Breaking news out of New York (although it really shouldn’t qualify as breaking news at this point)…Knicks forward Amar’e Stoudemire is out at least six weeks because he needs more surgery on his right knee.
Stoudemire had been playing well for New York off the bench, averaging 14.2 points per game while shooting almost 58 percent from the field. His loss is a big blow for the Knicks, who are in second place in the Eastern Conference with just about 20 games left.
Of course, the latest in a long line of injuries to Stoudemire’s knees adds fuel to the argument that Suns’ owner Robert Sarver made the right decision to not sign the five-time All-Star to a max deal back in 2010. Sarver, as we all now know, had concerns about Stoudemire’s future health and was only willing to guarantee three years of a five-year max deal. The Knicks didn’t have any qualms about ponying up for two more years. They gave Stoudemire $100 million guaranteed over five years and the rest is history.
Sure, right now, the Suns are at least inwardly saying “told you so” when it comes to Stoudemire’s deal. The Knicks are on the hook for two more seasons and more than $45 million with the distinct possibility the majority of that time will see STAT decked out in really expensive suits and sitting behind the New York bench.
I’m not going to lie, I agree with the decision the Suns made on Stoudemire back in 2010 –although it should have been coupled with the departure of Steve Nash and Grant Hill, but I digress. And as Doug Franz pointed out, the Suns countered the Stoudemire decision by handing out ridiculous long-term deals to (mostly) undeserving players. How’d that work out?
But lets sit back and ask the fundamental question in sports — what is the competitive objective of a sports team? The objective is to win championships, plain and simple. The existence of that question can lead me to play devil’s advocate on this topic.
Lets go back to 2010. What if the Suns would have buckled and given Stoudemire the extra guaranteed two seasons? Yes, they’d likely be in the same predicament that the Knicks are in right now.
Let’s remember what else happened in that season. The Dallas Mavericks, a three-seed that won 57 games, got hot and won the NBA Championship by beating the Miami Heat in six games in the NBA Finals.
Let’s also remember that in the previous season, the Suns were one of four teams left standing in the conference finals. If Jason Richardson had blocked out Ron Artest (he hadn’t changed to his goofy current name yet) in Game 5 against the Lakers, the game goes to overtime and the Suns could have been returning to Phoenix with a 3-2 lead.
Instead, Artest banked in a shot at the buzzer, the Lakers won, then took the series with an eight-point win in Game 6. They’d go on to beat the Celtics for the NBA crown.
The point is, the Suns were right there on the cusp of a championship, yet made the determination that $40 million over two seasons was too much to pay to pursue a ring in the 2010-11 season.
Stoudemire went to New York and stayed healthy that next season. He missed only four games and averaged 25 points and eight rebounds per contest — the only player in the league to do so. I believe in my heart of hearts that the 2010-11 version of Stoudemire in Phoenix paired with Nash, Hill, Richardson and company would have made another serious run at a title that season.
And in the end, a championship ring heals all.
In 2001, the Arizona Diamondbacks won a World Series ring with a roster filled with high-priced veteran talent. The D-backs chose to defer a lot of those payments — in fact they just got done paying off some of the contracts from that championship team 12 seasons ago.
Does that change how you look at that team? It was a magical season punctuated with unbelievable individual performances from the likes of Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling and Luis Gonzalez. Did it matter that Jerry Colangelo “got creative” with his payroll? The fact that Bernard Gilkey still goes to his mailbox once a month and opens an envelope with the D-backs logo on it doesn’t put an asterisk next to Arizona’s first professional sports championship in my eyes.
Colangelo’s plan also didn’t prevent the Diamondbacks from fielding competitive teams over the next decade, as they won two NL West championships in that time frame. I know there’s no salary cap in Major League Baseball, but the D-backs’ won their division titles with pretty modest payrolls in 2007 and 2011.
The popular stance among Suns fans is that signing Stoudemire to a five-year max deal would have crippled the franchise’s future plans.
As I write this, the Suns are 22-42 and in 13th place in the Western Conference. Their roster is devoid of anything resembling star power, which we all know, is a necessary ingredient to win championships in the NBA. Many have doubts on the front office’s long-term plan to fix the franchise. Only time will tell if the ship gets righted.
But if the Suns would have signed Stoudemire to the max deal, they very well could have a championship banner hanging from the rafters of US Airways Center right now. Even if they didn’t win it, they would have been relevant for another season.
As things changed with the new NBA collective bargaining agreement instituted in December of 2011, the Suns also could have had the option to use the amnesty clause on Stoudemire if injuries derailed his career. They’d still have to pay him of course, but the salary wouldn’t count against the cap.
Instead, they’ll miss the playoffs for the third straight season — something that hasn’t happened since the late 80s.
I’ve watched sports intently for 35 years and worked in sports media for the last 17. I’ve never seen a fan tooling around town with a t-shirt reading “My team is financially responsible.”
I highly doubt I ever will.
And I have no earthly idea when the Suns will be that close to a championship again.