In Defens’e Of Amar’e Stoudemire

I’ve recently come to the understanding that I am an Amare Stoudemire apologist. I’m not thrilled with this discovery. It’s a little too… kind for my tastes. But as the bile bubbles over in Phoenix towards Standing Tall and Talented, I find myself defending Amar’e’s selfish, immature behavior and defensive liabilities more and more.

Amare Stoudemire was an MVP candidate last year.

Not five years ago.

Not ten.

Last year.

He’s averaging 20.9 points and 8.2 rebounds per game.

This is a down year for him.

Okay, I’ll stop with the one line paragraphs. But I’m tring to make it clear how absurdly ridiculous the turned tide against him is. This is a 6-10 power forward with touch, range, the ability to move in transition, who is for large parts of games unstoppable. A bad game for him is one with less than 15 points. And for all the discussion of defense and effort and commitment, you can have all of those things but if you’re playing in the NBA and not for San Diego Technical Institute of Marine Biology, you need to put some freaking points on the board.

And yet there we are. The fans have turned on him. And not “maybe we should trade him” turned. “He sucks and he’s a bum and he’s not half the player Shaq is.” Which should never be said at this point in their careers unless you’re talking about actual physical size. Or if the game is mouthing off things that help absolutely no one including yourself.

Now, Ziller’s already pointed out that much of the criticism is a sham. Yeah, he’s struggling. But really? You’re willing to bet the farm that a 26 year old stunning power forward who came back from microfracture surgery isn’t going to bounce back? He’s not allowed a rough stretch? Oh, he’s never been good at defense, Mike D’Antoni just cleverly disguised him as an All-Star caliber player. Got it.

Let’s talk about his defense. This is something I’ve noticed and I wanted to point out. Now, Amare’s not good at defense. He’s not. He’s unfocused. He drifts. He doesn’t commit. He lacks resolve. But several times in the Warriors game on plays that seemed like were his fault, I noticed the same problem with what happened in the Tim Duncan three pointer last year in the playoffs. Amar’e tries so hard to stay with his man so he’s not criticized for leaving him, that he leaves players open. If you curl around Stoudemire, he’s going to stay right where he is. And point. But he’s not going to chase after a guy, leaving his man open for the entry pass.Now, you can call this a lack of basketball IQ, but not laziness. That’s bad coaching. A player shouldn’t be afraid to make a play. But that’s what I keep seeing from Amare. He’s so terrified about getting screamed at for leaving his man that he’s not leaving his man to stop the shooter.

Okay, but that’s only part of it. He’s clearly just not the player he used to be. He’s just not dominant. And this has been a while. He really hasn’t been all that great since…

Shaq became the focus.

Spacing is a ridiculously tentative element in the NBA. The Mavs last year had their biggest issue on the break when the Mavericks would all run to the same places they had for four years and Kidd would run right up someone’s backside. Conversely, the Knicks seem to be constantly amazed that there could be lanes that open. Stoudemire? Stoudemire has had a 300 pound loudmouth move into his apartment, eat all his cheezewhiz, hang up on all his calls when he’s on the other line, take up the DVR, drink all his Sunny D, and hit on his girlfriend. The acquisition of Shaq was supposed to create a dominant twin towers in the post. But in those combinations, one player is always the primary scorer alpha dog. And if Shaq is in your paint, he’s the alpha dog.

I’m not saying it’s Shaq’s fault.

Wait, yes I am.

It’s exactly Shaq’s fault. What’s more infuriating is that Phoenix fans have actually fallen for it. They truly believe that Shaq’s little resurgence, which has been conspicuously absent against playoff teams, I might add, will be what takes them deeper into the playoffs (deeper than multiple conference championship appearances and several six game series against the eventual champions, but hey, they act like they never got past the first round with D’Antoni). But let’s make this real simple. If you’re relying on a 37 year old center with conditioning issues who has trouble going in back to back games to lead you to a championship? You might as well say you’re starting Mr. Snuffleupagus. And for every soundbyte, for every “leadership” move, there’s another swipe to Amar’e.

I read the comments Amar’e made that enraged fans this week. Particularly this nugget.

““Me being one of the leaders and an all star you can put it on me.  I am not one of the Captains. You can’t put too much blame on me. It’s not supposed to be my job to rally the troops.””

It’s immature. I’m not denying that. It’s not what you want to hear. I’m not denying that either. It’s contrary to the best interests of the team. You can’t deny that. But this is a guy who was being built up as the future of the franchise. And instead, he’s got a guy who can’t always play in back-to-backs telling people he’s the problem. He’s been undermined. If you tell a member of a team, “We don’t want you to be a leader,” you can’t then get mad at them for not being a leader. He should take it on himself. That would be the best solution. But Amare’s never been in a position to learn that. And in the season that should have been his to grow into that role, Kerr cut the legs out from under him and piled the Big Shaqtus on top of him.

Phoenix is washing its hands with ‘ Stoudemire. And when he goes elsewhere and flourishes in a system that’s not Kerr-Porter, everyone will marvel and wonder, just as D’Antoni rebuilds the Knicks into contenders, Diaw and Bell have Charlotte playing respectably, and Phoenix continues to sputter into nothingness. The writing on the wall is in big, giant, neon letters, and yet no one seems willing to read it.

Matt Moore

Matt Moore is a Senior NBA Blogger for CBSSports.com's Eye on Basketball blog, weekend editor of Pro Basketball Talk on NBCSports.com, and co-editor of Voice on the Floor. He lives in Kansas City due to an unbelievably complex set of circumstances and enjoys mid-90's pop rock, long walks on the beach and the novels of Tim Sandlin.