For the third year in a row we enter the NBA trade deadline discussion period wondering if Amare Stoudemire will remain a Phoenix Sun.
As much as I would like to ignore this topic and focus exclusively on basketball games played on the court, there is no avoiding this conversation. Like Amare rising up from the middle of the lane for a vicious Statue of Liberty dunk, it simply can't be denied so let's roll. Bring it on. Fire it up. Let's dance.
It is only the most important question facing the Suns after all. If they trade him and don't get enough back they risk giving up one of the best players at his position in the league which generally is counter-indicated for teams seeking to increase ticket sales.
If they give him the max deal he wants they risk investing too much in a guy who's got some pretty glaring deficiencies along with a surgically repaired knee that may or may not last as long as the contract.
If they sit on their hands they risk Amare walking and getting nothing but a little cap space back in return but not enough cap space to go after any other big names. As the empty seats in Memphis prove, Cap Space doesn't draw a crowd.
This is the decision where Steve Kerr will earn all of his pay and shape the future of the franchise for the next half-decade or more. No pressure.
Recap of Last Year/Summer's Trade Wackiness:
For fun and a good chuckle go back and read this Amare Trade Rumor Thread from last February where among other things Chad Ford said it was 80% certain that Amare would be traded by the deadline. Not to blame Ford (unless it is Darko-related) since there was a tremendous amount of chatter coming from all parts of the NBA map.
Detroit, Chicago, Miami, Memphis, Oklahoma City...all of those cities and more were reportedly interested in dealing for Amare last year.
This summer's big (non-Shaq) news was the almost deal done with the Warriors. Suns exec's reportedly cheered loudly when Stephen Curry fell to the Warriors at the #7 with the general assumption (officially denied by the Suns) that Phoenix would have received that pick along with Biedrens and some combo of Kelenna Azubuike, Brandon Wright and/or Marco Belinelli before the Warriors either did or did not back out of the deal depending on who's rumors you choose to believe.
Needless to say where there's smoke there's often just an old guy with a pipe. Trade rumor-monger-meister Sam Smith perhaps. But sometimes there's actual phone wires being burned and celebratory cigars being fired up by GM's across this great land all convinced that they just screwed their counter-part out of something good.
Amare's Actual Performance On The Court
As a side note to the trade drama it only seems fair (somewhat) to discuss (a little) what Amare does for a living and how well he's doing it. ok?
Amare came into the season still recovering from last year's eye injury. Unlike every other summer in his career he wasn't physically able to train and build his body and his game. And yet the numbers say that Amare is a once again a top flight NBA big man.
Positionally, Amare is considered and compared with power forwards. All star committee members aside, that is his natural position. He clearly benefits from being guarded by most team's centers while their more mobile forwards check Channing Frye at his home outside the three point line. Amare also benefits from playing with Steve Nash in ways that are impossible to calculate (at least they are impossible for me to calculate).
It is fair to discount his statistics with these caveats and of course by the tempo the Suns play at. It is very possible that somewhere else he wouldn't be able to replicate these results. We've seen that from other players who have left Phoenix. But it is also possible, like Joe Johnson, that in a different system he would have more touches and have an even bigger relative impact.
Amare is shooting 57.1% from the field which ranks 10th among all NBA power forwards but is by far the best percentage of any player that averages over 30 minutes per game. No offense to Trey Gilder, but I don't think his 100% shooting percentage is relevant here.
The second most efficient (relevant) scorer is Kevin Garnet at 54.7%, then comes Carlos Boozer at 53.6%, and Chris Bosh at 51.7%. That translates to an extra 1.7 points per game if Bosh shot as well as Amare.
Amare benefits from getting to the rim more than Bosh and shooting almost as good as the great Dirk Nowitzki from outside.
