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Breaking Down Amare’s Impending Decision

Amare Stoudemire's value increases with every playoff victory

Amare's value increases with every playoff victory

Leading up to the last two NBA trade deadlines, Amare Stoudemire seemed destined to leave Phoenix.

Suns executives intensely shopped him as his standing with his team and city soured, and at times appeared close to completing a trade. And though a deal never went through, most of us expected this to be Stoudemire’s final season in the Valley of the Sun.

Now, Suns general manager Steve Kerr seems determined to keep him.

It all makes perfect sense. The Suns finished off the season going 22-5 after the February 18 trade deadline, playing perhaps the best team basketball during the 27-year-old’s eight-year tenure.

It’s amazing how winning basketball games can completely change the outlook of a player driven to seek out a happier home. Having watched the Suns dismantle a Spurs team which came into the series looking poised and confident and limped out of it looking old and defeated, it is hard for me to believe Stoudemire actually wants to leave Phoenix.

He has a head coach in Alvin Gentry which he seems to mesh well with. Gentry has fostered the best relationship with Stoudemire of any coach Stoudemire has had. Gentry even learned how to text-message because it is said to be Stoudemire’s favorite form of off-court communication. It has served him well to get the best all-around effort out of his star. Amare is playing the best basketball of his career, and not just at the offensive end. He is, believe it or not, defending better than most ever thought possible. Just at the right time.

He has the supporting cast to make a legitimate run at the title. The Suns have a wonderful mixture of top veteran talent – directed by one of the league’s best in Steve Nash – and a youthful and promising bench. In case you missed it, backup point guard Goran Dragic, the No. 45 overall pick in the 2008 draft, scored 23 of a total 26 points in the decisive fourth quarter of Phoenix’s Game 3 victory, effectively rendering Steve Nash an afterthought. Robin Lopez, the No. 15 overall pick in the same draft, has taken over the reigns as the starting center (when healthy).

He plays in a system that seems to be working. Two years ago, after yet another painful playoff loss to the Spurs, Kerr asked then head coach Mike D’Antoni to make a stronger commitment to defense. D’Antoni responded quickly, taking the next available flight to New York. Then Kerr brought on Terry Porter, an ill-fated four-month disaster. Gentry has allowed the Suns to stay true to their “seven seconds or less” roots while simultaneously inspiring a newfound commitment to defense. In doing so, he has been able to guide a Suns team largely expected to be on the fringes of the playoff picture to a return to the Western Conference finals for the first time since 2006.

It now appears all that stands in Amare’s way is money. Per the league’s collective bargaining agreement, Stoudemire can be offered up to a four-year extension that would run through the 2013/14 season and be worth a total $79.0 million. Such an extension could be signed at any point through June 30. He would earn $17.6 million next season.

Stoudemire can secure even more years, up to six, and earn even more money, up to $130.3 million, by joining the 2010 free agent class. He would be eligible to earn up to $17.2 million next season, slightly less than an extension would allow but still $628k more than Dwyane Wade is eligible to make.

Back in February, Stoudemire and the Suns had a brief exchange of proposals. The length of the extension was said to be the major point at issue. Now, with teams such as the Heat drooling at the possibility of offering up an at-or-near maximum five year contract, it would appear these three months of indecision will have cost Kerr dearly.

It seems unlikely that Stoudemire would still be willing to accept an extension, instead likely to opt in favor of the more years a new contract would afford. Amare has tabled any contract-extension talks until after the season, citing the potential for distraction.

It remains a mystery which city Stoudemire will call home next season. What’s certain is this: with every Suns win in these playoffs, he continues to show his worth… exciting, and yet troubling, news for Heat fans.

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