What’s next for Amar’e Stoudemire?

Phoenix Suns forward Amar’e Stoudemire announced today that he will, too, join the free-agent powwow with the other megastars LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, and Joe Johnson.

After his team bowed out of the Western Conference playoffs despite a valiant effort against the Los Angeles Lakers, one has to wonder — what’s on the docket for STAT next season?

A few months ago, it was a foregone conclusion Stoudemire would depart Phoenix this summer. The last two seasons, his name was rumored wildly at the trade deadline, too. Thanks to the team’s overcoming a midseason lull and the aforementioned run through the postseason, no one’s so sure anymore.

That said, Stoudemire’s destination next season will largely depend on whether he can command a maximum salary from any given team. Will the Suns, clinging to the coattails of Steve Nash’s remarkable career, pony up and pay Amare the maximum? It remains a question.

Stoudemire will be an offensive force no matter where he plays. His explosiveness and athleticism paired with a solid shooting touch out to 18 feet make him a dynamic threat. Not withstanding his exceptional ability, there are questions about his character (his work ethic, in particular), his rebounding, his defense, and, most importantly …

The status of his knees. Stoudemire has played very good basketball in the wake of his microfracture knee surgery, a procedure that can be damning to the success of NBA players. Amar’e has dealt with it swimmingly so far, but as he gets older, it may become a much larger issue.

If Stoudemire decides to leave Phoenix, it would be a big blow to the long-term future of the franchise. While Nash plays through his final years, he’ll struggle to continue to lead a team without a true companion like Stoudemire — someone who pairs perfectly with the point guard in the pick-and-roll game. They’ll be confined to the lottery for years to come and will have to begin a lengthy rebuilding process.

On the contrary, the team that brings him on board will be in for quite a bonus. But if he wants to play on a true contender, that team will have to be solid on the defensive end already. The problems against the Lakers front court was evident, and unless Amar’e plays alongside a true defensive paint presence, it will be more of the same for that new team.

Assuming everything goes well for STAT in terms of his health and the condition of his knees, the future is bright for him. He still about eight or nine years left in his career, and for most of that, he will be an offensive dynamo. His decision this summer has a much larger impact on the Suns and any team he might join than it does on himself.

Maybe the other big stars have some advice for him.

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