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Stoudemire Is Back! Sort Of

Took some time to check out the Philadelphia-Phoenix game on ESPN2 yesterday and watch Amare Stoudemire back on the floor, almost a year after he had microfracture surgery on his left knee, and all that I kept thinking was: Good thing he signed his $71 million extension last year. I mean, it was his first game back, and it will take much more time before - or is that IF - he turns to his old form. But it was a little disconcerting watching Stoudemire play basketball again during the Suns' 103-100 loss.

What was most troubling? Seeing that Stoudemire has switched from No. 32 to wearing the same No. 1 that microfracture casualty Penny Hardaway wore during his injury-plagued stint in Phoenix? Or that Chris Webber (another microfracture casualty) was also on the floor as another reminder of what happens when your athleticism is robbed? Or that everytime Stoudemire jumped, I was cringing because I didn't know if he'd get down okay.

Stoudemire had a few dunks and scored six points, but it was hard watching most of his 19 minutes of action because he appeared out of sorts. He looked rusty and rushed as he had five turnovers and committed four fouls. Not to mention, the Suns' big second-half lead disappeared during his time on the floor and his first shot was blocked by Samuel Dalembert. Stoudemire told the Arizona Republic that he was 85 percent but expects to get back to being 100 percent real soon. "It's coming back, baby, it's coming back," he told the newspaper. "Just a little more time. Just a little more work. Just a little more practice to work the kinks out, and I'll surely be there."

Stoudemire has had a rough time getting back to 100 percent. He had a failed three-game stint during the regular season last March before he was forced to sit for the rest of the season. Then, he attempted to be a part of the U.S. Men's National Team in July before he was eventually sent home. I spoke with Suns Coach Mike D'Antoni a few weeks before training camp and asked him how Stoudermire was progressing. Expecting to hear the generic, "He's doing fine. Working hard," or something like that, D'Antoni surprised me a little when he said, "Up and down. He has his good days and his bad days." D'Antoni wasn't trying to sugarcoat what surely is going to be a rough climb for the young star.

The Suns know that re-incorporating Stoudemire won't be quick or easy and it will be even more challenging since Stoudemire has to adjust his game while he works his way back. Two-time MVP Steve Nash said he hoped Stoudemire can learn to play the game with his head more while he waits for his body. The Suns are also aware that a healthy Stoudemire could've been the difference against Dallas in the Western Conference Finals last year and propels them into a legitimate championship contender this season.

It wasn't long ago that Stoudemire was in the debate about which young stud you'd like to build your franchise around. Now if you include Stoudemire, you need a caveat: if he's healthy. So far, Jason Kidd is the only player to come back from the microfracture surgery and return looking almost like him. Webber was able to have similar production without the flare. Stoudemire might be young enough to avoid joining a list of microfracture casualties that includes Hardaway, Allan Houston and Jamal Mashburn, but nothing is guaranteed.

I hope that Stoudemire comes back to being his ferocious, thunder-dunking self soon, because the game surely needs it. There aren't many guys in the league that people don't want to challenge anymore - and Stoudemire was probably the most feared dunker in the game (pre-surgery at least). I remember the last time Stoudemire played in Washington and guys were just moving out of the way every time he got the ball within three feet of the basket because they knew they might lose a limb if they tried to block a Stoudemire dunk attempt. That's Amare.

By Michael Lee  |  October 11, 2006; 11:59 AM ET
 
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Comments

well i ho[p in am trying to make it in the nba and this is one thing i can say i love nba so much every day i think about NBA and right now im training to be one of the best basketball player that i can be and wade i like the way tou play and Stoudemire i hope that you get back on your game the way you use to play .

Posted by: chad scott | October 14, 2006 1:41 PM | Report abuse

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