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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, May 24, 2010

NBA: Stoudemire is still a Sun and they’re still contenders, for the moment

By Mark Heisler
Los Angeles Times

PHOENIX — Last Tango in the Valley of the Sun?

With the NBA now all exit scenarios all the time, Tuesday's Game 4 could have been Amare Stoudemire's last as a Sun if he hadn't just staved it off by dropping 42 on the Lakers.

It's not clear whether Amare was playing for his future as a Sun, or as a multimillionaire wherever, but in any case Suns Coach Alvin Gentry didn't mind.

As Gentry said, laughing, at the postgame news conference: "I hope you ask him 10 questions about free agency."

Nor are local fans sure how to feel about possibly losing Amare after his matador waves in Games 1-2, recalling other bad times, like in January, when an Arizona Republic headline asked:

"Suns' Amare Stoudemire playing his way out of town?"

In good news, even if it wasn't like the invention of air conditioning locally, Stoudemire is still a Sun and they're still contenders, for the moment.

Meanwhile in Cleveland, where fans do care whether LeBron James leaves, the Cavaliers not only fired Coach Mike Brown, they booted him out the door, all but fingering him for messing up everything.

Now they can get 'Bron a great coach and they're on their way!

Unfortunately for them, ESPN's Andy Katz struck down the rumor it would be Duke's Mike Krzyzewski.

Coach K thus joined the growing list of coaches not being packaged with LeBron.

Just to move the process along, The Times has learned these coaches won't be packaged with LeBron, either:

Roy Williams, Rick Barnes, Ben Howland, John Thompson III, John Thompson II, Bob Knight, Digger Phelps, Red Auerbach, Al McGuire, Frank McGuire, Hank Iba, Clair Bee or Phog Allen.

In a less-than-gracious farewell, Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert said the hard-working, soft-spoken Brown was fired "after a long and deep analysis of all of the factors that led to the disappointing early ends to our playoff runs over the past two seasons."

With no announcement of other forthcoming changes, that seemed to leave Brown on the hook for many, most, or all "those factors."

Not that it was a good time for Gilbert to acknowledge they could have gotten him better players, since those players are all that's there.

Don't worry 'Bron, we'll go and get some real players this time!

The Cavaliers, of course, have dreaded this day for the seven years they've had James.

In contrast, the Suns and Stoudemire have been doing this separation tango longer than the Willem Dafoe death scene in "Platoon."

It started last season when financially strapped Suns owner Bob Sarver decided to slash salary, starting with Stoudemire, then 26, rather than Shaquille O'Neal, then 36, and a walking class of cultures as a Sun.

By way of explanation, it was Sarver who first got the exciting call from Miami owner Mickey Arison, informing him Shaq was available!

Sarver helped shop Stoudemire personally, just as Phoenix hosted the 2009 All-Star game.

For his part, Amare wasn't embarrassed at being, quote, caught in the middle, as someone delicately suggested at the All-Star media session.

"In the middle?" he exclaimed. "Are you kidding me? I'm on top!

"Everyone is on the trading block according to them. I don't know if they're giving up on the season or we're trying to win a championship here."

Cooler heads prevailed, or at least everyone's head except that of coach Terry Porter, who was fired in lieu of dumping Stoudemire.

This season, coming off eye surgery and upset at still being here, Stoudemire slouched around for months, prompting the story asking whether he was "playing his way out of town" by the Republic's Paul Coro.

Again the Suns shopped Stoudemire. Again, they got lowball offers and kept him.

Then came something surprising: Instead of sulking the rest of the way, Stoudemire played two months of the best basketball of his career.

Insiders say Gentry, confronting the issue head-on, told him, "Make someone pay you."

That's just what happened, whether it will be the Suns, Heat, Knicks or Nets doing the paying.

"What I said to him," Gentry says, "was, 'Listen, you have no control over it, I have no control over it. You just have to worry about how you perform on the court. If you do great on the court, it will all work out anyway. If you don't, there are going to be questions out there.' "

At this point, the Lakers have some questions about Stoudemire, too, like who's guarding him?

Even with the Stoudemire-Steve Nash pick-and-roll, one of the game's most devastating plays, the Lakers had held Amare to 20 points a game over three seasons, before losing track of him Sunday.

All that rides on finding him in Game 4 are the Lakers and Suns postseasons, and all the Suns seasons to come.