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Columnist
Will Bulls acquire Stoudemire? If they do, it's a $100 million gamble
By Mike McGraw | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 2/16/2009 1:03 AM

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A potential $100 million question is staring the Bulls in the horns, and an answer is due no later than Thursday.

Should they acquire all-star power forward Amare Stoudemire from the Phoenix Suns? The proposed deal would most likely send Tyrus Thomas, Drew Gooden, Thabo Sefolosha, Cedric Simmons and undetermined draft picks to Phoenix.

The Bulls are clearly a major contender, with Cleveland and possibly Houston the top competition. It will probably come down to who wants him the most, and the Bulls are no lock to win that contest.

It's a complicated issue that probably cannot be answered by one person alone. A truly informed decision must include help from other sources.

To anyone in the Suns organization: Why are you so eager to trade a big man who was first- and second-team all-NBA the past two seasons? Money is clearly a factor. With an aging team that could miss the playoffs this season, Phoenix is trying to drop below the luxury-tax threshold and doesn't want to bestow another expensive, long-term contract.

But is there more to the story? There have been suggestions that Stoudemire isn't a great teammate, is averse to playing defense and is more concerned about building his music label than winning an NBA title.

Of course, those are merely allegations, and none of those traits would prevent him from maintaining his all-star status anyway.

To Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf: Are the Bulls willing to spend what it takes to keep Stoudemire once he becomes a free agent, either in 2010 or 2011?

At the same time, does trading for Stoudemire mean there is no chance of re-signing Ben Gordon this summer? Will the Bulls be able to use the mid-level exception to collect additional pieces?

By making the trade, the Bulls would set up a three-star system featuring Stoudemire, Derrick Rose and Luol Deng. Boston's plan of getting three stars and filling in the gaps with spare parts turned into a championship.

Then again, Deng and Stoudemire aren't exactly Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. The Bulls would still need some help to become a Finals contender.

To Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro: Are you willing to pare down the practice schedule or give Stoudemire time off on nongame days?

Under coach Mike D'Antoni, the Suns were famous for rarely practicing during the regular season. That plan might have helped Stoudemire make it through two seasons after having microfracture knee surgery and sitting out most of 2005-06.

Maybe Stoudemire could handle a normal NBA workload, maybe not. There is really no way of knowing ahead of time.

Those are the major questions. The answers are unavailable for the time being, so here's an argument for both sides.

The case for Stoudemire: It will take a bold move for the Bulls to become a Finals contender in the Eastern Conference.

Boston's window might last only a few years, but LeBron James is 24 and Dwight Howard is 23. Barring a free-agent defection, the Cavaliers and Magic will be tough to beat for the next decade.

Stoudemire's stat line alone makes a brilliant case for making this trade. Last season, he averaged 25.2 points, 9.1 rebounds and shot 59 percent from the field. In the 2005 Western Conference finals against San Antonio, he averaged 37 points, though the Suns lost the series in five games.

He's one of the NBA's most explosive big men, able to finish at the basket and knock down midrange jumpers. Sure, he had the luxury of playing with Steve Nash in Phoenix, but Rose should be an ideal teammate.

The case against Stoudemire: He's too big a risk. Injuries can happen to any player, but no one is certain if the microfracture surgery will cause more problems in the near or distant future.

At the same time, if Stoudemire opts out of his contract and becomes a free agent in 2010, some team is likely to make an offer close to $100 million over five years, which the Bulls will need to beat.

If Stoudemire is on the books for $20 million-plus, then is injured or ineffective, it will cripple the franchise. Even if he plays great, the Bulls might not be able to afford all the pieces they need to contend for a title.

In their current state, the Bulls are starting to jell and Thomas is making impressive strides. When it comes to playoff success, Thomas' shot-blocking might be more valuable than Stoudemire's scoring.

Here's my guess: As of Sunday afternoon, a 60 percent chance the Bulls pass, but it's still too close to call.

mmcgraw@dailyherald.com