<
>

Suns' Stoudemire declares himself 'about 100 percent'

PHOENIX -- Italy was good for Amare Stoudemire.

The dynamic Phoenix Suns power forward said Saturday that he's
"about 100 percent" healthy after his up-and-down recovery from
microfracture knee surgery.

"Right now I haven't felt any pain, no discomfort," he said.
"I'm glad to be back."

The Suns returned from their European training camp Thursday and
held an open practice for fans Saturday before leaving for Las
Vegas, where they play the Los Angeles Lakers in a preseason game
Sunday night.

Stoudemire's status looked shaky at best last week when
stiffness in his knees forced him to sit out a practice in Italy.

Since then, he's participated in every practice and the team's
two preseason games in Germany.

"I had a day off practice and then that next day I just felt
great," Stoudemire said. "Then I came back on back-to-back
practices and felt even better. Then I came back for the game and
felt even better. Each day I've been feeling better."

Coach Mike D'Antoni is encouraged.

"He's looking better on the court," D'Antoni said. "Every
once in a while he'll explode with a big dunk. You see him running
better and he's more fluid, so it has to be good news."

The 24-year-old underwent surgery on his left knee a year ago,
shortly after signing a five-year, $73 million contract.

He tried to come back last March, playing in three games before
shutting it down. Eventually, he had arthroscopic surgery on his
right knee.

Since then, he has had good days and bad days, but believes he
has finally broken through.

"It's tough to get in shape, it's tough to do certain things
when you're feeling pain every time you make a move," Stoudemire
said. "Now that that's over, I'm ready to roll."

Stoudemire drew a big cheer when he was introduced to the fans
at U.S. Airways Center on Saturday. In the team's brief public
scrimmage, his most notable play was an emphatic blocked shot.

"That was nice, to finally be back within the team," he said,
"just enjoying the atmosphere. It's great. It's been a long time
coming. Last season was so painful to go through."

Stoudemire's teammates are not placing all their hopes on the
big guy returning to the dominant form he showed two seasons ago.

Steve Nash noted the Suns made it to the Western Conference
finals a year ago before being eliminated by Dallas.

"Last year we were pretty close without him," he said. "If
Raja (Bell) hadn't tweaked his calf I think we had a great chance
to win that series. It would be awesome to have him, but if we
don't we still feel like we've got a lot of good pieces to work
with."

D'Antoni doesn't know if Stoudemire will be a starter when the
Suns open the season Oct. 31 at the Los Angeles Clippers. Nash said
working Stoudemire into the mix "is going to take some time."

"We've played together for a year without him and our game was
a little different than it was the year before," Nash said, "so I
think it's' going to take time to fit him back into the system."

Stoudemire said he still needs a periodic day off, and the Suns
are being patient.

"If we can get Amare back 100 percent by opening day, great,"
D'Antoni said. "If not, sometime during the season he'll be 100
percent. We've just got to mesh everybody together and keep playing
and knock wood and see what we can do."