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Phoenix Suns were high on Amar’e Stoudemire’s list after contract buyout

PHOENIX — Before it was hip to form a ‘Big 3′ in the NBA, the Phoenix Suns had their own trio of superstars in Steve Nash, Shawn Marion and Amar’e Stoudemire.

Together, they transformed not just the Suns, but the entire NBA with a three-and-a-half year run that included two trips to the Western Conference Finals with an entertaining ‘seven seconds or less’ brand of basketball.

But all good things must come to an end, and that era ended with Marion’s trade to Miami in Feb. 2008.

Now, those same three players are nearing the end of their own personal era.

Nash announced his retirement Saturday. Marion will hang it up at season’s end. That leaves Stoudemire.

He’s the last man standing.

“I plan on standing for awhile, by the way,” Stoudemire said, smiling. “There’s a lot of youth to these legs. I have a lot of competitive juices still flowing within me. There’s no way I’m ready to be the next man.”

Stoudemire made his first Phoenix appearance with the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday, scoring 16 points in 17 minutes in the Suns’ 98-92 win. He joined the Mavericks after reaching an agreement on a buyout from his five-year, $100 million contract with the New York Knicks during All-Star weekend.

The Suns had expressed an interest in bringing Stoudemire back to the team that made him the ninth overall pick in the 2002 NBA Draft.

The feeling was mutual.

“Very, very high. Extremely high,” he said prior to the game. “But I wanted to compete for a championship this year. That’s one reason why I didn’t choose the Spurs because I knew it would be a letdown for all my Phoenix Suns fans. I couldn’t do it. But I do think that it was a tough decision, but I wanted to win this year.”

Stoudemire spent his first eight seasons in Phoenix.

He becomes an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season, his 13th in the league, but retirement is the furthest thing from his mind.

Stoudemire, 32, believes he has a good five or six years left before his career is finally over.

“There’s a lot of basketball left, there’s a lot of high-level basketball left in me,” he said. “I feel competitive. I have faith in my body and what I can do on the basketball court on a consistent basis. The next step should be the best step because I want to make sure I’m able to leave the game on a high note and that’s the ultimate goal.

“But it’s hard to put a number on that because you never know how God blesses you within your career.”