seasons setting up their payrolls so they would go into this season with a lot of cap space. They've been telling their fans to be patient so they can land that big name guy.

There are only so many big name guys: LeBron, Wade and Dirk head the list but chances are good all three will take the bigger deals that their current teams can offer. That leaves Bosh, Joe Johnson and Amare as the next level of guys. There are more teams with money than big names available and that makes it a seller's market for Amare (and Bosh and Joe).

He might not get the full max deal he wants but this summer is Amare's best chance to get the largest offer he's going to ever see again. He can't pass up this opportunity and he won't.

4. If Amare doesn't opt out the Suns are better off

If for some reason Amare gets horrible advice and losses his mind and doesn't opt out it leaves the Suns in a good position. They get to keep this group together and make a run at making the playoffs. While they likely won't get out of the first round they would still generate a couple of extra million dollars in playoff revenue.

Any trade they make now will likely hurt their chances to achieve that goal. In the short term the Suns benefit from keeping Amare.

Then next year the Suns enter the season with 11 guys under contract at $63m total payroll. They can easily re-sign their only free agent (Amundson) and pick up another minimum contract player like Taylor Griffin and be well under the luxury tax. That will net them another ~$5m as a non-tax paying team and they will have their core group intact during the season ticket sales period.

It would also give them two of the most valuable expiring contracts in the league in Amare's $17.7m and Jason Richardson's $14.4m going into the summer of 2011 when expiring contracts will have HUGE value to teams looking to cut payroll.

Flash forward one year when the Suns have those two expiring deals. They can easily parlay them into draft picks, young talent, and perhaps one nice player who's got a long term deal.  If teams like the Wizards and 76ers are willing to "pay" the Suns for Amare's expiring now what will teams with several long term contracts be willing to pay next year facing the prospect of a lock out followed by a hard cap in the new CBA?

I am sure if Amare committed to staying in Phoenix for the final year of his contract, they would be thrilled. They would be able to make a strong push for the playoffs this season and be perfectly set up for next year.

The problem of course, is that Amare's not going to do that because Amare would be CRAZY to pick up the final year of his contract which means the Suns HAVE to trade him now.

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