Amar’e Stoudemire removed his Phoenix Suns jersey almost immediately
after he and his teammates were eliminated from the postseason by the
Lakers in Game 6 of the Western Conference finals. It would be somewhat
of a leap to read anything into that gesture beyond what it was: a
player trying to put a difficult loss behind him as quickly as possible.
But for Stoudemire, as we’ve heard incessantly for the past two seasons,
there is much more to his reality.
Amar’e has a player option for the final year of his contract. If he chooses to take it, he’ll earn roughly $17 million next season, and can become an unrestricted free agent in the far-less-crowded summer of 2011. But many believe Stoudemire won’t wait that long, and will instead explore his options this summer — either through an extension with his current team, or by signing a new deal somewhere else. And maybe that’s true, which might have been the reason that Stoudemire candidly admitted afterward that he did indeed consider the fact that this game may have been his last as a member of the Phoenix Suns.
"It did, actually," Stoudemire said, when asked if that thought had crossed his mind. "It did. I didn’t know how to feel. As I was walking out, I was thinking it could be my last time walking through this tunnel with the Suns uniform on. I’ve been here my whole career, so I definitely had that feeling. But there’s a good possibility that I may be back."
There are two things that Stoudemire will weigh heavily as he ponders where to play next season, and in the seasons beyond. Despite all the talk about wanting to win a championship, first and foremost on the list is securing himself a max deal.
So far, the Suns haven’t been willing to go quite that far. And it’s unclear whether any other teams will step up and offer a guy who, despite his wealth of primarily offensive talents, clearly isn’t on the level of a Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, or Dwyane Wade, in terms of being someone who could carry a team to the promised land all by himself.
Stoudemire, though, continues to play up the championship angle. And in doing so, discussed how he plans to go about evaluating potential destinations this summer.
"It’s going to take a lot of research," Stoudemire said. "It’s going to take a lot of studying. It’s almost like fantasy basketball — trying to build a team and figure out, how can we win a championship, and with what team?"