Amar'e Stoudemire Proves He Isn't Worth the Big Bucks
He missed jump shot after jump shot, fading away time and time again. He refused to compete on the glass in the most pivotal game of his career. He complained to the refs on seemingly every errant shot attempt or ridiculous offensive foul. Amar'e Stoudemire -- in perhaps his last game as a Phoenix Sun -- disappeared into the Arizona desert before he could ever give his team a chance. How a player with his bevy of skills turned into something of a mannequin is almost inconceivable, but when you consider the script had been written long before, it is very understandable.
The Western Conference's starting power forward in the All-Star Game and three-time second-team All-NBA performer will surely command a massive, max-money-type payday this summer. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade and maybe Chris Bosh aside, no player will see more interest and more dollar signs than Stoudemire entering free agency. Whether or not he remains in Phoenix is in doubt, but amidst the boo birds and bright lights, Stoudemire showed his true worth -- or lack thereof -- in Game 6 Saturday night.
His meteoric rise, fall and rise again through the ranks of big men over the past eight years has been well documented. But nobody -- not even his biggest critics -- could have predicted his spineless play against the Lakers. The length and physicality of Andrew Bynum, Lamar Odom, and even Pau Gasol was the cyanide to Stoudemire's ineptitude.
Pundits will point to his impressive fourth quarter, in which he salvaged his stat line and ended up having a pretty decent game on paper. "Too little, too late" is about as trite a phrase around, but in this case, it's true. A true superstar doesn't disappear for three quarters in the most important game of his career. A true superstar power forward doesn't finish with 4 rebounds; he just doesn't.
Much was made about Amare's 42-point, 11-rebound performance in Game 3, but let's examine what he did in Phoenix's four losses in this series.
As abysmal as Stoudemire's 4.25 rebound average was, what stands out even more was his lack of defense and intensity at both ends of the floor, far too often resorting to off-balanced shots and poor decision making, hence the 3.25 turnovers he averaged in those losses. Even worse, he had just three assists in the entire series. He didn't make anybody better. He didn't help anyone but himself.
The scary thing about Stoudemire -- and what I would advise all potential suitors to consider -- is how he plays without Steve Nash. So much of what he does offensively comes out of the pick-and-roll setting that you have to wonder how much of his scoring output is as much a credit to Nash as it is him.
Look, no one is questioning Stoudemire's raw talent. He has great hands, explosive leaping ability and amazing agility. But in watching Phoenix play, you can't help but notice Nash's surly thread-the-needle passes for the easy dunk. How many point guards in the league can make those passes? And in playing in a regular half-court offense without an all-world point, what type of drop-off does Amare have? Even with Nash, his performance against the Lakers proved he isn't worth the $100 million-type contract he will be asking for this summer.
My rule when you give a guy a max contract is that he immediately turns you into a contender, or at least drastically re-shapes your team. Case in point of players that failed to do this: Michael Redd in Milwaukee and Rashard Lewis in Orlando. The danger in shelling out that kind of dough for a guy who doesn't warrant it can be crippling.
Amare is still just 27 years old, and has a lot of good basketball left. That's not to be disputed. But what is to be disputed is giving a big man max dollars who doesn't defend, whose already endured a serious knee surgery and whose style is completely predicated off of dexterity and athleticism. And despite being only 27, let's not forget he entered the league directly out of high school and has logged a lot more miles on his legs than most guys his age. More importantly, the disappearing act he pulled in Game 6 has to give credence to the fact that this is not a guy you can legitimately build a championship caliber team around.