Basketball Notes

Clouds are following Suns

He keeps getting asked, but Amar'e Stoudemire has no good answers regarding the Suns' struggles this season. He keeps getting asked, but Amar'e Stoudemire has no good answers regarding the Suns' struggles this season. (cheryl evans/Associated Press)
By Marc J. Spears
February 15, 2009
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All-Star Weekend in Phoenix was expected to include a celebration of the hometown Suns. Reality, however, brought a spotlight on how the underachieving and dysfunctional team now seems poised to trade young All-Star Amar'e Stoudemire, supposedly to help solve a long list of problems.

The Suns have four potential Hall of Fame players in Stoudemire, Shaquille O'Neal, Steve Nash, and Grant Hill. With such a loaded roster, they should be title contenders. But under overwhelmed first-year coach Terry Porter, they are currently out of a playoff spot, holding the ninth-best record in the Western Conference at 28-23.

"Our personnel is stunning, and for us to not be playing to that caliber, I can't figure it out, can't pinpoint it," Stoudemire said. "I'm still trying to figure it out now."

So what's wrong with the Suns?

O'Neal blames poor defense. Two Suns strongly blamed Porter, who has problems relating to the players, with one saying that O'Neal, Nash, and Hill privately want him gone. One player expressed his frustration toward Porter by cursing him behind his back after a loss in Boston this season. Stoudemire said if he were coach, he would "let the players play, have fun and be aggressive defensively."

"It's been a little adjustment for us," said Stoudemire. "Any time you walk into a new system, it's not going to work out off the top. Over time, we are still trying to build that chemistry. We made a trade with Raja [Bell] and Boris Diaw for Jason Richardson. So we are still trying to get that chemistry thing going."

There are rumors Porter could be replaced by veteran assistant Alvin Gentry. But most of the blame for the Suns' issues could lie with struggling general manager Steve Kerr and overzealous Mark Cuban-like owner Robert Sarver. And to rectify the situation and save money, the Suns want to trade one of the best young players in the NBA.

"I'd love to stay in Phoenix," said Stoudemire, who owns a restaurant across the street from US Airways Center. "My whole career has been here. My fan base is here. I would love to remain a Phoenix Sun."

One NBA general manager said Portland and Chicago have the best chance to land Stoudemire. Memphis is also a contender. Other suitors reportedly include Cleveland, Detroit, and the Clippers.

"There's a lot of rumors about Chicago," said Stoudemire, 26. "A lot of rumors about Cleveland, Miami. Any situation for any team I go to, I bring a lot to the table."

Probably the best way for the Suns to shine again is to have a no-holds-barred powwow with management, coaches, and the players to get on the same page after the All-Star break and do nothing trade-wise.

There is still time for Phoenix to rise. And if things don't improve, it's better to move a star like Stoudemire during the long offseason rather than with a gun at their head before Thursday's trade deadline.

"I don't know what's going on," Stoudemire said. "We are all not sure what's going on. I don't know how it's going to play out. It's going to be an interesting 10 days. We will see after that.

"I do see them keeping me. It's possible. It's 60-40. I think they would keep me, 60, not 40. The percentage doesn't always seem to work for me when I'm breaking it down. I don't know, man. We just have to wait and see what happens."

Nelson doesn't see a Magic disappearance

Injured All-Star guard Jameer Nelson is confident the Magic will be an Eastern Conference contender with or without him.

With three All-Stars, the Magic have been fighting for the best record in the East with Boston and Cleveland. But their hopes took a hit when Nelson suffered a torn labrum in his right (shooting) shoulder Feb. 2.

The Magic have allowed Nelson to consider medical options that would either allow him to return this season or have arthroscopic surgery that would require an expected six months of rehab.

"Well, I'm a competitor," said Nelson, who did some rehab work in Phoenix this weekend. "But I'm also smart. It's not like I am going to make a stupid decision in terms of playing or not playing.

"I just got to do the right thing. I got to listen to the doctors and see what they say and make a good decision."

Asked about the difficulty of Nelson's decision, Orlando All-Star center Dwight Howard said, "It's very tough, because on one end of the spectrum you want to think about the season and what we can accomplish this year. And then you have to think about your future with basketball and you don't want to mess that up.

"He's going to get the right choices from the different doctors and he's going to come up with a great plan. Whatever he decides to do, I'm going to stick behind him."

