Looking For The Real Amare

By J.A. Adande

LOS ANGELES -- Same building, same court, much different Amare Stoudemire. Stoudemire’s last regulation NBA game before Wednesday’s season-opener was in Staples Center on Feb. 18, when he hit the Clippers with 42 points and 11 rebounds as the Phoenix Suns hit the 140 mark for the second game in as many nights after Alvin Gentry took over the head coaching reins.

Stoudemire also was poked in the eye and suffered a partially detached retina. There went the Suns’ playoff chances, followed by Shaquille O’Neal to Cleveland then, for Stoudemire, a long summer of nothing. The recuperation from his eye surgery entailed lying face down for day after day.

“I couldn’t ride a bike,” Stoudemire said. “No treadmill. I couldn’t do anything to keep my cardio up. Couldn’t shoot jumpers. No free throws. That was the entire summer.”

That’s the explanation behind the dropoff from February to Wednesday night, from 42 and 11 to 16 and five, from a dominant performance to a night of making long, uncontested jumpers, but losing the ball when he tried to maneuver in the lane. This Amare isn’t that Amare. But if this Amare becomes that Amare he could quite possibly become an ex-Sun.

My theory is that a return to form by Stoudemire makes it easier for the Suns to trade him and his $16 million salary, an option the Suns would like to have as they continue to find ways to reduce payroll.

I haven’t heard it rejected when I run it by members of the organization -- including Stoudemire.

“That’s possible,” Stoudemire said. “It can be either way. It can lead to me staying here or leaving. Whatever makes sense for both of us, both companies, that’s the route we’re going to take.”

Even though Stoudemire Inc. is due to make $17.7 million next year it still makes sense for him to opt out after this season and sign a long-term deal under the current collective bargaining agreement. If he waits to hit the market after his contract expires in 2011 then he is facing shorter contract lengths and smaller annual raises when the next CBA is ratified (possibly after a lockout).

So for trading purposes he should be viewed as an expiring contract. But what if he were an expiring contract that could get you 21 points and 8 rebounds, as he did when he made the All-Star team last season? That wouldn’t be worth something to the Miami Heat, as incentive for Dwyane Wade to stick around?

Asked what would be a realistic expectation for Stoudemire at this stage, Gentry joked: “20 and 10.”

The reality is they’ll take whatever they can get from him.

“Defense is one of my main focus and rebounding is definitely a key for me,” Stoudemire said. “I want to eventually have a complete game. A lot of folks out there are talking about my defensive awareness and things of that nature, and also rebounding. So I figure if I can take care of those two aspects then I can be talked about as being a complete player and having a complete team and even contend for it, to go further in the playoffs.”

The Suns got a team effort to squeeze out a 109-107 victory over the Clippers, but it was telling that in Gentry’s postgame analysis he mentioned Steve Nash, Grant Hill, Goran Dragic, Earl Clark, Jared Dudley and Louis Amundson … but not Stoudemire.

For now he’s an afterthought. We’ve seen him come back from microfracture knee surgery to bear a resemblance to the talented rookie that was unleashed on the league in 2002. The goal now is to get back to resembling the player that resembled that player.