At the time, it was a questionable move. Letting a star player go in his prime. But now almost two years removed from letting Amar'e Stoudemire walk and sign a maximum 5- year deal worth $100 million dollars with the New York Knicks, it's safe to say the Phoenix Suns did the right thing.
The Suns' medical staff had warned management and ownership that Stoudemire's troublesome knees would not hold up over the length of the contract. They figured that he might be able to get two or three years out of the surgically repaired knees, but definitely not five. The feeling was that the microfracture surgery he had in 2005 would allow him to play at best another seven years before severely limiting his ability to play the way he was accustomed to playing.
The Suns, even with that information, attempted to sign Stoudemire to a five-year contract extension but with the player assuming some of the risk. The Suns wanted to guarantee him three years and have the final two years based on playing time in years three and four. If Stoudemire would have stayed relatively healthy he could have cashed in his $100 million in Phoenix. If not, he would have received roughly $60 million. But the power forward/center was insistent upon a fully guaranteed maximum contract even though his knees were uninsurable.
Stoudemire talked to the Heat, but after they brought in LeBron James and Chris Bosh, he was left with the Knicks as the one team offering him a contract he couldn't refuse. New York then completed a sign and trade with Phoenix in which the Suns got a $16.5 million trade exception. The Knicks also went after some of the big free agents like James that year but came away empty. They had money to burn and needed to make a splash. So they were the team that brought in Stoudemire regardless of his past health.
In year one with the Knicks, Stoudemire flourished. He played well averaging 25.3 points and 8.1 rebounds and helping New York make the playoffs. In the four-game sweep at the hands of the Boston Celtics, Stoudemire hurt his back. In the series, he averaged 14.5 points and 7.8 rebounds.
And now in the midst of the worst season of his career where he is averaging just 17.6 points and shooting .477, it is obvious that he is not the same player he once was having lost the explosion that once made him great, Stoudemire is hurt again. A bulging disk in his back threatening to sideline him for the rest of the season. And with the Knicks having $65 million left on that contract and no ability to amnesty him because they already used that option on Chauncey Billups, New York could be in salary cap hell if Stoudemire can't return to form. While no one knows for sure, the Suns' medical staff did believe at the time that Stoudemire's knee injuries would lead to other significant injuries. So it's quite possible the various knee injuries are causing the current back problems.
The Knicks are one of of the few teams that can afford to pay the luxury tax, which is why they can make mistakes like Stoudemire and find a way to deal with it. The Suns are not. They could not have had three years of dead money on their roster and weren't willing to take the chance of having to pay a player for multiple injury prone years without the benefit of insurance.
Now what Phoenix did after losing Stoudemire can not be open for debate. They flat out screwed up in signing Hakim Warrick, Josh Childress and trading for Hedo Turkoglu. The Suns rebounded from the Turkoglu disaster by pulling off a good trade that netted Marcin Gortat from Orlando. But still, they didn't spend their money wisely after losing a dominant big man who led them to two Western Conference Finals appearances in his eight years in the desert.
So while neither team has really benefited, at least the Suns aren't stuck with that massive contract on an injured player who his a shell of his former self.