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Scott Howard-Cooper

Amar'e Stoudemire says he leaning hard toward joining the free agent class of 2010.
Christian Petersen/NBAE via Getty Images

Stoudemire says he's thinking of joining the Class of 2010

Posted Mar 23 2010 12:28AM

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Encouraged by several weeks at the top of his game and emotionally rejuvenated by finally feeling 100 percent again after a serious eye injury, Amar'e Stoudemire strongly indicated Monday he will opt out of the final season of his Suns contract and become a free agent.

Stoudemire cautioned that no final decision has been made. But, speaking before the Suns played the Warriors at Oracle Arena, he told that "It's definitely a great time. The timing is perfect as far as being a free agent. But it doesn't determine whether I stay or not."

Told that it seemed as though he was leaning hard toward joining the summer market that may already include LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Joe Johnson, Stoudemire smiled. Then he repeated the statement.

"It's a great time to be a free agent."

Timing wise, it's actually perfect. Stoudemire went into Monday averaging 30.2 points and 10.2 rebounds the previous 10 games, pushing an All-Star campaign to new heights. He had at least 30 points in six of the 10 and Friday against the Jazz, a good defensive team, needed only 16 shots to score 40, the fewest attempts anyone in the league has needed to break 40 in 2009-10.

His second-half play has been a major factor in the Suns, given an outside chance at the start of the season to make the playoffs, remaining in contention for a top-four finish in the Western Conference and home-court advantage at least in the first round of the playoffs. Not only had they won four in a row and seven of nine before facing the Warriors, but the victory list included beating Denver by 16 on the second night of a back-to-back, beating Utah by 10 and beating Portland by six.

This is obviously great news for the Suns. What it is not, he insists, is a sign of relief over not being traded, even if the timing is impossible to overlook. Stoudemire was having a good season, played well through the constant stream of rumors as the Feb. 18 deadline approached while earning praise from team officials for maintaining his focus in a swirling time, he remained in Phoenix after all, and then he began having an extremely good season.

This is simply Stoudemire feeling good, physically and emotionally, for the first time since season-ending surgery to repair a serious eye injury in February 2009. Doctors prohibited him from physical activity for months. He had to use the start of the regular season to play himself into proper basketball shape.

"A lot of people think that's the reason for it," Stoudemire said of his surge coming in the wake of the trade deadline. "It really wasn't. During the trade rumors, the first three games or so were a little difficult for me because I didn't understand why the talk was happening. But after those three games, that's when it started. It's been going for a while, even before the actual deadline. The trade deadline didn't really play a factor.

"Being off that long, it's definitely tough to get back in rhythm. Physically, it also plays a factor. I definitely finally came back in top shape, and also the IQ of the game is definitely coming around. Really, putting both of those aspects and also studying the game together equals success."

Stoudemire would be leaving $17.7 million on the table if he opted out. His options are to get a new deal in the summer or stay in the contract, play the final season and then get another contract. And if he does declare himself a free agent, he was quick to point out Monday, it wouldn't necessarily be to leave. He likes Phoenix and at various times of an uncertain future in the Valley of the Sun made it clear his preference was to stay, a feeling supported by some close to him. He could become a free agent and re-sign.

"He wants to be a great basketball player," coach Alvin Gentry said. "Obviously, financially, that becomes a factor. He's 27 years old. But I think right now, he hasn't really given it that much thought. All he talks about right now is trying to get us in the playoffs and going far in the playoffs. I think that's where all his focus is right now. I'm sure at the end of the season, he's going to sit down and he's going to say, 'What works best for me?' And that's the way it should be. It should be what works best for him. Obviously he's been a huge part of our franchise and there's no reason why would not want to have him back and would not work hard to try and get him back."

Making it a great time to be a free agent.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here.

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