Where do the Suns go from here?

On the heels of their Game 6 loss to the Lakers, the Phoenix Suns once again start an offseason after coming up short in the postseason.

In reality, despite the sour finish, making the Western Conference Finals represents a resounding success for the Suns, who weren’t expected to be a legitimate title contender heading into the season. But after the trade deadline, Amare Stoudemire played like an All-NBAer (27-10 after the All-Star break), and the Suns’ bench — specifically Goran Dragic, Jared Dudley and Channing Frye — provided a much-needed punch when the starters weren’t getting it done.

This team already has great chemistry and is playing championship-caliber ball, why mess with it? Well, the Suns have a huge decision this offseason — whether or not to offer Stoudemire a max contract.

Is he worth a max deal? He doesn’t rebound as well as he should — and grabbed just nine rebounds in the first two games of the WCF — and he’s not known as a very good defender. Shouldn’t a max player excel at scoring, rebounding and defense?

Stoudemire is open to staying in Phoenix, but it seems like he wants a max deal. Without it, he’ll probably go elsewhere, providing they’ll offer him the non-Bird max.

If he leaves, the Suns will have about $13 million of cap space assuming Grant Hill opts in and Channing Frye opts out (which they are rumored to do). What that means is that if Stoudemire bolts, the Suns will be a player in this summer’s free agency frenzy. They may not have a shot at LeBron James or Chris Bosh, but they could potentially afford someone like Carlos Boozer or David Lee, who would both fit in well with the Suns’ up-tempo system. However, neither player is known for his defense, so the Suns will probably continue to struggle on that end of the court. Also, such a move would only serve to further highlight the length issues that the Suns have when they face the Lakers.

Steve Nash is already 36 and his game has to fall off at some point. However, he’s in tremendous shape and the emergence of Goran Dragic should continue to offset the decline in Nash’s game. The Suns have a nice core, so if they re-sign Stoudemire or end up with someone like Boozer or Lee to pay power forward, they should stay near the top of the Western Conference. It doesn’t appear that they’re built to get by the Lakers, but if there’s a playoff-threatening injury to Kobe Bryant or Pau Gasol, the Suns would be in position to pick up the ball and run to the Finals. That’s better than blowing the whole thing up and starting over, right?

Photo from fOTOGLIF

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