Sources: Stoudemire likely to stay
There are suddenly strong signals emanating from the desert that the coaching change announced Monday by the Phoenix Suns will be the only big personnel change they make this week.
After the Suns spent several days taking and making phone calls on potential trades for Amare Stoudemire and Shaquille O'Neal, NBA front-office sources told ESPN.com that Phoenix -- having received a series of underwhelming proposals for Stoudemire -- now prefers to leave its core intact for the rest of the season to see if new coach Alvin Gentry can do more with this group than the outgoing Terry Porter.
"I got the impression today that [the Suns] are standing pat," said one source with knowledge of the team's thinking.
Said another source close to the situation: "That is very accurate."
In a session with reporters after Gentry's first practice Monday, Suns guard Steve Nash said: "Everyone feels like the coaching change is the move we decided to make for these last 31 games. Obviously anything is possible, but we feel that it's going to be this group that goes the rest of the way. ... We think the team is going to stay the same. We look at this as a 31-game season."
Officials from two other teams who spoke Monday with Phoenix told ESPN.com that the Suns' willingness to consider offers for Stoudemire has been scaled back considerably from last week, when Stoudemire himself seemed resigned to being sent elsewhere, telling reporters: "I know for sure, wherever I go, we're going to definitely be playoff contenders."
During All-Star Weekend in Phoenix, Stoudemire backed off the idea that he'd be leaving town, saying he now believed that there was a "60-40" chance he'd be staying with the Suns beyond Thursday's trading deadline. The odds against an Amare deal seem significantly higher after Monday's developments, with the Suns ending days of speculation by formally dismissing Porter and replacing him with the popular Gentry.
The Suns' stance could conceivably change again before Thursday's 3 p.m. deadline, given Suns owner Robert Sarver's unpredictable nature and his well-known desire to lower a payroll that is nearly $5 million over the league's $71.2 million luxury-tax threshold. The trade deadline is also the final opportunity for all NBA teams to reduce their tax bills for this season.
Yet sources close to the process expressed pessimism that the offers for Stoudemire will get better in the next few days, thanks to the growing number of teams around the league averse to taking on expensive contracts these days because of the faltering economy.
The financial concerns that prompted Phoenix to shop Stoudemire in the first place have only become more serious with Porter's dismissal, since Sarver was forced to eat an estimated $4 million in guaranteed salary due to Porter over the next two seasons. In the Suns' discussions with numerous teams, however, sources say they were never close to landing the desired combination of salary-cap relief, young talent and draft picks to convince them to part with Stoudemire, who just played in his fourth All-Star Game at 26 and ranks as the league's most successful comeback case from the dreaded microfracture knee surgery.
Several teams contacted Monday night by ESPN.com were unanimous in the belief that the Suns are serious about taking Stoudemire off the market -- at least until the draft in June when he is likely to be available again -- in spite of the potential financial benefit to Sarver were Stoudemire or O'Neal to be exchanged for a large expiring contract. The initial leaguewide reaction suggests that this has not been received as a ploy from the Suns to generate better offers.
The Chicago Bulls were widely considered the favorites to land Stoudemire, but sources say Phoenix is not as high on Bulls forward Tyrus Thomas -- who would have been packaged with Drew Gooden's $7.2 million expiring contract -- as media reports have suggested. The Detroit Pistons have a much larger expiring contract to offer but don't have nearly as many movable young players to add to Rasheed Wallace's $13.9 million ending salary as the Bulls do.
Sources say that the Suns also exchanged Stoudemire trade concepts with Golden State, Cleveland, Memphis and Sacramento, among others. Phoenix had strong interest in Rudy Gay but was rebuffed by the Grizzlies in its efforts to obtain him. The Suns also attempted to pry rookie forward Jason Thompson, two expiring contracts (Bobby Jackson and Shelden Williams) and what will almost certainly be a top-five pick in June from the Kings for Stoudemire but were unsuccessful there as well.
"We looked at it," Kings co-owner Joe Maloof told ESPN.com when asked about the prospect of pairing Stoudemire with leading scorer Kevin Martin. "Never say never, but right now, no."
As for O'Neal, Phoenix never held great hope of finding a trade partner, in spite of the 36-year-old's renaissance this season. It's believed that the Suns, because of their financial situation, will continue to make the All-Star Game's co-MVP with Kobe Bryant available through the deadline, but they privately acknowledge that the chances of a deal remain highly unlikely with O'Neal scheduled to earn $21 million next season.
At a news conference to announce Gentry's hiring, Kerr stopped short of promising that the Suns would sit out the deadline completely, but did add: "I'd like to keep what we have and go forward and see what we can do."
The Suns return to work Tuesday night at home against the Los Angeles Clippers as the West's No. 9 team, one game behind Utah for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West with a record of 28-23.
Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here.
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