The bloodshot right eye, the pronounced redness that spider webs through what should be the white portion of the ball, is the immediate reminder that the comeback from the detached retina is not complete and will not be for some time, just as his conditioning is not where it needs to be after seven months of doctor-ordered inactivity.But his eye is improving. His stamina is getting better, to where he should be going 100 percent sometime early in this intersection regular season in Phoenix. And, in other important healing news, he thinks he will be a Sun all 2009-10.
This is Amar’e Stoudemire recovering.
The rehab update amid serious questions about his physical state and his emotional commitment to Phoenix is that Stoudemire is stabilizing on both fronts. The Suns are thrilled with his work ethic, say the conditioning is coming and that the All-Star power forward is not shying from contact or showing any other flinching in the return from eye surgery. The Suns also made him a captain and have seen Stoudemire embrace more of a leadership role on a roster that already has Grant Hill and Steve Nash.
Good and good, because no player in the league begins the season facing the same double scrutiny — whether he wants to be there and whether he can still be there. The location detail is Arizona and the capability issue is about two major operations in a little less than 3 1/2 years, the microfracture knee surgery in October 2005 and repairing the detached retina on Feb. 20. Stoudemire played 289 of a possible 299 games in between, but he is pointing toward free agency and potential suitors will want to see a return to superstar durability before committing to superstar money.
That free agency thing rules all. Stoudemire can opt out of his deal and join the Summer of LeBron party after this season, taking a good portion of the Suns’ rebuilding plans with him. In the meantime, the possibility alone will be a major factor in potential trade discussions before February if Phoenix wants to get away from the 2010 uncertainty or get away from the mammoth contract while adding prospects and picks, just as it was a major factor in the Golden State-Phoenix talks breaking down in June. The Warriors were never going to mortgage a large part of their future for a player who could be a one-year rental, Stoudemire was never going to promise unbending love to a lottery-logged franchise, and there went that blockbuster, even apart from the complication of Golden State refusing to part with Stephen Curry. It wouldn’t have happened if either side gave in on Curry’s inclusion because Stoudemire was not going to surrender a path to the open market.