by user Wttt02005

Nearly every NBA foundation shook and rumbled last summer. Television stations revamped their schedules, fans cried in disbelief, and that flicker of hope quickly extinguished.

Amare Stoudemire needed microfracture knee surgery.

Despite initial predictions, the Phoenix Suns are hotter than their name and currently hold a stable foothold as the leader of the Pacific Division and second seed in the Western Conference. This lead has only been challenged in the last two weeks by the Clippers. However, due to that ball club’s recent five game losing streak, the Suns have found themselves with more distance and no challengers. Amare is expected to return in March, but should he?

Reasons why Amare should take the year off:

Antawn Jamison and Chris Webber have both undergone the same operation. The former has continued a prosperous career, but the latter has clearly not been the same. Because Stoudemire is clearly the future for the Suns (no indication better than the maximum contract he signed in the off-season), it would be best to rest. I know that Stoudemire personally would not want to be another Chris Webber, constantly stricken with nagging injuries.

He will not meet expectations if he does return near the end of the season. Everyone, including the Phoenix Suns, expect Stoudemire to return and put them over the top. No one believes the Suns are capable of a championship without him. Last year, Stoudemire torched the interior defense of the Spurs, averaging forty points a game, but everyone quickly realized that even that was not enough. The Suns lost 1-4 to the eventual NBA championships. When Stoudemire returns, he will be expected to return to that form in less than a month. That is definitely not going to be enough time.

Everything is and has always been on Nash’s shoulder. Last year’s MVP, Nash is the reason the Suns are still a very good team. His almost relentless run-and-gun style has established a team mentality that believes they can beat everyone if they just run and get easy baskets. The most positive aspect of the Suns style is that it takes away the pressure of making shots. Every Suns player knows that if he misses a shot, he is going to get another one in, I don’t know, two seconds. Management and fans may believe Amare will allow them to reach the championship plateau, but he cannot do nothing without Nash.

The fewer games Stoudemire plays, the more games Boris Diaw plays. Boris Diaw has been a major surprise for this ball club. The biggest name in the Atlanta-Phoenix trade was Joe Johnson with Boris Diaw being somewhat of a mere throw-in. I would be lying to you if I told you I expected something out of him. Diaw has been a fantastic replacement for Stoudemire. His fifteen points per game is nice, but nothing is more impressive than his six rebounds and six assists. Six assists from a center!? Diaw is like a poor man’s Brad Miller. In addition, he has proven himself capable of guarding the top centers in the league. I remember a game in which Diaw bothered Yao all game, getting into the passing lanes, pushing him out of position, and boxing him out. This guy is for real, and I am hopeful that he will become the NBA’s Most Improved Player. The beauty of Diaw is how wonderful of a backup center he will be once Amare returns to form.

The playoff positioning is in Phoenix’s favor. Assuming the playoff positions stay as they are, the Suns will face the Hornets in the first round. This team has only recently found itself in the playoff picture and can easily find the door out. The Suns should have no trouble with them. In the second round, they will face either Denver or the Grizzlies. The Grizzlies are the tougher match up because of defense but have been slipping as of late. The slump they find themselves in now is similar to the one they experienced late last season. The Grizzlies had a .666 record earlier this season but now find themselves 30-25. Despite Pau Gasol’s MVP numbers, he will not be able to overcome the Suns should they meet in the playoffs. The Western Conference finals then will probably be a match up between the Suns/Mavericks or Suns/Spurs. In the past few years, one will definitely want to face the former, but as I have stated in a previous article, I believe the Mavs are equally as good as the Spurs. It will be a tough match up for the Suns with either match up. I predict they will go seven games with the Mavs but only a maximum of six with the Spurs if Duncan is healthy. Currently, I do not believe the Suns can beat the Pistons. Should Amare decide to return before this, the Suns chances sink because of team chemistry issues. Even if the strategy is to have Stoudemire run as fast as possible and get dunks and lay-ups, there will still be transitional periods to fit him in the offense. A major problem for a Phoenix team that has all it needs to win a championship.


Tue 03/14/06, 6:25 pm EST


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