It's like the Craigslist ad that you refresh twice to be sure it's not a put-on: Used All-Star center. Runs the floor like a gazelle, attacks the rim and knocks down the midrange J. Equal value not required! As the Suns fade in the Western Conference race, the rest of the league is keenly aware that 6'10" power forward Amar'e Stoudemire is on the market. While it seems like a no-brainer for Phoenix to swap Stoudemire—a potential free agent who has been dogged by questions about his attitude—before the Feb. 18 trade deadline, the team is finding that offering a star at deep discount leads to one thing: a slew of unacceptable, almost insulting offers.
Stoudemire, 27, is heading for his fourth straight 20-point, eight-rebound season. Though he makes his living on the inside, he has become almost as dangerous on the perimeter: According to hoopdata.com, Stoudemire has connected on 48.0% of his shots from 16 to 23 feet. He will likely opt out of the final year of his contract—worth $17.9 million—and use those numbers to try to land a long-term deal before the collective bargaining agreement expires in 2011, when the NBA could implement a hard cap that would make salaries nosedive.
As a result, teams aren't inclined to give up top assets unless they can either sign Stoudemire to an extension or have a reasonable degree of certainty that he will re-up this summer. And with Stoudemire expected to use Pau Gasol's three-year, $57 million extension with the Lakers as a baseline in negotiations, "that becomes a problem," says a Western executive. "[Stoudemire's] not a max guy. Maybe 10 years ago, but teams aren't as liberal with those deals anymore."
Stoudemire's contract is not the only concern for would-be suitors. "He's a handful," says a source familiar with the Suns. "Great talent, lot of baggage." Some Phoenix teammates privately wonder whether his commitment to winning (read: defense) will ever match his drive to fill a stat sheet. What's more, Stoudemire missed 29 games last season with a partially detached retina after sitting out all but three games in 2005--06 while recovering from microfracture surgery on his left knee. "That's two serious injuries in five years," says an Eastern executive. "If you are a G.M., you have to consider that before you commit to him for the long term."
Add it all up and it equals a lukewarm market. While at least eight teams have expressed interest in Stoudemire (including Chicago, Cleveland, Golden State, New Jersey and Washington) none so far have offered anything to get Phoenix's attention.
The last-place Nets, however, should. Mikhail Prokhorov, the team's deep-pocketed new owner, wants to make a splash, and signing Stoudemire to an extension accomplishes that. Stoudemire's attitude is likely to improve in a new environment, and he could be a perfect complement to up-tempo point guard Devin Harris and low-post threat Brook Lopez. The cost would be steep; any deal for Stoudemire is likely to include New Jersey's first-round pick, which would give them the best chance at the No. 1 choice. But cornerstone power forwards in the prime of their careers don't become available every day. With a top pick in their pocket the Suns would give their fans hope for the future. And Stoudemire, finally, could move on.
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The answer to the Celtics' and the Lakers' problems could be Kirk Hinrich. A league source says both teams have made preliminary inquiries about Chicago's combo guard (below), whose contract (he's owed $17 million on a deal that runs through 2011--12) has the payroll-slashing Bulls fielding offers. Hinrich, 28, would give Los Angeles a formidable defender to match up with the Spurs' Tony Parker, the Jazz's Deron Williams and the Suns' Steve Nash in the Western Conference playoffs. For Boston, Hinrich would serve as a reliable backup playmaker for Rajon Rondo and bolster a bench that ranked 25th in scoring at week's end (25.6 points per game).
JOHN W. MCDONOUGH (STOUDEMIRE)
TAKERS? ANYONE? Stoudemire's dubious attitude and desire for a max contract have yielded only lowball offers.
DAMIAN STROHMEYER (HINRICH)