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MARK HEISLER ON THE NBA

Suns are burning out right before our eyes

The host team for the All-Star game is giving the national media plenty to report, with star Amare Stoudemire apparently on trading block and Coach Terry Porter on chopping block.

February 14, 2009|MARK HEISLER

FROM PHOENIX — Talk about being great hosts.

With West teammates Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant staging the expected pre-All-Star love fest Friday, the hometown Suns threw themselves into the breach, imploding, as if on cue.

With the Suns reportedly on the verge of firing Coach Terry Porter, trading Amare Stoudemire, or both, Stoudemire and O'Neal suggested it's all true.

It was like the 2004 game in Los Angeles, on the heels of the Lakers' announcement about cutting off extension talks with Phil Jackson and Bryant's I-don't-care reaction, giving everyone a chance to be Lakers writers for a day.

The Suns are a disappointment, if only to themselves. Everyone else wrote them off after last season's trade for O'Neal, who fit into their wide-open offense as well as he figured to.

Now, in a shocker, Suns owner Bob Sarver, who pushed to get O'Neal, looks intent on breaking up his team, not by trading Shaq, who will be 37 in about three weeks, or Steve Nash, 35, but Stoudemire, who's 26.

Stoudemire, asked about being in the middle of trade talks Friday, exclaimed:

"In the middle, are you kidding me? I'm on top! I'm totally in the loop on what's going on. . . . They [Suns officials] are saying it's a financial decision, it's hard for them to afford all our players.

"Everyone is on the trading block according to them. I don't know if they're giving up on the season or we're trying to win a championship here."

With Sarver demanding expiring contracts for Stoudemire, it looks like A: giving up on the season.

Sarver also just zinged Porter on a local radio station ("Could he do a better job? Yeah, absolutely"), coming as close to firing him as he could without actually doing it.

Porter's players, yearning for their old system, haven't rushed to Porter's defense, with one exception: O'Neal, whom Porter's offense goes through.

"Phoenix has been running a certain system for nine or 10 years so guys have to get used to [Porter's] system," O'Neal said.

Shouldn't they know it by now?

"Yeah, I guess," O'Neal said, "but you just have to want to do it.

"I've been in regular systems, triangles, no system at all. I'm the type of player, I've always [adapted] to what the coach is calling, but these guys are set in their ways."

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Free agent class of 2010

Everything Miami does is geared toward persuading Dwayne Wade to stay in 2010, such as Friday's acquisition of Jermaine O'Neal, whose $23-million salary will drop off their cap that summer.

To date, Wade likes what he has seen.

"It's actually better than I thought," Wade said. "Coming in with a young team, you never know what to expect. We've got a rookie point guard [Mario Chalmers]. One of our future players is a rookie coming off the bench [Michael Beasley] and we've got Daequan Cook, who really didn't play much last year. And we were undersized.

"So to come into the All-Star break with those odds against us, and to be the fifth team in the Eastern Conference right now, I would say we had a pretty solid first half of the season."

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Etc.

Bill Laimbeer, coach of the WNBA Detroit Shock, asked whether he expects his old team, the Pistons, to get it together and make a run this season: "No."

Former San Antonio great David Robinson, named a Hall of Fame finalist, on the current Spurs-Lakers rivalry:

"I'll tell you what, I'm definitely biased, I definitely root for the Spurs against the Lakers, but the Lakers look so good this year. . . .

"I like our momentum now. We're playing good basketball. I like what we're doing. But when you see teams like the Lakers and the Celtics get off to such a good start, get out front like they have, and play with such tremendous confidence, they're going to be very, very difficult to beat."

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mark.heisler@latimes.com

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NBA All-Star game

Sunday, 5 p.m., TNT, at U.S. Airways Center, Phoenix.

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