This looks bad, the way Amar'e Stoudemire is window shopping himself around the league. In an interview with a Washington radio station, he put his chances at being a Sun in the fall at 50 percent. He told a San Antonio TV station that he may have to get sprung if Phoenix is not going to win a title soon. He spent an appearance on New York radio jumping on the chance to say he will seriously consider the Knicks and a reunion with his former coach Mike D'Antoni upon becoming a free agent next summer.
On the bright side, Stoudemire's vision is just fine after Feb. 20 surgery to repair the detached retina that prematurely ended his season. He's able to make goo-goo eyes at everyone.
In an actual positive sign for the Suns, though, Stoudemire prefers to remain in Phoenix, has not asked for a trade and, in fact, would love to talk about an extension during a very uncertain offseason for the franchise.
This is not someone trying to talk his way out of town and torching bridges as he goes, people close to the situation insist, just as this is not the February trade deadline anymore with Stoudemire on alert for the next new rumor. Stoudemire's flirting with half the free world appears to be more letting off steam than actual relocation desire. He's caught up in the speculation, trying to save face rather than be the guy supposedly being offered around, an incorrect premise.
Nobody is untouchable on a team going backward -- second round of the playoffs two years ago, first round last year, no round this time -- but if a big-money starter does go, chances are greater that it's Shaquille O'Neal or Jason Richardson than a 26-year-old perennial All-Star who provides the best chance to get to the future.
Of course, Stoudemire would also bring the most in return, so it's impossible to say a trade absolutely will not happen. The direction is clear, though. The Suns anticipate the biggest offseason news on the Stoudemire front being a return to the court in a couple of weeks and much of the summer being spent in Phoenix working his way back from the serious injury that will probably require him to wear eye protection the rest of his career.
"I had a great talk with him at the deadline and explained everything," general manager Steve Kerr said. "I did the same thing with Shaq. I have a very open relationship with our guys. When you start with that, there's no reason to have to apologize. Amar'e knows we want him."
The coaching change, from Terry Porter to Alvin Gentry, gives Kerr particular encouragement. If all the Suns responded to the midseason return to the autobahn life, becoming the first team since the 1990-91 Trail Blazers to score at least 140 points in three consecutive games, Stoudemire was particularly rejuvenated with 23 points and five rebounds in just 20 minutes followed the next night by 42 and 11 in 36 minutes. Then he was lost for the season. But those two outings just after the All-Star break, both against the Clippers, helped convince Kerr and owner Robert Sarver that it's worth moving forward to see how the potentially potent combo works with an entire 2009-10 together.
It's why the core may be kept together -- Stoudemire, O'Neal, Richardson, Steve Nash, free agent Grant Hill probably re-signed with a one-year deal -- to see how a training camp and full season with Gentry will spin the fortunes. Equally important, it's why if a big name is traded, Stoudemire isn't close to the obvious departure he seemed to be around the trade deadline.
Answering some draft-related questions ...
I find it interesting that Courtney Lee, a four-year college player and late-first-round pick, is playing a prominent role for a Finals team. Who do you see as this year's Lee, in terms of an experienced college player who could last deep into the first round and eventually help a contending team?-- Ryan Johnson, New York
I'll give you two candidates, with the understanding that there will be a lot of activity the next three weeks that could move someone higher or drop him into the second round.
• Darren Collison, senior, UCLA: He'll be a better defender than most guards on his team the first day of training camp. Played in a high-visibility, high-pressure program that had long tournament runs and was a teammate of several current or future NBA players. Quick. Smart.
• Wayne Ellington, junior, North Carolina: Maybe your analogy got me on the Courtney Lee track. Ellington is similar, someone who is not overly athletic or big for a shooting guard but is more than just a long-range threat. Definitely a guy who could become a meaningful complementary piece and who is used to succeeding without being a star.
What are the chances that Ricky Rubio could slip to the Kings at No. 4?-- Christopher, Walnut Creek, Calif.
