Gambo: STAT answers critics, Suns win
This is the NBA. You win and lose behind your star players. Not your bench, not your role players.
So taking nothing away from how valuable Channing Frye, Jared Dudley, Jason Richardson, Robin Lopez, Goran Dragic and Grant Hill have been for the Phoenix Suns this season, when push comes to shove this team will go as far as Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire can take them. And Sunday night the Suns' dynamic duo was every bit as good as the Lakers dynamic duo of Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol.
There will always be x factors in any one game and last night it was Robin Lopez and his 20 points for the Suns. But Phoenix got Game 3 because Stoudemire was unstoppable scoring 42 points and grabbing 11 rebounds and Nash was brilliant with 17 points, 15 assists and just one turnover.
That Stoudemire had such a dominant game after all the criticism he came under for his subpar performances in the first two games is a great sign. Stoudemire answered the critics, he responded to the criticism and he played with the energy, passion and heart that was necessary for Phoenix to have come away with a victory. Plain and simple Stoudemire was special. The Suns got him the ball on the elbow and in isolation and not only was he hitting his jump shot he was blowing by Gasol and scoring at the basket or getting to the free throw line.
The Suns played bigger with Lopez getting 30 minutes and the bigger lineup favors Stoudemire defensively. He is not a center in this league and he was exposed defensively in Game 2 because the Suns went small with him at center and Grant Hill at power forward. That lineup works offensively but is atrocious defensively. Sunday the zone defense and bigger lineup forced the Lakers to jack up shots from outside (32 three-pointers taken) and that took some pressure of Stoudemire.
Stoudemire played the final two-and-a-half months of the season with a chip on his shoulder and he carried this team to the three seed tallying 13 30-point games and 16 double-digit rebound games in that time. He again played with a chip on his shoulder in Game 3 and took his frustrations out on the Lakers.
Stoudemire is an enigma. I don't remember a player who forces you to change your opinion of him on a regular basis as much as STAT does.
One day you love him the next you don't. One day you want the Suns to re-sign him, the next you don't. One day you believe he is worth the max, the next you hope he walks. He is equal part frustration and elation. We celebrate his greatness but harp on his weaknesses.
Just where the Suns first-round pick from 2002 plays next year is anyone's guess. While Stoudemire is a very good player in this league he is not a true superstar and therefore it is debatable as to whether he is a max player or not. But asking whether or not he is a max player is not the question here. All it takes is one team in free agency to believe he is worthy of a five-year max contract and then he is a max player. The question is do any of the teams with cap space want to use it on STAT?
The problem for the Suns is there are quite a few teams with cap space and coming from big markets that want to spend. Miami wants to appease Dwyane Wade and make sure he re-signs with the Heat. Getting Stoudemire should allow Pat Riley to accomplish that. New Jersey has a new billionaire owner who wants to make a splash and they are moving to Brooklyn in a couple of years. The New York Knicks have no problem spending money and can afford two max players and if they don't get James are going to want someone. Chicago would like Wade but if he stayed in Miami and the Heat added Chris Bosh or Carlos Boozer, maybe the Bulls go after Stoudemire.
The Suns would like to keep Stoudemire but on their terms, which is for four total years. Phoenix could be reluctant to go any longer on a deal because of Stoudemire's had microfracture surgery on his knee and there could and should be questions as to whether he can hold up until his mid - 30's. The Suns could look at second max contracts for Tracy McGrady and Jermaine O'Neill to see examples of where second max deals backfired. But in Stoudemire's case -- four years is not as good as five and certainly not as good as six so what is likely to happen is that he will test the free agent market, see what's out there and then come back to Phoenix and say either match it or do a sign and trade. A sign and trade doesn't bring back value but it brings back something either in players, draft picks and sometimes trade exceptions and it is a heck of a lot better than losing him for nothing and future cap space. If the Suns lose Stoudemire it's not like they have that 17 plus million to go spend, the would be roughly four to five million under the cap this year if he left. If the Suns lose him for nothing they will take a major step backwards for the next few years and have to re-do the franchise beginning a rebuilding process that is inevitable anyway with the age of Steve Nash and Grant Hill.
What Stoudemire has to realize is that he is not the only player who has received criticism for poor play in the playoffs. LeBron James, Joe Johnson and now Dwight Howard have all felt the wrath of the fans and media for playoff struggles. This is a what have you done for me lately sports world so it may be in STAT's best interest to make sure his last game is a good one because it very well may dictate the pulse of the Suns fan and maybe even the organization.