It’s funny how things shake out.
Thirty-five games into this season, the Knicks were 21-14. MSG crowds were driving bloggers outside of the city crazy with their “MVP” chants for Amar’e Stoudemire. Columnists and coaches alike (including the Suns’ own Alvin Gentry) voiced their opinion that Stoudemire was the league’s most valuable player. Many of these arguments centered on how much STAT “changed the culture” in New York, embracing performing on the big stage and bringing a winning attitude and caliber of play to the Big Apple.
Sure, a lot of writers I really respect were vocal that Amar’e was not an MVP candidate. They let it be known that basing an argument for the most valuable basketball player around the supposed impact he had on a team’s culture was as ridiculous as a bipedal donkey boxing an orangutan. Unfortunately, the idea was sufficiently acknowledged for Amar’e to appear on many midseason awards watches.
But here we are, closing in on the All-Star break, and so much of that chatter has silenced. I found this notable:
The New York Knicks are 28-26.
The Phoenix Suns are 27-26, pending their game against the Mavericks tonight.
There’s no doubt in my mind that Amar’e has no regrets stemming from his decision to sign with the Knicks. While basing on argument for his MVP credentials around what he does off the court is nonsense, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t deserve some mention. Most importantly, it seems that thriving in one of the world’s largest markets and savoring everything the city has to offer matters to Amar’e. And, of course, he was offered the maximum contract he sought by the Knicks and not by the Suns. The Knicks have decent young talent in Wilson Chandler, Landry Fields, Raymond Felton, and Danilo Gallinari and a chance at acquiring Carmelo Anthony.
It merely makes me wonder how much Amar’e increased his chances to win basketball games by moving to New York. Had the Suns signed Amar’e*, they still might have made the trade of Leandro Barbosa and Dwayne Jones to Toronto for the disgruntled Hedo Turkoglu. However, with no trade exception created by Amar’e's departure, the Suns would not have had room to acquire Josh Childress and Hakim Warrick. While I consider Warrick a usable piece (and he’s shown flashes several times this year), Childress has impacted this season about as much as Eddy Curry has.
*Let it be stated that I was against giving a player with Amar’e's injury history a maximum deal at the time. That decision looks worse every day. I believe that was the 48,538,952nd time I’ve been wrong.
So the Suns would have started this year with a core of Steve Nash, Grant Hill, Hedo Turkoglu, Jared Dudley, Amar’e Stoudemire, Goran Dragic, Robin Lopez, Jason Richardson, and Channing Frye. There’s every chance the Turkotastrophe plays out the same way it did this season and that the Magic and Suns would still make their trade of Vince Carter, Marcin Gortat, Mickael Pietrus, 3 million dollars, and a first round pick for Hedo, Richardson, and Earl Clark, transforming the Suns roster to:
Starting 5: Steve Nash, Vince Carter, Grant Hill, Amar’e Stoudemire, Robin Lopez
Bench rotation: Goran Dragic, Jared Dudley, Mickael Pietrus, Channing Frye, Marcin Gortat
Just looking at that rotation depresses me. With Dudley and Pietrus showing their ability to play lockdown defense on the wings and the ability to experiment with big lineups including Stoudemire, Lopez, Frye, and Gortat, the Suns are an absolute lock to make the playoffs through the length of Nash’s contract. Much of the Free Steve Nash! talk never happens and is replaced by talk about whether or not the Suns have the ability to match up with the Lakers’ size in the west and make the NBA Finals. We may be talking about the front like of Gortat and Stoudemire.
Amar’e Stoudemire may not regret his decision to join Mike D’Antoni in New York, but I’m certainly beginning to have second thoughts.