LAS VEGAS - Before the Suns summer league game began, Amaré Stoudemire sat on top of a tall plastic trash can, feet dangling but eyes focused on the crowd watching the end of the previous matchup.
“Yes, it’s showtime,” Stoudemire said with a broad smile. “It feels really good to say that. I’m healthy and I can go back to what I love doing. Let’s play.”
No one was interested what the box score read from Friday’s 91-83 loss to Minnesota, although Stoudemire’s line had plenty of crooked numbers — from the 21 points and eight rebounds he collected, to the seven fouls and six turnovers he sprayed around the Cox Pavilion in almost 30 minutes of playing time.
For Amaré, and for the Suns, it was all about running free. And smiling.
“Being back in that competitive atmosphere with the fans around (probably around 1,000), it was awesome,” said Stoudemire, who hit seven of 10 shots from the field but didn’t get up for any dunks. “Every day, I’m getting better. I can do more. I can let it hang out a little.”
He showed that in the final minute when he swooped across the lane and blocked a shot by Minnesota’s Bracey Wright. He was called for a foul, but the crowd oohed and ahhed before voicing their disagreement with the call. It was his seventh — players don’t foul out in the summer league — indicating that talk of becoming a strong overall defender is still just that.
But he also ran the fast the break like a point guard — with mixed results (remember the turnovers?), recorded a three-point play on an off-balance drive to the basket that revved up the crowd and took another stride forward in his comeback.
“I’m getting my wind, I felt more explosive and I’m getting better and better all the time,” Stoudemire said. “That was the first time I was out there playing and not thinking. I went through (twoa-day) practices the last two days and played a lot today and I’m feeling strong.”
With no wraps on either knee Stoudemire slid down to the floor on his back and stretched out his knees each time he reentered the game. Otherwise, it was hard to detect the two surgeries, one a delicate microfracture procedure on the left knee that he’s undergone in the last 10 months.
“I have to loosen things up, but that comes with the territory,” he said. “The knees are great; I’m not having any problems.”
Suns summer coach Phil Weber went into the camp with the idea of taking it slow, but that went by the boards quickly. Now it’s all about how much (Stoudemire said he would play three or four of the five summer league games) and how long he wants to go.
“Amaré was good. This was a great first step,” Weber said. “He’s working harder than I’ve even seen. He’s in at 7 a.m., doing everything our strength guys want out of him. He looked comfortable, he had a good touch on his shot . . . he has what, four months to go still? He’ll get there.”