The Suns say Amaré Stoudemire will be fine. You can’t get Penny Hardaway out of your mind. They say Stoudemire will return in four months, as good as ever. You keep thinking about Eric Swann. They’re convinced Stoudemire won’t have any longterm problems because he’s 22 years old, this was his first
knee surgery, and the size of the defect in his cartilage was only a centimeter in diameter.
You hear two words — microfracture surgery — and picture other athletes who have had their careers derailed by the procedure.
Hardaway. Swann. Andre Wadsworth. Allan Houston. Terrell Davis. Jamal Mashburn.
And you can’t help but wonder: Is Stoudemire next?
"Amaré will be fine," Suns coach Mike D’Antoni said. "I fully expect him to be great when he comes back and wow the fans for 10 more years."
Maybe he will. But there is no sure thing when it comes to microfracture surgery.
Just crossed fingers and hopeful words.
Make no mistake: The Suns couldn’t have received worse news Tuesday.
They were hoping Stoudemire would only require arthroscopic surgery and be out about a month. Instead, more extensive damage was found, the microfracture surgery was performed, and Stoudemire will be out until the All-Star break — if his rehabilitation goes well.
It wouldn’t be a complete surprise if Stoudemire misses the entire season.
"There’s a lot of teams a little happier today," D’Antoni said.
Now that the extent of Stoudemire’s injury is known, a couple of questions come to mind:
First, why wasn’t the surgery performed two months ago, when Stoudemire initially complained about soreness in his knee?
Suns president Bryan Colangelo said Stoudemire felt better after receiving treatment so the club didn’t believe it was necessary to "rush in and perform surgery."
When the pain persisted in training camp, "we chose to act now rather than let the situation linger," Colangelo added.
There will be some secondguessing of the Suns, but I’m not about to play doctor.
Phoenix tried to treat the symptoms, keep Stoudemire on the court and go after a championship. When it became apparent Stoudemire wasn’t getting any better, the surgeon was called.
Seems like a fairly reasonable course of action.
Second, do the Suns regret signing Stoudemire to a fiveyear, $73 million contract extension just a week ago?
Certainly, the timing wasn’t the best, and, in light of what we know about microfracture surgery, it’s possible Stoudemire never will be worth the money.
But the alternative is even worse: Don’t sign Stoudemire, he comes back in February and conquers mortal men again, then leaves as a free agent.
"You worry about the six years, not so much about the first month or the two months of the season right in front of you," Colangelo said.
The short-term impact of Stoudemire’s loss is obvious: Phoenix has been transformed from a championship-caliber club to a team that will be fortunate to make the playoffs this season.
You thought the Suns were small last year? Well, wait until you see them without Stoudemire, their best lowpost scorer and only shot blocker.
Steve Nash may have been the NBA’s Most Valuable Player, and Shawn Marion stuffed a box score, but it was Stoudemire who enabled the Suns’ small-ball style to be successful because he forced defenses to collapse around him and leave shooters open.
"Amaré is a beast in there," said Marion, who will be forced to play power forward again in Stoudemire’s absence. "We’re going to miss that inside threat."
The bigger picture is even more troubling. Microfracture surgery isn’t a career killer — New Jersey Nets point guard Jason Kidd, the Suns’ Brian Grant and Carolina Panthers running backs Stephen Davis and DeShaun Foster are among the athletes who have come back and played well after the procedure — but it isn’t a cure-all, either.
It’s a temporary respite — when it works. And even then, as Grant said, "it hangs with you."
"Anyone who thinks this or any other similar procedure is going to create a knee that is pain free and doesn’t have any problems is very unrealistic," Valley surgeon Dr. Richard Emerson said. "There’s a three- to five-year time frame before it (the cartilage) starts to deteriorate."
Perhaps Stoudemire will be one of the lucky ones. The damage in his knee was minimal compared to Hardaway, and at 22, his body will recover more quickly. But Wadsworth was young, too, and so was Swann. "This is not something that should affect him long-term," Colangelo said. Promising words, but we’ve been down this forked road before. We know where it can end.
Today, Stoudemire is resting at home, the clock is ticking on Nash, and microfracture surgery is again part of our vocabulary. Doesn’t make you feel confident about tomorrow.