Dallas– Probably you hear about Cleveland’s pursuit of Amare Stoudemire and figure that if that deal with Phoenix gets done, whatever chance the Hawks had of toppling the Cavs disappears unless the Hawks also make an unexpected big move (or at least a move for a big).
After all, if Cleveland adds Amare andthen as expected brings back Ilgauskas after the Suns buy him out, those two plus Shaq would give the Cavs three long big men in the pivot (four if you count Varejao). That’s three or four better options than the Hawks if you consider Horford to really be a four, which he is (Amare is the same height as Al but probably plays bigger).
Here in Dallas, though, there is some head-scratching about why the Cavs are considering the move even beyond Stoudemire’s ability to opt out of his contract after this season. For one, Cavs coach Mike Brown is a Popovich disciple, which means he wants to win with rugged team defense, and that’s not Amare’s thing. For that matter, I also couldn’t see Stoudemire fitting in with another suitor, the Heat, which also has an obsessive culture of defensive effort and intensity. Amare tends to shut down if he’s not getting his touches so maybe he doesn’t buy into that culture.
In addition to Amare’s sometimes-casual approach to D, there’s the tricky matter of pairing Amare with Shaq, which CBSSports.com’s Ken Berger notes already failed once in Phoenix. That has some in the Cleveland organization freaking out about a possible chemistry issue if the deal is done, Berger writes:
According to sources, there’s a fear among some members of the Cavs’ organization that, while Stoudemire would be a good long-term pairing with LeBron, incorporating him on the floor with Shaq might present too difficult an adjustment for the rest of the season. In Phoenix, Shaq and Stoudemire were unable to make the low-post, high-post thing work – and that was with a world-class point guard, Steve Nash. With the Cavs, Shaq and Amar’e clogging the middle might frustrate LeBron and turn him into too much of a jump shooter.
So why would the Cavs, who are rolling right now, risk wrecking their chemistry while also parting with promising forward J.J. Hickson and a first-round pick? ESPN’s Ric Bucher suggested it might be a ploy by the Cavs to force Washington’s hand: “One league source posited a sensible explanation: because this is merely saber-rattling to get the Wizards to deal them the guy they really want, Antawn Jamison.”
But Brian Windhorst of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports that “the Cavs have gotten ‘pretty far down the tracks’ in talking to the Suns about Stoudemire. It has even gotten to the point that the sides have discussed small details like payment schedules and salary reimbursement options.” Windhorst also says LeBron has signed off on dealing for Amare.
So should Hawks fans, who can’t feel confident their team can take Cleveland in a series now, hope the Cavs really do get Stoudemire and see if it screws them up? It’s an interesting thought but . . . heck naw, they shouldn’t. Whatever head-butting Amare might do with Shaq or the defensive possessions he decides to take off wouldn’t offset Cleveland’s enormous physical advantage over the Hawks in the post with Shaq, Amare, Z, and Varejao. The Hawks have at least been competitive with the Cavs even if they haven’t figured how to close them out (or get some calls), while I won’t even get into the Hawks’ problems with Dwight Howard and the Magic.
The Hawks have more pressing stuff to worry about right now. Winning the division and posting the second-best record in the East assures them of homecourt advantage in the first two rounds of the playoffs. That means they’d get Orlando in Philips for four games in the second round if both get through and the series went seven games. That’s why Woody lately has been talking up the importance of earning that No. 2 seed.
The Hawks need to at least hold off Boston for No. 3 in the East so they can avoid the dreaded four seed and drawing the Cavs in the second round with Cleveland holding homecourt. That’s a no-go whether Amare is in Cleveland or not.