I'm staying with my original belief that the chances are pretty slim. Rubio has to get past two teams, given that Blake Griffin is set to be No. 1, and that's a large bit of luck in a draft in which most teams have Rubio rated as the second-best prospect. Not necessarily the player who will go second, but the player with great leadership skills to run a team, who has a great basketball IQ and passing ability, and plays with a passion. That package will make it hard for two teams, the Grizzlies and Thunder, to pass on him, even if it's a matter of taking Rubio, seeing how he compares to Mike Conley (Memphis) or plays alongside Russell Westbrook (Oklahoma City) and then trading Rubio. It seems there is too much upside at a difficult position to fill to drop to the Kings.
What's the word on Brandon Jennings' game? Strengths? Weaknesses? It's not like we were able to watch him play 30 college games on TV last season, so I'm curious what to make of his game.-- Andrew R., New Jersey
I was going to use this assessment at some point when writing about Jennings and his unique path from growing up in Southern California to finishing his high school career in Virginia to committing to Arizona to instead spending 2008-09 just trying to get minutes as a pro in Italy. But this is as good a time as any. Straight from a GM: "If he gets it from the neck up, he will be as special as a lot of players in this league. Physical tools, he's off the charts."
Jennings is cocky, which is great in moderation until a young player proves himself. He's also small, 6-1 and wiry. But he's super quick, aggressive and gets to the rim. The common comparison is Kenny Anderson, which is fine with Jennings since Anderson is his idol.
He got underwhelming reviews for his season in Italy, though it wasn't all Jennings' fault. A lot of European teams operate with a class system -- veterans get the minutes even if they're being outplayed, young guys wait their turn. Jennings was frustrated. But he also has the personality of someone who wants to stand out for taking a unique path.
• The biggest news from the predraft tea in Chicago, where prospects wanting to become professional basketball players did not play games, were the measurements. The one that jumped out to front-office representatives: DeJuan Blair of Pittsburgh -- power forward DeJuan Blair of Pittsburgh -- was 6-5¼ in socks and 6-6½ in shoes. The offset was having a 7-2 wingspan, nearly three inches more than Blake Griffin, also a power forward, and a standing reach of 8-10½, an inch and a half more than the projected No. 1 pick. Said one GM, asked afterward about Blair's updated chances of making a successful transition to the NBA: "It'll be pretty tough."
• David Stern is right. The Tennessee congressman who urged the NBA to drop the requirement that U.S. players be at least a year out of high school to enter the league is hypocritical to be making it an issue considering the House and Senate have their own age limits. Besides, just maybe Steve Cohen has something more pressing to work on as an elected official in 2009 America than the NBA's collective bargaining agreement. If not, he can deal with his vocabulary. To compare the NBA's restriction to "a vestige of slavery," as Cohen did in an interview with The New York Times, is an unfortunate analogy that shows a lack of understanding of professional basketball, and of history.
• Omri Casspi, one of the few international prospects with a chance to go in the first round, went from putting his chances at staying in the draft at 50-50 to saying without hesitation about a week later that he is planning to stick. His outlook improved that much after attending the Chicago gathering and group workouts in Minneapolis and Oakland, Calif. "I know there's a lot of big interest in me now," the 20-year-old from Israel said. Casspi is a 6-9 small forward who needs to get a lot stronger, but he is willing to play overseas for another season in a move that would allow NBA teams to take him and develop a young talent without a salary-cap hit.
• Also saying he's staying in: Maryland guard Greivis Vasquez, a second-team All-ACC pick in 2008-09 as a junior. That's bigger news for the Terrapins than the draft.
• One more concern for the Cavaliers, as if the urgent ones of the summer aren't enough: The Magic aren't going anywhere. Orlando won six of nine meetings in the regular season and playoffs, and the Magic's core players are 23 (Dwight Howard), 30 (Hedo Turkoglu, a potential free agent), 29 (Rashard Lewis) and 27 (Jameer Nelson). It's risky to make a major move to counter one player, but the Cavaliers got hurt inside and the best center in the game just became the primary obstacle for the foreseeable future, so counter away.