Amar'e Stoudemire's surgically repaired knees left the Phoenix Suns leery of giving their superstar the five-year contract he was looking for in the offseason.
The New York Knicks had no such reservations.
Stoudemire has rejuvenated the Knicks while enjoying one of the most productive seasons of his career heading into Friday night's return to Phoenix, where he'll find the franchise he deserted looking like a shell of its former self.
Six surgeries in eight years gave the Suns (14-19) plenty of reason to be concerned with Stoudemire's future, but they were hesitant to deal the five-time All-Star the past two seasons while making playoff pushes.
Holding onto Stoudemire after last season's trade deadline sparked a dominant second half and a run to the Western Conference finals, but Game 6 against the Lakers turned out to be his last in a Phoenix uniform. Stoudemire rejected a five-year, $96 million offer from the Suns that included stipulations on how many minutes he played, instead accepting a five-year, $100 million deal to become the face of the franchise in New York.
Phoenix wound up receiving a $16.5 million trade exception and a second-round draft pick for the sixth-leading scorer in franchise history.
"As a player, he's done great things here," coach Alvin Gentry told the Suns' official website this week. "I'm happy for him and I hope he wins every game -- except the two he plays against us."
Stoudemire's knees have held up so far, and he has the Knicks (20-14) looking like they're headed for their first postseason appearance since 2003-04. He's averaged career highs of 26.4 points and 37.6 minutes after being reunited with former Phoenix coach Mike D'Antoni's up-tempo offense.
"They are playing great basketball and obviously Amar'e is the focal point," Gentry said. "Looking over the course of his career, it doesn't surprise me what he's doing in New York at all."
The Knicks didn't win their 20th game last season until Feb. 26, but reached that plateau Tuesday against the league's best team. Wilson Chandler had a season-high 31 points while Stoudemire and Raymond Felton added 28 apiece in a 128-115 victory over San Antonio.
"We feel like we can match up with the best of them," Stoudemire said. "We played Miami tough in Miami, we played Boston tough both games, so we've got some quality wins against some pretty good teams. So we feel like we're right there, but we've just got to play with some consistency and keep it going all year."
While the Suns are hardly in ruins without Stoudemire, they look nothing like the team that was among the West's most dangerous with him and Steve Nash running together.
Phoenix, which failed to crack triple digits just 12 times last season, has been held under 100 eight times while going 3-10 since Dec. 7. The Suns' 99-95 loss to the visiting Lakers on Wednesday was their sixth in seven games.
The Suns might be headed for another trade deadline full of rumors if they keep losing at their current pace. Nash, signed through next season, has repeatedly said he's not interested in a trade, though that isn't likely to quell speculation that the team might deal him in order to rebuild.
As Phoenix continues to adjust to a rotation that swapped Jason Richardson and Hedo Turkoglu for Vince Carter, Mickael Pietrus and Marcin Gortat, getting to 100 seems to be the key number. The Suns are 13-8 when they hit triple digits and 1-11 when they don't.
The Knicks have lost their last seven visits to Phoenix by an average of 15.3 points.
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