Few issues have generated as much heated discussion among Suns fans as the question of whether letting sure-fire future Ring of Honor inductee Amar'e Stoudemire leave for the Knicks without offering a fully guaranteed contract for the maximum salary and max amount of years was a wise decision.
The reason given by the Suns not to fully guarantee the final two years of a five-year contract offered to Stoudemire was that the contract was uninsurable due to microfracture surgery that had been performed on his knee in 2005. This didn't deter the deep-pocketed Knicks from signing Stoudemire to a fully guaranteed 5 yr/$100 million contract in July of 2010, a contract that is now in its second year.
With one mostly effective season from Stoudemire that ended in playoff disappointment for the Knicks (getting swept out of the first round by the Celtics as he suffered a back injury and was unproductive in the series) under his belt in New York, Stoudemire is now out at least 2-4 weeks with a bulging disc. If the Knicks and he are fortunate, he'll be back for the final two weeks of the season as the team pushes for one of the final playoff spots in the Eastern Conference.
That makes one season Stoudemire ended with an injured back and another that might end the same way. Though his knee was the Suns primary area of concern, other injuries have caused Stoudemire not to be a player worthy of maximum salary, let alone for another three years.
It was almost exactly two years ago that Suns center Robin Lopez was diagnosed with a bulging disc, and Lopez didn't regain all of his explosiveness for about a year after that. Every injury is different, but if Stoudemire were still a member of the Suns, with this injury and his current salary commitment, fans would be freaking out at the possibility that the 29-year-old, 10th year pro Stoudemire might never be the same player again, and that the team would be on the hook to pay him like a franchise player when he was merely a shell of his former self.
Not that things have gone swimmingly for the Suns since Stoudemire's departure, but the franchise's current situation is preferable to that, isn't it?
It is a unique situation when a conference finalist team sees a multiple time All-Star player such as Stoudemire leave as a free agent. How are fans to react? Bitterly towards the player for leaving the team? Bitterly towards the organization for not taking appropriate steps to keep him? We've seen plenty of each among Suns fans, but I've always thought that the decisions made by both Stoudemire and team management were defensible.
For Stoudemire to accept the Suns' contract offer rather than the Knicks' offer would have meant that he was risking an amount in the $45M range of cold, hard cash if he were to get injured on the job, through no fault of his own, and couldn't play for significant portions of those last two seasons. Even for a person who has made boatloads of money in his career and was going to make at least $55M more, it's hard to imagine leaving $45M guaranteed salary on the table.
From the franchise's standpoint, it also comes back to that $45M. If Stoudemire was not able to play for those last two seasons, for whatever reason, the Suns would be committed to pay him in full and take the cap hit (assuming they did not amnesty him; the payment of the salary would happen regardless), crippling the team's chances to compete in those seasons.
To say that Stoudemire should have made that sacrifice, or Sarver should have, well, that's easy to say when it's somebody else's money we are talking about. Would you be willing to take a comparable risk with your own money? For me, if I was Stoudemire or Sarver, I would probably have done exactly what each of them did. There is no villain here, just circumstances.
So, what are fans to do? Cheer for Stoudemire as a Knick, for all the good times he gave us as fans? Hope for him to get injured and/or fail because it will justify the actions of the team in not guaranteeing him all that money?
It's a no-win situation. Seeing Stoudemire succeed for the full five years of his contract would mean that our favorite team gave up one of its best players ever for no good reason. Ouch. And cheer for the Knicks? Never. But wanting to see Stoudemire get injured or otherwise fail ... that is just spiteful and classless.
The best approach is to let bygones be bygones and not continue to dissect a decision that was made nearly two years ago, but unfortunately there's little hope of that happening among emotional fans.
How about this: Amar'e supporters acknowledge that Suns management had completely valid reasons not to fully guarantee a max contract for him, and those who think Amar'e betrayed the team acknowledge that they probably wouldn't have sacrificed $45M if given the choice either. There's no reason for bitterness towards either party.