A day after bringing smiles to a lot of faces with quotes professing his love for the city of Phoenix, Amare Stoudemire made the kind of comment that's sure to evoke a different type of reaction from both fans and teammates alike:
"This team was pretty much built around me."
...so says Amare in an interview during yesterday's KTAR broadcast of the Suns.com Newsroom grand opening. It's nothing new from him. We've heard quotes like that from Amare before, and I've probably panned him for it on this blog before as well. But I still cringe whenever I hear him say it because, well, it just seems so "un-Suns-like" since this is a team that thrives on players being willing to put their egos in the closet to serve the greater good. And it's not as if Amare is merely repeating something that everyone generally agrees is true. Less than 22 minutes after Amare made that statement, Mike D'Antoni was in front of that same camera saying the following about Steve Nash:
"I'm going to take care of [Steve]. He's the one that butters my bread."
So, in other words, Amare sees the Suns as Amare's team, whereas Mike D'Antoni (and probably 90% of all Suns fans) see the Suns as Steve Nash's team--at least for now. Anyone who disagrees with that assessment has only to look back to the 2005-06 season as Exhibit A on why the Suns are what they are largely because of the point guard they have running the system. While Amare may very well be the difference between being a very good team that can go deep in the playoffs and being a team that can actually win it all, he's not yet matured enough, in my mind, to assume the role of team leader. His "this team is built around me" comment is plenty proof of that. A true leader would know that such a statement (even if it's true) is likely to cause unnecessary resentment and friction amongst his teammates. He would understand that the wisest leaders are those who lead by example and deed. Think about it--would you want to work with a guy who's constantly proclaiming himself the best employee at the company? Amare is also nowhere close to being as indispensable to the team as Nash (see the Suns' 54-win season and western conference finals run without Amare in 2005-06 vs. the Suns' absolutely abysmal, "lottery team"-like record in games without Nash). In fact, I see Amare as third on the Suns' most indispensable scale--behind Nash and Shawn Marion.
But, lest anyone think I'm throwing Amare under the bus after giving him the headline space here yesterday, I do understand why he might think the Suns are built around him. While the Suns ended up as Nash's team, I'm not sure that was entirely the original plan. When the Suns signed Nash in 2004, they knew they were getting a great point guard who would bring veteran leadership to what was then a very young team. However, I doubt they knew they were getting a two-time MVP, who would literally change the definition of what it means to be a franchise player. At the time, it was typically a team's leading scorer who got that honor, and it was the Malones who got to win MVPs not the Stocktons. But Nash turned all of that upside down when he made the assist fashionable again. Now, it's all about making the guys around you better, and Nash happens to be one of the best ever at that. I'm sure that no one--including Nash himself--ever expected his career to take the direction that it has, which brings me back to Amare. The Suns were largely built with Amare in mind, at least they were pre-Nash. And I also think that the team will be built around Amare again at some point in the future. Steve can't play forever (although I tend to think his "window" is a lot longer than many people believe). At some point, Amare will be the leader on this team, unless someone else unexpectedly comes along to "Wally Pipp" him again. But Mike D'Antoni is right too: At the moment, it is Steve who "butters the bread" for the Suns, and Amare who puts on the finishing touches that make them a legitimate contender. Perhaps it was originally meant to be the other way around, and perhaps someday it will be the other way around. But for now, it is how it is. Of course, this whole discussion is probably a little "un-Suns-like", as it's the team and the winning that matter, not who's in charge.
When should the Suns become Amare's team?
This poll is closed
When Nash retires
In another year or two
The Suns should already be Amare's team
Never--he'll never have the maturity to be a leader or make his teammates better