More photos » Mark J. Terrill - AP
Amare Stoudemire has traded purple for blue and orange...well, the orange will still be there. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, File)
Amare Stoudemire aka STAT aka Sun Tzu aka @AmareIsReal aka a certain... I don't know what. No matter what you know the former Suns big man as, chances are his name alone provokes some sort of emotional reaction. Loved by some, hated by others and discussed by all, Amare was always an enigma to Suns fans. We loved him for his offensive abilities and hated him for his lack of defense. We loved him for being a product of the Suns, born and raised (at least from an NBA player standpoint) right here in the desert and hated him for always wanting more. Some of us are deeply saddened to see him move on to greener (as in 'Benjamins') pastures and others are hoping the door hit him in the ass on the way out. No matter where you land on the Amare love/hate spectrum, the big man is now in New York and this is his Phoenix Suns report card.
When Amare Stoudemire came into the league, he was nothing more than an array of beautiful dunks and it was awesome. (Quick side note: go back and watch his first playoff series against the Spurs when he was playing alongside Stephon Marbury. You forget just how explosive this dude really was.) Now back to what I was saying. When he went down after getting the dreaded microfracture knee surgery, many questioned how a player who depended solely on his amazing athletic ability could rebound from a surgery that historically had completely destroyed the athletic ability of every player who had gone through it. Amare's answer: shoot jump shots every day while he was unable to do anything else and come back with one of the best midrange games of any big man in the league. Over the course of his career here in the valley, Amare went from having one offensive weapon to being one of the best scorers (in terms of how easy it is for him to score) in the NBA.
Since 2004, we have had the EXTREME pleasure of watching Amare Stoudemire run the pick and roll with 2-time MVP Steve Nash. Not only was it beautiful, but effective, as the Suns advanced to at least the second round in every one of those seasons except for the year of Shaq (granted, one of those seasons, Amare was on the bench after the microfracture surgery mentioned above, but still). But again, we all loved his offensive game; it was his game on the other side of the ball that left us wanting more.
Amare showed flashes of defensive ability and even brilliance throughout his years with the Suns, but they always turned out to be just that... flashes. He'd rack up 7 blocks in one game only to have his man drop 40 the next. He'd pull down 20 boards one game only to respond with 3 the next. For all of Amare's offensive brilliance, his defense was inconsistent and many times just bad (mostly during games in which he wasn't being as involved in the offense as he'd like to be). When it came to Amare, this is where the argument would begin.
Being a fan of Amare, I have long argued that you can't just replace that kind of offensive brilliance. That instead of giving him away and trying to replace his offense and improving on defense, a team should try and shore up the other half of the front line with a defensive player that would allow Amare the freedom he needs on offense. That's what the Suns tried with Shaq (unfortunately having the Big Ego in the middle made it impossible for Amare to breathe) and what they lucked into when Robin broke a glass door and suddenly became one of the better centers in the West last season. So what happens when Amare is paired with a player like Robin? He blows up and destroys the league for 3 solid months, earning a spot as a 2nd team All-NBA player even though he was thought by many to be lucky to get into the All-Star game at the break!
Others argued that the price was too steep for a player whose main focus was on the offensive end of the court. They demanded that Amare become a defensive presence and when he failed to live up to their expectations, they pushed for the Suns to get rid of him. (Another quick side note: I did openly root for the Suns to get rid of Amare once and that was when the offer was on the table to send him to Minnesota for KG. This would have left a core of KG (3 seasons before he broke down), Marion (one of my personal favorite Suns players of all time), and Nash.) Back on topic. Now, Amare is gone and we'll see just how much of his offensive game is missed.
Too often in sports we, as fans, become overly critical of those athletes we watch and fail to fully appreciate what we have in front of us. When Marion was here and the Suns were considered to be one of the top 3 teams (if not the top team) every year we - I'm using a collective 'we' here even though I definitely didn't want Marion to go - clamored for a team that could play "traditional" basketball just because we had gotten a few unlucky breaks and failed to advance to the Finals. The Suns shipped Marion out and brought in the Big Ego. It took the Suns organization 2 years to respond from that disaster. For 7 of the past 8 seasons we have had the pleasure of watching a young raw dude straight out of high school develop into one of the top scorers in the league. We've watched him smash on Kandi man's head, embarrass Tolliver and cause Richard Jefferson to have a VERY bad day. Say what you want about him, but the power and fury of Amare was fun to watch and be a part of.
For the 7 seasons (and the 3 games he played in during the season of microfracture rehab), I am giving Amare Stoudemire an A. He made 5 All-Star teams, made the All-NBA second team 3 times and first team once (which he did along with Steve Nash, becoming the first PHX duo to do so) and he helped lead the Suns to the Conference Finals (meaning they were 1 of the last 4 teams standing for you non-math majors out there) in 2 of his last 4 Playoff appearances. While I did hold out hope that his defense would improve and he'd become an All-Defensive type player, there was never a single game that I wasn't on the edge of my seat just waiting for Amare to do something that would give me an excuse to be on YouTube for hours the following day. Amare Stoudemire may not be missed by all (especially if the Suns are successful this season without him), but he will most definitely be missed by me and THAT is what makes being a fan of one of the NBA's biggest enigmas is all about.
Amare Stoudemire's Phoenix Suns grade: A
One other quick note: I apologize if this comes off a little disjointed, the original draft was roughly the size of a small novel and I had to cut it down. Hopefully the sentiment came through and if it didn't, here's an Amare montage that I like.