Have a great summer, see ya next fall!!!
The scene at the US Airways Center yesterday was very much like the last day of school. Hand shakes. A few hugs. Exchanging phone numbers and I am fairly sure many players walked out with their plastic bags full of a season's worth of stuff, also including a signed basketball in lieu of a yearbook (or signed T-shirts -- do kids still do that?).
Last season, the final official day of the season was a very different story. Instead of a jovial, communal event that attracted significant media coverage and a real sense of sad finality, last year was a quiet and more organized affair as each player took their turn talking to the coaches and front office while Suns.com and I waited in the hall for a final interview.
This time, as you can see from the video, the team held a group meeting and there was plenty of lingering and chatting both on and off camera. Grant Hill has been saying for weeks that how much this team loved being together and how they didn't want to see it end. That was evident in the halls underneath USAC.
But end it finally did, as the guys made their way to their cars with their bags of clothes, equipment and souvenirs and then off to all parts of the world.
Jared is going to Miami to hang out with Amare and promises that JMZ will be on the case for all your Amare free agency news. He's also angling to do more work on ESPN, but of course is going to continue to work on his game this summer.
Steve may or may not be going to South Africa for the World Cup to watch his English team take on the Americans on June 12th. Steve being Steve, he is still hoping the USA does well, so his first love will grow in popularity in the states.
Robin will go back to Fresno where he promises to work hard on his overall game; he clearly was not pleased with the way his season ended, given the last two unproductive games he had.
Goran leaves in a few days to go home to Slovenia where he's a national hero, with home town support heavily in his favor versus that Vujacic guy. He will play for his national team this summer and work with his personal coach on getting better. His vacation will be at home with his family.
Lou and Channing both want to be back with the Suns, but both will also be testing the free agency waters seeing how their success with the Suns can translate to their next contract.
Earl Clark is dying to get to Vegas Summer League where he can get significant court time again and show how much his game has progressed this season. Gentry spoke very highly of Earl's development this season and how much he's learned about being a professional basketball player. Alvin said he would be very disappointed if Earl doesn't play a role next season.
Grant Hill was clear about his future. He already told Steve Kerr that he is picking up his player option and returning to the Suns next season.
JRich is going to spend some time with his kids, whom he said he missed during the season. He talked about the team's future,
"We definitely want to keep it as is. We want another shot at this. We did a lot of great things this year and we had a lot of fun doing it and it's a great group of guys so we definitely want to try and do this things again next year and maybe win a title."
Jason's words were echoed by everyone on the team, from Coach Gentry on down.
Except for Leandro Barbosa, who surprisingly was the only player who avoided walking out the front way and talking to his friends in the media. We can only speculate what that means, but it doesn't take a rocket scientist to see how expendable Leandro is on this team if he's going to be paid $7m and only play 15 minutes. I don't expect him back -- it just doesn't make sense.
Steve Kerr, whose own contract expired, wouldn't comment on the future of any of the team's free agents. Kerr does want to come back to the Suns and said he will be talking with Robert Sarver in the coming weeks. It would be a shock if he's not back and given that free agency and draft prep has to ramp up by mid-June, it's not something that can drag on too long.
Amare Stoudemire. No one knows what will happen with Amare, including Amare. The general thinking is that he will opt out, but beyond that the only certainty is that his teammates want him back.
"I am definitely on the 'Bring Amare Back' campaign. I think I'm going to start a web site. I'm going to start a web site. I'm going to start a twitter page. I'm going to do everything it takes to get this guy back," said Jason Richardson with a chuckle.
Amare repeated most of what he's been saying for the past several weeks and added, "It's not about getting paid at all. It's about wanting to win a championship. That's the ultimate goal."
Asked if he would take less money to win a title, Amare wouldn't quite go that far, "I mean it all depends on the situation and if that's for certain that you could possibly win a title, then possibly."
The Suns certainly proved that with Amare, they can be a contender again.
My best guess right now is that the Suns will try and keep Amare and Amare really does want to stay. The question is if the Suns will offer Amare what he thinks he's worth and will match the kind of max money that other teams will offer.
There are too many teams with too much money that they have to spend, so someone will make that max offer. At that point, the Suns will have to decide if they are going to invest 6 years and about $120m on Amare or take their chances on replacing him some other way.
I am glad it's not my decision -- there are no obvious right things to do. Anyone who tells you they absolutely KNOW what the Suns should do is full of crap.
It is going to be a huge gamble either way. A real no-win situation for the Suns front office that they could have avoided by trading Amare at some point over the last two years -- but didn't and as a result, were rewarded with a deep playoff run and a trip back to the Western Conference Finals.
The only thing I am certain of when it comes to Amare's future is that regardless of the outcome, people will be convinced the Suns screwed up. There will be people that say they overpaid him if he stays and there will be people that say they should have kept him if he leaves. No one will know for sure what the right answer truly was for some time, until we see how the next 4 to 6 years of Amare's career plays out.
Can you predict the future? I can't, at least not in this case. So my word of caution is this: be patient with whatever happens. Don't rush to judgment like so many did after the Goran draft or the JRich and Dudley trade.
The only question about Game 6 was Gentry's decision to leave Goran in until about the 3 minutes mark and not put Nash back on the floor sooner. Any regrets?
"No. (pause) I don't ever regret things like that. You know he played great, he got us back in the game and we took a time out and got Steve back in the game but he was playing great and there was no reason to take him out."
And for those of you who question this decision, just remember that it was the Goran-led Suns that cut a 17 point deficit to 5 before Nash came in and cut it to 3 on his first possession only to see Kobe hit two incredible shots (with a Nash turnover mixed in) to put the game out of reach.
I also heard that the photographer injured during Game 6 was still in the hospital as of yesterday. I don't know anything more on that.
Exit Interviews Audio
Grant Hill exit 053010 (Grant was really funny in this one)
Nash exit 053010 (part 2)