Checking in with 82games.com we learn that both Amare and Bosh average 49% of their points as "Inside" but there's a big difference when it come to "Dunks" (Amare, 17% / Bosh, 9%) that accounts for their overall efficiency gap. Amare's athleticism advantage over Bosh translates to the numbers.
So there you have it, Amare is the most athletic power forward in the game that is playing starters' minutes (and will remain so until/if Blake Griffin begins his NBA career).
As for the outside shots, Amare is shooting 46.9% compared to 48% for Dirk (who only scores 18% of his points inside the paint and as a result only has an overall FG% of .477). That's a gap of only 1.1% between Dirk and Amare when it comes to Dirk's single most important weapon. Put that in your bratwurst and eat it with some sauerkraut.
Just for fun, consider that Amare is also a better outside shooter than LeBron James (44.5%), LaMarcus Aldridge (42%) and far better than Pau Gasol (26.7%).
Amare's biggest weakness on the offensive end are low post moves and decision-making.
On occasion, inexplicably, the Suns have given Amare the ball late in games in the low block and let him go to work. He generally struggles to make good passes from this part of the floor and doesn't respond well to hard double teams.
At the elbow / high post he generally has more room to operate and does a decent job finding cutters. Playing with Shaq last season he had a career high 2 assists per game showing some nice inside passing chops.
Amare's at his best when he's catching the ball on the move and taking quick, decisive action. Anytime the ball sticks in his hands and he stands still for more than a few seconds, the chances of something good happening decline rapidly.
We can say a lot of things about Amare Stoudemire (and we do) but there's really no denying that he's the most efficient power forward playing the game today unless you consider Tim Duncan a power forward in which case he's in darn fine company.
None of his peers has Stoudemire's combination of inside power and outside touch. It's not even close.
Amare takes a lot of flack for his rebounding but consider that his 10.2 rebounds per game in December puts him behind only Camby, Boozer, Zach Randolph and Bosh and he's within 1.2 rpg of all of those guys.
After a slow start to the season where his timing and athleticism were still recovering, Amare is now putting up big rebounding numbers on a consistent basis. He had 21 boards against the Spurs and had a five game stretch last month where he averaged 13 per game.
Most importantly, he's bringing the effort on the glass almost every night. You'd be hard pressed to find 3 games this season where Amare's effort hasn't been 100%.
It isn't comparable to look at a specialist like Lou Amundson who in limited minutes puts up gaudy rebounds on a per 40 minute basis. Lou has a great nose for the ball and puts in a ton of effort but I seriously doubt that if he were playing 35+ minutes per game every night that he would be able to sustain it. And let's not even talk about free throw shooting.
While I won't go as far to say that Amare is an elite rebounder he clearly ranks at the top of the class when it comes to power forwards that play big minutes and are also counted on to score the ball. His reputation here is far worse than his reality.
Defense has always been a struggle for Amare but he has benefited this season from a much simplified defensive game plan that has him showing hard on each and every screen. He's done a good job using his quicks to disrupt the ball handler and then recovery rapidly to his man.
His post defense is decent and like many of the league's players in that he struggles with guys that have great back-to-the-basket footwork (Al Jefferson, Pau Gasol, Zach Randolph). He gets into trouble when he's in help rotation especially against teams like Toronto and Orlando that run funky stuff like a 2/3 high pick and roll where his assignment changes to being a help defender instead of being involved directly in the play. He simply doesn't have the instincts of the league's top defensive players like KG and Duncan and doesn't make good, timely decisions when teams force him to think fast.
Most importantly for the Suns, the days of teams abusing Amare in the pick and roll game are gone. Credit to him and the Suns coaching staff for cleaning up that glaring weakness in his game.
I looked at all the stat sites out there and I couldn't find anything ranking Amare in this category. There's no score for leadership or maturity and no fancy advanced stat for being a team player. If there were I would say that Amare ranks about average.
