Rumors abound around the Interwebs that the Cavs and Phoenix Suns are talking about a possible deal sending PF Amare Stoudemire to Cleveland in exchange for the expiring contract of Wally Szczerbiak, J.J. Hickson and a draft pick. While I usually dismiss these rumors as the longings of the ESPN Trade Machine analysts, I give this one credence because the conversations are being reported by the very reputable Brian Windhorst of the Plain Dealer. As you recall, Windhorst broke the Hughes/Wallace trade of last season and told Cleveland about Mo Williams' arrival, while Windhorst was driving home from the hospital after a long illness. Needless to say, when Windhorst reports something, I listen.
As a Cavs fan, it's hard not to get very excited about the possibility of Amare lining up next to Lebron, Mo, Delonte and Z. Amare is a bonafide star in the NBA. He has been named as an All-Star 4 times in his young career, 2005, 2007, 2008, and the present season. On the year Amare is averaging 21 pts, 8 rebounds, and over a block a game. And while I love the intensity of Big Ben, compare that to Wallace's numbers as our starting PF, 3 points a game, a little under 7 boards and 1.5 blocks - essentially an offensive blackhole. Amare is only 26 years old and will most likely be looking for an extension if he gets traded.
Let's step back and think about this deal. The Cavs get a young offensively dominate big man, for Wally's expiring contract, an exciting, but inconsistent, player in J.J. Hickson, and probably a very late first round draft pick. And with Wally most likely getting bought out and potentially even returning to the Cavs, Cleveland gets a 4-time All-Star for Hickson, (who at his developmental peak may be a Carlos Boozer type player) and unknown quantity in what is shaping up to be a weak draft class. So, the question becomes, what's more important - having an Amare Stoudemire on the team now or keeping Hickson's potential and the chemistry of the team intact. I think Hickson showed in the Lakers' game against Lamar Odom that he cannot be trusted yet. Windhorst on his weekly podcast indicated that Mike Brown currently does not feel comfortable playing Hickson in important game situations. It really boils down to come playoff time who do you want guarding Kevin Garnett or Chris Bosh - Hickson or Stoudemire? The answer is obvious. I like Hickson's potential, but you have to give talent to get talent. The Suns aren't going to give up Amare for the rights to Trajan Langdon.
There are some negatives to the Stoudemire deal. First, Yahoo is already reporting the deal has fallen flat, and if anything is to be worked out that a third team may have to get involved. However, at the same time, their article points out the realities that Steve Kerr and Danny Ferry are very close, having played together with the Spurs and the Cavs. A good working relationship may go a long way to smoothing out any holdups which may kill other deals. And, if this something both GMs want to get done, their friendship makes it all the more likely.
Second, the obvious weakness in Stoudemire's game is his defense. As explained by ESPN's John Hollinger, "He's a poor help defender and tends to pick up cheap fouls...fouls tend to be a big differentiator with him -- if he gets a quick two, he'll don a toreador outfit for the remainder of the half." Mike Brown prides himself on having a defensively sound basketball team. As a Sun, Amare wasn't really expected to play any defense with Mike D'Antoni's style of basketball. Can he come to the Cavs and pick up his defensive intensity? Well, the same criticisms were leveled at Mo Williams before he joined the Cavs, and it appears apparent things have worked out in that respect. Lebron and Mike Brown have been very successful at getting players to buy into the team's philosphy. Even Wally, known to wear a toreador outfit himself at times, has shown a knack for making the tough defensive plays and fighting for rebounds this season.
Another red flag is that Amare did have microfracture surgery on his knee during the 2005-2006 season, missing almost the entire year. I'm always a bit weary of committing money to a player with such a serious injury in his past. However, since his return, Stoudemire has played at the same level of basketball and has shown no signs of any ill effects - playing every game in the 2006-2007 season and 79 games last year. Making the All-Star team that last three years also has eased my concerns on this point.
There have also been some grumblings about Amare's desire to be the main man on any team to which he is dealt. Obviously, with the Cavs Amare will never fill that role with Lebron here. If Amare wants to be the top dog, I suggest he look to Memphis or a team of that caliber. I mean, Ricky Davis was the leader of a very bad Cavs' team. However, if Amare wants to win, get national exposure next to the best player in the game and help build a dynasty, then let's welcome him abroad. It's hard to imagine that Stoudemire won't be excited about teaming up with Lebron. I mean, look at the picture above - it's obvious he's praying to get a championship. Trust me, Amare, we're praying with you.
If the Cavs do indeed make a move for Amare, they must make sure that it won't greatly impact the team chemistry. The last thing the Cavs need is to destroy what appears to be one of the most cohesive groups in the NBA. With Amare coming over, the Cavs would have to consider how the rotation would be impacted. Would Wallace be alright with coming off the bench or would he take it as an insult? Would Andy be happy becoming the 4th big man as he heads towards the free agency? How does Amare mesh with Z? If Wally does indeed get bought out, how does a month off before returning impact his game? And mostly importantly - is Lebron on board? Every move has to be made with an eye towards keeping Lebron long-term. Lebron has to be asked, point blank - is Amare a guy you feel like you can play with for several years to come?
In the end, the goal remains to put the team in the best possible position to win a championship this season. Adding Amare, no question, seems to make the Cavs a better team than they are without him. Do I think this deal gets done in the end? I wouldn't hold my breath. Am I glad that Ferry is exploring every opition and avenue? I'd be disappointed if he wasn't. Just hearing the Cavs being connected to Amare and other big names on the market is evidence that the goal of this team is to do whatever it takes to win it all now - which is something Cleveland fans haven't experienced in a long, long time. Share your thoughts Cavs fans - this season may get a lot more exciting very shortly. (Images from Real GM, Dime Mag).