- Marc Stein, ESPN Senior Writer
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This would be a fine time for Amare Stoudemire to reaffirm how truly amazing he can be.
To recover from microfracture surgery in a mere four months, as the Phoenix Suns' medical staff projects, Stoudemire might have to be more freakish than ever.
For no one in the NBA has ever rebounded that quickly from hole-drilling in the knee.
Tuesday brought word of the season's first major injury and, sadly, it's a doozy. With the Suns hopeful that they wouldn't lose the future of their franchise for more than a month, Stoudemire wound up having a surgery that quickly proceeded from exploratory to serious and promptly landed him on a team no one wants to join:
The All-Microfracture Team.
It features Jason Kidd and Allan Houston at the guards, Jamal Mashburn and Chris Webber at the forwards and Stoudemire, blessed with the potential to be better than any of those guys at their best, suddenly at center.
It sounds like an All-Star team, but it's actually a collection of famous names that has mostly encountered long, painful recoveries from a procedure that has returned only Kidd to the vicinity of peak form.
The good news?
Stoudemire is only 22. The defect that led to the surgery, furthermore, is considered far smaller and less serious than the original injuries which plagued Kidd, Houston, Mashburn and Webber. The Suns thus contend that they're taking an aggressive course to prevent a problem from becoming a major problem.
Combine that contention with Stoudemire's youth and you have the basis for the Suns' belief that Stoudemire can be back on the floor sometime after the All-Star break in late February.
"I would be a lot more down or depressed if I really thought this would affect Amare's future," Suns coach Mike D'Antoni said by phone Tuesday night. "I don't think it will."
Earlier in the day, D'Antoni told reporters in Phoenix that he fully expects Stoudemire "to be great when he comes back and wow the fans for 10 more years."
Suns fans can only hope. They can also be pardoned if they're not quite ready to echo the coach's confidence, because it wasn't so long ago that Penny Hardaway, one of the league's first high-profile microfracture patients, never came close to living up to the rich contract Phoenix gave him.
And Hardaway is hardly alone. Microfracture procedures couldn't save Mashburn or Terrell Brandon and likewise haven't resulted in lasting improvements for Webber, Houston, Alvin Williams and Eduardo Najera.
Utah's Matt Harpring, who underwent his second microfracture surgery in April, hopes to be ready for Opening Night, which would represent a six-month recovery.
Just the stigma attached to the word -- microfracture -- inevitably generates a loud and fearful groan, especially with Stoudemire having signed a five-year max contract extension on the eve of camp. So soon after the controversial departure of Joe Johnson, no one in the desert was expecting another blow of this magnitude.
Definitely not so soon after Phoenix just invested more than $70 million on Stoudemire's knees and everything else.
D'Antoni, though, insisted the other day in Tucson that no one in the organization thinks they were duped. The Suns knew in the summer that Stoudemire's knee was bothering him and, as D'Antoni pointed out with a healthy dose of understatement, "I'm pretty sure we were going to sign him anyway."
The Suns also aren't budging on their belief that Stoudemire is a different case that any of the famous names before him, because of his age and the (lesser) severity of his injury and where it is inside his left knee.
Can Stoudemire make it back faster than the players before him?
He is a Phoenix Sun, after all, and an unquestioned freak of nature with his package of size, speed and power. So it's not impossible. (Although we'll have to see where the Suns are in February to gauge whether it's even worth rushing back for.)
Portland's Zach Randolph is another youthful power player trying to make it back from microfracture faster than ever before. Who knows? Maybe Randolph and Stoudemire can revolutionize the rehab process together, just as Stoudemire and Nash modernized the pick-and-roll.
You don't have to be a Suns fan to hope so. No matter where your allegiances rest, you'd miss the Suns and the way they run and gun if Stoudemire were to end up missing the usual six-to-eight months.
"Amare's a pretty amazing guy," said Suns point guard Steve Nash, the reigning MVP, of his favorite assist target. "I don't ever want to say there's something he can't do. We're just going to hope for the fastest possible recovery and try to be a better team when he comes back. There are lot of unknowns, and we have a lot to prove without him, but the mood is pretty upbeat considering."
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