COLOGNE, Oct. 9 -- No player in the league will have more eyes on him this year than Amare Stoudemire. With the Phoenix Suns thinking this is their season, and with their surprising success last year despite his absence, it's difficult not to think about how good they could be with the man they call STAT back in the linuep ... and playing like he used to.
Whether that is possible at this point in time is the question.
If you're looking for signs that he is making a full (and speedy) recovery from his knee problems (the non-microfracture knee is causing more trouble these days), Stoudemire has not had the best camp. He has pulled himself out of practice. He did not play against Lottomatica Roma last Friday and he hasn't been considered a starter at all in camp.
But things may be turning around. Amare has looked strong and even explosive the last two days of practice and he says that he will play against the Sixers (and perhaps send a message across the league) here in Cologne Tuesday night (3 p.m. ET, ESPN 2).
"Today, I feel 110 percent," Stoudemire said. "Yesterday, I felt 110 percent. So, if I can feel 120 percent tomorrow, then the 76ers are in for it."
His coach is happy about the last two days as well, but he realizes that it will take a lot of more days like this for his big man to be ready for the season.
"It's a little bit of a roller coaster and right now, we're on the upslope," Mike D'Antoni said. "The last two days have been great. If he keeps doing that another 20 days with no setbacks, he'll be 100 percent."
You can hear a little doubt in the way D'Antoni speaks, but Amare speaks like the pain is a thing of the past. And he doesn't fear the future.
"I'm too spiritual to be afraid of anything," he affirmed.
Amare hopes to stretch expectations this season.
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images
Of course, he will tell you that he'll always take a "recovery day" if needed, because it was the recovery day he had just recently that has him feeling so good right now.
"I had a day off and I was able to recover and it was like night and day," he said.
So, fans will have to be patient. Heck, they've waited a full year at this point. And that year was tougher on the man himself than it ever could have been on those waiting for his return.
"You guys don't know how hard it was this summer to stay motivated," he said, "because it got to a point where I thought I wasn't gonna be able to come back. I thought I wasn't gonna get healthy, but I stayed motivated to keep working, to keep pushing through. And to have that feeling back to where I was before the injury, it feels great and I just can't wait to improve."
To clarify, when he says that he doubted his ability to come back, that doesn't mean that his career was almost over. He just wasn't sure that he would be able to return all the way back to where he was at his peak, the 2005 Playoffs, when he averaged 37.0 points and 9.8 rebounds in the Conference Finals against the Spurs.
And that's his goal. He's not satisfied with just playing again. He wants to be an All-Star. And he wants to be an All-Star this year. But right now, it's still October, and Cologne, Germany is a long way (both literally and figuratively) from Las Vegas. So, he's willing to accept coming off the bench for the time being.
"Whatever the role is," he said. "I'm down for it."
But he's certainly excited to feel better than he has in a long time, attacking the rim like it's a manifestation of all the frustration he's felt over the last year.
"Any opportunity I had today," he said, "I wanted to rip it down. I definitely tried to tear it down each opportunity. There was no second-guessing, no second-thoughts, no pain, no favoritism. Just strictly basketball."
It's a great thing to watch, and we'll continue to do just that.