In this age of guns in the locker room and players demanding trades, Amare is clearly above that rat pack. He's a solid guy who does everything that's asked of him and then some. He doesn't complain. He certainly doesn't cause trouble. But he's also clearly not someone who is well-suited for being a leader. It just isn't who he is in my opinion. He's not shown to be good in the Alpha dog role.
You could do a lot worse than having Amare Stoudemire on your team but if you are going to compare him to the league's most dominate personalities he will fall short. This more than anything is the reason why I have a hard time considering him a Max Contract guy. You just don't see any evidence that he's making his teammates better beyond his obvious ability to put up points at an incredibly efficient rate.
Amare's Options: Behind Door Number 1, 2 or 3
Technically, there's three things that can happen with Amare and his big fat contract over the next six months. The key fact to understand is that Amare's got a player option for next season worth $17,686,100. That means he will or will not be a free agent starting July 1st based entirely on what he decides to do. How does that make you feel Suns fans?
Here's his options and unlike on the old game show, we get to see what's behind the doors before they are opened:
Door #1. Trade
Duh, that's the point of this entire exercise. The kicker here is that any team trading for Amare at this point won't know what they are getting. Will he stay with his new team for another year? Will he opt out and test the free-agent market this summer? Will he accept an extension offer and stay in his new city?
All of those unknowns are why trading Amare is so complicated. No team is going to give up valuable assets without having answers to these questions.
This puts the ball squarely in Amare's court as he essentially would have to agree to a sign-and-trade before any team in their right mind pulled the trigger on a deal for him. And since Isiah Thomas is no longer with the Knicks it is safe to assume that all the league's GMs are sane.
Along with the Warriors (allegedly) backing out of the draft day deal, it has also been reported that Amare indicated that he would not be interested in staying in Golden State because he wanted to only play for a contender. Boom! Roasted!
This brings up an interesting dilemma and yet another reason why I don't think Amare will end up being traded - any team that gives up too much to get him will become unattractive to him as a destination. A real conundrum.
Door #2. Extension
We joke a lot around here about Amare being or not being a Max Contract player but the reality is he thinks he is and the Suns obviously don't agree or he would already be extended in Phoenix where he can get the most Maxi deal possible thanks to the CBA which gives an edge to the home team.
He's not LeBron or Kobe or Wade. He's not a no-brainer max deal guy at this point in his career with a mico-fracture repaired knee and some other deficiencies listed above. But he is far more valuable than Rashard Lewis and look at the money Orlando threw at him so who really knows?
Personally, I think I would be happy with a deal that didn't go past 4 years and was in the $12m to $15m range. That feels about right to me.
Door #3. Nothing
A very real possibility is that nothing happens and Amare finishes the year here and decides to either enter the free agent market that will be filled with lots of buyers who have been tanking for the past two years hoping to snatch up the likes of LeBron, Wade or Bosh or he could decide to take the $17m and stay in Phoenix for one more season and we will be right back here next year doing our fourth annual Amare Trade or Don't Trade missive.
If the Suns do let Amare walk and get nothing in return, they will have about $45m on the books going into next season depending on how much Channing Frye decides he might be worth on the open market (he has a player option as well). With the salary cap projected to about around $53m that only gives the Suns about $7m in room to work with which isn't going to be nearly enough to go after any other big name players.
In essence the Suns would be "trading" Amare for a mid-level exception player. This year that included Ariza and Gortat just as way of example.
I have a hard time seeing any team putting together all the pieces to make a trade happen.
It would take an offer that would be big enough for the Suns to sell to their fans and also work according to the CBA salary match rules; a contract extension that Amare would except; and team that fits his idea of being a contender and a desirable market.
I also don't think the Suns are ready to pull the trigger on an extension and hitch the next 4 to 6 years of their wagon to Amare's back.
That brings us to door number 3.
This trade deadline silly season will come and go with lots of smoke (from Sam Smith's pipe) but on February 20th, Amare will still be a Phoenix Sun. You can take that to the bank (and hope it clears).