Commentary

PER Diem: Feb. 10, 2009

Looks as if last year's Shaq trade is about to cost the Suns Amare Stoudemire.

Updated: February 10, 2009, 6:46 PM ET
By John Hollinger | ESPN.com

SunsBarry Gossage/NBAE/Getty ImagesThe Suns appear to be giving up on the trio of Shaq, Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire.

Hope you have enjoyed the Shaq era, Phoenix. Because it's about to cost you Amare Stoudemire.

The Amare trade bonanza has been fast and furious the past few days, with teams up and down both coasts racing in to make their offers. But before Stoudemire packs his bags and heads out of the desert, let's take a step back and ask ourselves what, exactly, the Suns hope to accomplish here.

Clearly, the team is underachieving, and I can certainly understand ownership's position that paying the luxury tax to finish between seventh and ninth in the West is unacceptable. So costs must be cut. Fair enough. And given the age of several key players, it's obvious that a rebuilding program must begin.

But why is it that the guy the Suns are pushing to move is 26-year-old Stoudemire? Wouldn't that be the one guy they'd be trying to keep?

I understand that there are some personality issues here and that Stoudemire's aversion to defense has grown increasingly tiresome. At the same time, shouldn't the fact that most of the teams pushing hardest to get Stoudemire are themselves rebuilding set off alarms in Phoenix ?

And once the Suns move Stoudemire, they'll still have Steve Nash, 35, and Grant Hill and Shaquille O'Neal, both 36; obviously, the rebuilding would still have a ways to go.

Of course, there might be political considerations here, too. From a basketball perspective, the obvious player to move is Nash, who is still effective, has a reasonable salary and likely would produce some fairly compelling offers; doing that would allow Phoenix to rebuild around Stoudemire, Jason Richardson and Leandro Barbosa.

But this is also the time of year when season-ticket renewals are in full swing, and I would surmise there's a legitimate and completely rational fear that fans would stay away in droves if the team's most popular and watchable player were no longer around.

The next best move would be to deal Shaq, but his $20 million salary next year makes him nearly unmovable; even with his increased production this year, it's doubtful any team is going to offer such a massive haul of expiring contracts to get 60 games of Shaq.

Which gets us back to my main point -- the Shaq trade is essentially going to cost the team Amare Stoudemire.

If Phoenix still had Shawn Marion, whose contract expires this offseason, the team wouldn't have any need to cut next year's payroll to get under the tax -- Marion's expiration date would accomplish that feat.

Instead, the Suns not only will end up losing their best player under 30 but will get a reduced dowry for him because of the impact this year's Shaq-centered system has had on his numbers.

It's yet another sign that the Sarver-Kerr era in Phoenix is going to be very different from the reign of the Colangelos. Under Robert Sarver's ownership, the Suns raffled off draft picks that resulted in quality players' going to other teams (Nate Robinson, Rajon Rondo, Rudy Fernandez), while using their own on noncontributors (Alando Tucker, Robin Lopez and Goran Dragic). They pushed out a hugely successful coach and brought in a new one who has never produced nearly the same results, and have screwed up the cap at nearly every turn (Marcus Banks and Boris Diaw, take a bow).

About the only thing propping up the Suns at the moment is that Bryan Colangelo left them with Nash, Marion, Stoudemire and Barbosa before he headed out the door. But as Phoenix prepares to rebuild around its 35-year-old point guard -- doesn't that sentence sound strange? -- one has to get a sinking feeling that this era of Suns basketball will be very different from the one that preceded it.

John Hollinger writes for ESPN Insider. To e-mail him, click here.