Nelson was averaging 16.7 points on 50.3 percent shooting from the field (45.3 percent from 3-point range) and had 5.4 assists per game. The former Saint Joseph's star is confident that Anthony Johnson and the recently acquired Tyronn Lue can fill his shoes while he is gone.

Orlando (38-13) is in third place in the Eastern Conference behind Boston (44-11) and Cleveland (40-11).

"We still can do it," Nelson said. "Those two guys, they know how to win. I don't know that they will put up the stats I put up. But they could. I think there is a good possibility they could.

"Those guys know how to win. They know how to get people the ball. They just play the game well."


That's one call he'll take
When an NBA coach calls a player in his hotel room on a road trip and says he needs to speak urgently, it usually means the player has been traded or waived. "Traded" was the thought that went through the mind of Cavaliers guard Mo Williams when he got such a call prior to a game in Indianapolis from coach Mike Brown.

But Williams was in for one of the biggest surprises of his life, as Brown told him he was replacing injured Toronto forward Chris Bosh (sprained right knee) on the Eastern Conference All-Star team.

"I was in the hotel asleep taking my pregame nap and my phone was blowing up, blowing up in the hotel," said Williams, who already had plans to be in Phoenix for All-Star weekend. "It's 3 o'clock p.m., and I'm in my room under an alias. Who knows this number?

"I answer the phone and he says, 'Mike Brown.' He said he was going to be at my room in five seconds. He really meant five seconds.

"I was like, 'What the hell is going on? I got traded, blockbuster deal.' But then I went to the door and he told me. The funny thing was I didn't even know Chris Bosh was hurt."

When Williams wasn't voted in as an All-Star reserve over Ray Allen and Jameer Nelson, teammate LeBron James expressed strong disappointment that Boston and Orlando had three All-Stars while Cleveland had only one. Williams said he was flattered by the support of James, fans, and media.

"I was kind of waiting on the answer for the first time when I originally didn't get picked," Williams said. "I was emotionally drained. And when they got Ray, it didn't hurt as bad. The thing that made me feel a whole lot better was that the world, the media was saying that 'Mo should be there' and 'Mo got snubbed.'

"You couldn't help but read or listen to it. Every game we played, they were talking about it. It was great to get people's opinion that felt I should have been there.

"When it did happen, I felt like I was the top vote-getter."

Enjoying the sunset
Suns center Shaquille O'Neal is sentimental about playing in tonight's All-Star Game since he knows it could be his last. "I'm soaking it in," O'Neal said. "I'm getting real happy about knowing it's all about to end. I remember when I was [young], I looked at people and said I wanted to do this. When it's all said and done, I'll be able to say I'm in the top five in scoring, not bad, the top 10 in blocks, not bad, four different teams, not bad, hell of a player, everybody liked him, not bad. I was able to accomplish more than I wanted to accomplish." O'Neal will be reunited with Phil Jackson and Kobe Bryant on the West team tonight. They won three titles together with the Lakers, but after several verbal battles with Bryant, O'Neal was dealt to Miami in the summer of 2004. "To us, it's really not that big of a story," Bryant said. "I'm not revisiting that. It wasn't a fun time for me, so I'm not about to revisit it."

Two-way street
Asked about admitted steroids user Alex Rodriguez, and respecting the integrity of your sport, James said, "If you love the game and respect the game, it is definitely going to treat you well. Me as an individual, I can't speak for Alex. I can't speak for anybody. I can only speak for myself. I know the history of the game of basketball. I love the history of the game of basketball, and I wouldn't downplay the game."

Help for the Heat
Miami All-Star Dwyane Wade on the Heat acquiring forward/center Jermaine O'Neal and forward Jamario Moon in a trade with Toronto: "It gives us some power down low, which we need. Our main thing is we can get it together faster. We just got to get everybody on the same page. Hopefully, we can get a breather during the All-Star break."

The eternal question
The oddest media question of All-Star weekend came when someone asked East guard Allen Iverson if he was going to heaven or hell. "I have done a lot of good things in my life, and I have done a lot of bad things in my life," Iverson answered. "I don't know. I hope the good things that I have done in my life outweighs it, because I damn sure don't want to go to hell." Asked if it's difficult not knowing the answer, Iverson said, "I'm not saying that I'm not in, because I think I am unless some things go dramatically wrong in the next however many years. I think I will be walking through those gates."

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