While Amar’e Stoudemire has yet to score any superhero credentials, he has been wearing a cool mask and could be in line for a name upgrade.
Until further notice, let’s go with “Irony Man.”
He qualified for this moniker by making a bold declaration after his New York Knicks were eliminated by the Miami Heat.
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“I love Steve,” said Stoudemire, referring to former Phoenix Suns teammate Steve Nash. “It would be great to have him here next year.”
Well, it makes sense that Amar’e has an abiding affection for the guy who slipped him basket-creating bounce passes and lobs for several years. And although Stoudemire averaged 20 points per game during the season that preceded their teaming up and 25 for the Knicks in the first one succeeding it, Nash certainly contributed to his retirement fund.
By the way, the quote listed above occurred in Miami, but Stoudemire wasn’t referring to Nash joining the Heat when he said “here.” Nash did that on his own, when asked, a few weeks ago, and we’ll get to the subject of Miami a bit later. Anyway, Amar’e used the Knicks’ playoff post-mortem format to openly recruit Nash — now on the precipice of unrestricted free agency — for point guard duty in New York.
The irony is conjured if you embrace local legend suggesting that even if the Suns had chosen to rehire then-free agent Stoudemire for more than three years, Amar’e preferred leaving. As the unofficially corroborated story goes, he wanted the big stage of New York rather than status quo in the Arizona town where Nash was king.
It’s interesting how losing eight of nine playoff games over two seasons can alter a guy’s outlook. Although he probably didn’t have anything against Nash during the Suns’ relative glory days and is now working as the trusty, shot-starved sidekick in the Carmelo Anthony Show, which makes Nash look like Gandhi.
So, will it happen? Well, we’re pretty sure Nash isn’t anywhere close to hammering down the location his next workplace (if it’s not US Airways Center), so the rest of us are stuck with conjecture.
We do know the Knicks seemed a lot more viable when former Suns coach Mike D’Antoni was presiding in Madison Square Garden. But D’Antoni stepped off, assistant Mike Woodson stepped in and ‘Melo was free to dominate the offense in an isolation format.
When the Jeremy Lin comet began to fade — due to Knicks personnel changes (‘Melo became healthy enough to play) and Lin’s knee surgery — Woodson resorted to the offensive tactics that dogged the perception of his tenure with the Atlanta Hawks.
Although it seems obvious that Nash wouldn’t be interested in running the type of system Woodson leaned on as New York’s interim coach, we might believe Woodson (if retained) would make it a lot more point-guard friendly if Nash were to come aboard.
With Anthony, Stoudemire’s killer contract and Tyson Chandler all eating big minutes and most of the cap space for New York, creating a plan of attack to suit Nash won’t be that easy. Stoudemire, for example, was great in pick-and-rolls with Nash in Phoenix, but ‘Melo would have to greatly alter his career-long approach to generate sufficient operating space. Chandler can be pretty dangerous rolling to the rim after a ball screen, but he has zero shooting range if called upon to stay out of the way and occupy his defender if someone else is setting the pick.
We shouldn’t pretend Nash’s skills are limited to D’Antoni’s system, but at age 38 with power to choose his next employer, New York is far from a tactical lock.
Amar’e has additional ammunition — location, location, location.
“Everyone knows that Steve loves New York and that New York loves Steve,” Stoudemire said.
But he also loves his children, who reside in Phoenix. Nash has said family logistics wouldn’t be a deal-breaker, but the Valley of the Sun scores additional points for the team’s Steve-friendly coaching staff, the off-court caliber of his teammates, cutting-edge philosophies of the training staff and fan loyalty.
The Suns are expected to ante up around $10 million per year to keep Nash, who said he’d like to play for three more years. Phoenix might not go for three years at that rate, but we’ll have to wait and see if such strategy would sour a deal.
New York, on the other hand, has the mid-level exception ($5 million) to use in its pursuit of a point guard. Lin is scheduled to be a restricted free agent, meaning the Knicks can match any offer … but, thanks to the NBA’s contractual maze, probably have to use their mid-level loot to do it.
That’s the route they’d have to take in signing Nash.
It’s hard to predict how good Lin will become (hey, it was almost impossible for several teams to notice he was capable of sticking in the league) and what his value could be on Madison Avenue.
Nash would simply come in and immediately get the ball to the right players in the right spots at the right times … if ‘Melo is willing to trade in his Ball Stopper cape.
As mentioned earlier, Miami could be a potential destination with tangible on-court issues. The Heat already have two dominant ballhandlers (if you need the names, shame on you), working with a point guard (Mario Chalmers) who’s comfy spotting up for 3-pointers and playing tough defense.
Unless they fail to win the O’Brien trophy this summer and heads roll, the Heat’s free-agent tour also will be limited to the mid-level exception. Will they attempt to spend it on a 38-year-old floor general and hope their superstar wing players are content to move without the ball? Or will they use it on a large player to help Chris Bosh in the lane?
A couple of other chattered-about destinations are Portland and Toronto.
The Trail Blazers, especially if Jamal Crawford waives his player option (as expected), could muster a decent monetary package in an effort to land Nash. They also have LaMarcus Aldridge, who’s a young big with inside-outside chops, the potential to keep restricted free agent Nic Batum and a location that’s much closer to Nash’s business interests in Vancouver.
When recently interviewed by a reporter from Canada, Nash said he would not rule out the Raptors. They might be reasonably competitive with him at point guard, another high draft pick and 2011 lottery selection Jonas Valanciunas possibly coming over next season. But they probably wouldn’t be better enough to do more than scratch toward a very low playoff seed.
With most of the league’s true contending teams looking solid at point guard, the Suns — with a prudent draft pick and a wise move in free agency — could turn out to be just as competitive as most of the teams poised to make a serious run at Nash.