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Middle man

Two weeks ago, Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver nodded toward his new general manager at a predraft workout in Phoenix and praised Steve Kerr as "methodical" and "conservative."

Since purchasing the Suns three years ago with Kerr as a minority partner, Sarver had pushed for Kerr to leave the media to run the club. Finally, Kerr made the move this month and is at a crossroads with a franchise for whom there could be no time for methodical and conservative.

The most dramatic of the predraft trade proposals rest at this rookie executive's desk. Phoenix is on the cusp of a championship with this team, and one move could get the Suns over the top – or tumble them backwards. In a lot of ways, it might have been easier to take over a bad team.

After a whirlwind of telephone calls and trade proposals late Thursday night, Kerr laughed and said, "I love this."

Whatever he does, he understands that it's going to create a furor with Suns fans, who are still seething over the suspensions of Amare Stoudemire and Boris Diaw in the Western Conference semifinals against San Antonio. "You're going to take some (flak) regardless," Kerr said. "That's the nature of the job."

Most notably, there are conversations with the Minnesota Timberwolves about Kevin Garnett, which would be the league's biggest trade since Shaquille O'Neal moved from Los Angeles to Miami in 2003.

Phoenix will likely continue swapping proposals around Shawn Marion and draft picks until Thursday's draft, but league sources say that Stoudemire isn't untouchable when it comes to Garnett. Nevertheless, it would take some financial wizardry in the Suns' front office to spare K.G.'s 15 percent trade kicker from compounding their luxury tax problems. Kerr's mandate isn't to take on more payroll, but thin it.

Stoudemire (24) is seven years younger than Garnett and fresh off a first-team All-NBA season. It would take an overwhelming offer to part with him, but that probably isn't as true with Marion. His name has popped up in several scenarios, including the Celtics. It's improbable that the Suns would move Marion, but it's a far less painful scenario than dealing Stoudemire. Marion will make $16.4 million and $17.1 million in the final two years of his contract but, like Garnett, can opt out in the summer of 2008.

Here's something else to consider, too: Phoenix isn't the Spurs, whose Big Three of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili come without petty jealousies and egos. Sometimes, it seems like Marion, in particular, struggles to realize how good he has it with Steve Nash. That'll never be an issue with Garnett, who blends like no superstar in the sport.

To trade Marion for a package that included, say, expiring contracts and draft picks, the Suns have to decide if a Diaw-Stoudemire front line would be better in the postseason than Marion-Stoudemire. Marion has proven to be a spectacular defender in the playoffs, capable of guarding forwards and guards, but the offensive possibilities of pairing Diaw and Stoudemire are intriguing. Still, it will be difficult to move Marion to Atlanta or Boston for the No. 3 or No. 5 draft picks, considering that he'll threaten to never re-sign with those teams.

For now, Kerr is left with those immense questions and an inadequate bench, including last summer's $21 million free-agent bust Marcus Banks. When emailed about his willingness to make moves that might jeopardize the short-term championship hopes for tax relief, Sarver responded, "Talk to Steve. He is getting the big bucks to make those decisions."

For now, Kerr is in the middle of everything to start this long, hot NBA summer. Who knows? Maybe he won't turn out to be as methodical and conservative as his boss believed.

AROUND THE LEAGUE: Unless the Hawks make a trade, two sources familiar with the organization's thinking believe that they'll draft Florida's Al Horford at No. 3, and Texas A&M guard Acie Law at No. 11. … The Nets are still thinking hard about Duke's Josh McRoberts at No. 17, but don't discount the draft day surprise of LSU's Glenn "Big Baby" Davis there. … Indiana is searching for ways to trade into the first round but is finding no luck.