Amare Stoudemire. The name itself can bring feelings of disappointment to some and excitement to others. Amare is an enigma, a seemingly impossible riddle with a surprisingly simple solution. Since he fell to the Suns in the 2002 NBA draft, no player has taken Suns fans from the brink of ecstasy to the brink of insanity quite like Amare. We fell in love with his rim-rattling dunks and sheer power around the rim in his rookie season and our love only grew as he nearly carried the Suns past the Spurs in Steve Nash's first year back with the team. We mourned his loss when he went down to the dreaded microfracture surgery the next summer. We got our hopes up when he came back with a monster first game in the middle of the following season only to be heartbroken when news broke that he was shutting it down 2 games later. We were loving life as he played his way to a First Team All NBA nod the following year (a completely unprecedented comeback from the surgery) only to sit in disbelief as Stern's goons came down with the ruling that he was to miss a game because he stepped on the court against (who else) the Spurs. Throughout the 26 year olds' career we have applauded him for his strengths and crucified him for his weaknesses. We have demanded the best from him even to the point of (however unfairly) demanding a title and when those demands were ultimately met with disappointment, many fans clamored for the higher ups to give us his head on a platter.
As the conversation heats up as to what the Suns should do this off-season, allow me to show you why Amare Stoudemire should at all costs be in a Suns uniform this coming season. As a disclaimer I will say that I do not know the full extent of Amare's eye injury or what affects that might have on him this season but I'm hoping for the best as I write this.
Amare wants to get paid
It is no secret that Amare Stoudemire wants to be thought of (and paid) as a top player in this league. He is not the first and he certainly won't be the last athlete to think like this. Now, the easiest way to get paid in any sport is to remind those with the money what you're worth before going to them and asking for it. That's exactly how Rashard Lewis got paid $60 million to be the third option on the Magic and how Gilbert Arenas has managed to sign big contracts with the Wizards. Amare Stoudemire is in a contract year and if you don't think that he is aware of that fact (or that his agent is repeatedly reminding him of it) you are sorely mistaken. As Ricky Bobby puts it, Amare is playing for keeps. That being said, if I were the Suns I would be VERY reluctant to give away a motivated Amare and his expiring contract this season.
Amare is one of the top 6 scorers in this league
This is something that I think Suns fans tend to take for granted or just overlook altogether. Maybe they're under the impression that it is easy to score in the NBA or maybe they just don't know the beauty of a big man who has the perfect combination of touch and power around the rim and an accompanying midrange jumper. Either way, it is time to give Amare his due. Because of his unique skill set for a player his size, Amare is able to score almost at will on anyone in the league. He can overpower smaller defenders and extend himself out between 15 and 18' when bigger players are guarding him. In fact, given his size and skill set, I would say that Amare is one of the top 3 scorers when it comes to how much effort they have to give in order to score. For example, Kobe has the best offensive arsenal in the NBA but on any given night he is being guarded by someone who is just as strong, just as big and just as quick. This makes it a lot harder for him to get his points which is why you don't really hear of Kobe dropping a "quiet" 25 points - instead you have to settle for an out-of-this-world 81 point game. Either way you look at it, right now I would contend that the top 6 scorers in this league are (in no particular order) LBJ, Kobe, Melo, Amare, Dirk and DWade. Why does this matter? Remember how many close games we lost after Amare went down for the end of the season? You have to have a scorer who can get his at the end of games - Amare Stoudemire is that player and I would even contend that had he not gone down, the Suns would have been in the playoffs. Amare's absence hurt more than most are willing to let on and if we give him away this offseason we will regret it as we are struggling to close out close games next season. Nash is able to hit the big shots but it is a lot harder for him to score and carry the Suns for the last 2 minutes of a tight ballgame without the help of Amare - a consistent inside/outside scorer who can take the pressure off.
Amare CAN learn and CAN be a good defensive player
I have been saying for a while now that the Suns need to get rid of Shaquille O'Neal and bring in a defensive minded (veteran) center. Stoudemire has proven that he is willing to work hard to improve his game and to come back from injury. When he underwent microfracture surgery, many said that he would never be the same because nobody had ever come back from that injury the same. However, Amare did come back and actually came back better than he was when he left! Amare worked hard to hone his skills and add new ones. He came back with a better handle and went from being a dunker to a complete offensive player. Amare CAN use that same work ethic to develop his defensive game, too. He just needs somebody to show him HOW to play defense! For those who have given up on Amare already let me ask you this, who has he ever had to show him how to play good D in the league? Remember that he came into the league straight from HS and that the Suns have never had a player like a Marcus Camby or a Kevin Garnett to help him learn how to play the NBA defensive game. As a player with his size and speed there's no reason why he can't learn to be a good if not a great defensive player.
Now, for those of you thinking to yourselves that he's had time and should have learned by now, I submit to you three cases from the past two seasons.
Paul Pierce: An offensive force for years yet he never had the defensive tenacity necessary to take his game to superstar level until a certain player showed up and taught him. KG helped Pierce step up his game and become one of the best overall players in the league.
LeBron James: LBJ has been a special talent since he was in 7th grade. However, it took a summer with Kobe Bryant to transform him into the complete machine he has become on both sides of the ball.
Carmelo Anthony: Perhaps the biggest ray of hope for Amare, Melo was known for his defensive deficiencies much the same way Amare is. However, a summer with Kobe and half a season with Billups has turned Melo into a full-blown superstar. You could argue that he has played as well as anybody (except LBJ who has been just insanely good) during these playoffs and while he is not the defensive force James has become, he has made great strides in improving in that area - even asking for the assignment to guard Kobe during stretches of last night's game.
As a fan I have both loved and hated Amare - I have even called for a trade of Stoudemire in the past. That's what happens on roller coasters, you go up and then you go down. Ultimately, the ride ends and you get off satisfied. This ride is not over and it would be an absolute shame for the Suns to give up on Amare at this point. Say what you will about him, dude is a special player who is an absolute beast on the offensive end with the potential to be special on the defensive end as well. Amare Stoudemire needs to be in a Suns uniform for the '09 - '10 season...after all, you could be severely injured trying to jump off a roller coaster before it's come to a full and complete stop.