Steve Kerr's Departure Affects Amar'e Stoudemire's Decision
Asked how he was doing, he replied with, "I've had better days."
The root of his unhappiness was the sudden departure of Phoenix president of basketball operations Steve Kerr, the man with whom Walters had worked with for so long to keep Stoudemire in the Valley of the Sun. Over the course of the past few months, the two men negotiated about as amicably as parties on opposing sides can on an extension that would have kept Stoudemire in Phoenix through 2014.
They grew close, in fact, and the good vibe fostered doing nothing to hurt Kerr's chances of keeping the dynamic 27-year-old on his roster and maintain the momentum from a surprising Suns season. Phoenix reached the Western Conference finals despite projections that they would miss the playoffs entirely.
Now, however, the landscape couldn't look more different. According to a source close to Kerr, the Suns executive and owner Robert Sarver were unable to reach an agreement for a new contract largely because Kerr was asked to take a significant pay cut that was far more than the 10 percent that has been reported. In light of the Suns' surprising run that would have warranted a pay raise in most cases, the wrong kind of tone was set that is believed to have driven Kerr toward this decision.
Kerr has told friends that he will transition into the TNT analyst job previously held by Philadelphia coach Doug Collins. Kerr's departure was first reported by the Arizona Republic. And the Suns, it appears, have significantly hurt their chances of keeping Stoudemire. He mentioned his broadcasting interests in a press release this afternoon.
"A broadcasting opportunity would allow me to spend more time with my family which is very important to me," Kerr's statement read. "I will certainly miss the relationships I've forged here with the players, coaches and members of the organization. It's a special group of people and I wish the organization nothing but success moving forward."
Walters said he still expects to receive a finalized, formal extension offer before free agency begins on July 1, but the absence of Kerr means there is mystery now where there was none in the previous discussions and proposals first reported by FanHouse. And unless Sarver comes equipped with a maximum offer for three additional years (through the 2013-14 season) for a combined total of approximately $60 million (approximately $77.6 million including Stoudemire's player option for next season), it's likely Stoudemire will be on his way to test the free agent waters. Even with such an offer, the apparent lack of direction may be enough to turn Stoudemire away.
Meanwhile, Kerr's exodus couldn't have been more unexpected. He had survived the tough times, reshaping the Suns' roster following the "Seven Seconds or Less" era that came under former coach Mike D'Antoni. When D'Antoni was fired after the 2008 season and Terry Porter after him, Kerr's promotion of then-assistant Alvin Gentry midway through the 2008-09 campaign was the first of many moves that began the turnaround.
After the Suns' six-game loss to the Lakers in the semifinals, Kerr's future hardly seemed in doubt as he spoke at US Airways Arena the day after the season ended.
"My contract is up, but I'll sit down with Robert and talk about that," Kerr said then. "Yeah, yeah (I want to come back). This year was great. A little more fun than last year. But we've got a great group of people here. I love working with Alvin. We've got a good thing going, and the plan is to try to sustain it. We've got a good group of young players who are representing the future in a lot of ways, and some vets who still have a lot of years left in them."
It's all different now, and Happy Walters may not be the only one unhappy about the Suns' outlook because of it.