For 10 consecutive days, Amar’e Stoudemire(notes) was given nothing more than a two-hour reprieve. Two hours to eat, to stretch his legs, to use the bathroom. The other 22 hours of each day were spent lying on his chest, staring down at the floor or, if he was fortunate, into a magazine or book.
Ten straight days, 22 hours a day. This was Stoudemire's reward for undergoing a minor operation that removed fluid from his right eye six weeks ago – a follow-up procedure necessitated by previous surgery to repair his partially detached retina. He spent the 10 days on a massage table at a swank resort near Phoenix. His family and friends visited him. He prayed and, yes, he certainly caught up on his reading. But there was nothing about the experience Stoudemire found relaxing.
Not even the microfracture surgery Stoudemire underwent on his left knee four years ago – and all the subsequent complications – proved as grueling as his recent recovery.
"That was by far the hardest thing I've ever had to go through in my life, man," Stoudemire told Yahoo! Sports by phone this week. "The microfracture was tough. But then you have to compare it to being face down for 22 hours a day."
Stoudemire returned to the court on Tuesday to begin workouts. He was scheduled to receive new protective goggles on Wednesday, and he expects to be near full strength by the time the season begins. His only question now: Will his return to the Phoenix Suns be a short-lived relationship?
When it comes to his future, Stoudemire has more questions about his address than his health. The cost-cutting Suns openly explored trading him up to last season's February deadline. As recently as the June draft, Stoudemire's name again surfaced in trade conversations with the Golden State Warriors.
Stoudemire now expects to play in Phoenix this season but lists his odds of remaining with the franchise a year from now at "50-50." If he declines his $17.6 million player option for the 2010-11 season, he'll become a free agent in July. So far, the Suns don't appear committed to rewarding him with the type of maximum extension he'd seek on the open market.
"I was really looking forward to my entire career being in [Arizona]," Stoudemire said. "It kind of put a hold on a few of my decision-making things. … I don't know if I'm sure if I want to play one more year here, or be gone, or sign an extension and play here for another six years or so.
"If they are loyal to me, I'm loyal to them. I'm a loyal person and always have been. My word is bond. I'd love to stay; the Suns have been phenomenal so far. But anything can change."
The Suns have already saved money this offseason by trading NBA All-Star center Shaquille O'Neal(notes) to Cleveland for center Ben Wallace(notes) and swingman Sasha Pavlovic(notes). The Suns were able to buy out Wallace's $14 million contract for an additional savings and are expected to wave Pavlovic, whose contract is only partially guaranteed.
Stoudemire says he'll never know how well he and O'Neal could have truly been together. The Suns lost in the first round of the 2008 playoffs after having O'Neal for half a season, then began a dramatic restructuring that saw head coach Mike D'Antoni leave for New York. Raja Bell(notes) and Boris Diaw(notes) were traded, new coach Terry Porter was fired and Stoudemire ultimately ended the season on the inactive list after reinjuring his eye. Phoenix then traded O'Neal to the Cavs the day before the draft.
"That was tough for me to grasp," Stoudemire said. "Last [season], with me and Shaq, despite the fact that I got injured, I don't think teams wanted to see Amare and Shaq in the post in the postseason. That definitely was going to be a potent team. I felt like we could've adapted to his style of play even though we wanted to go fast-paced, up-tempo.
"I don't want to throw anybody under the bus, but I definitely felt we could've used Big Fella for one more [season]."
The Suns re-signed forward Grant Hill(notes), gave playmaker Steve Nash(notes) an extension and added free-agent forward Channing Frye(notes). But in the rugged Western Conference, that might not be enough to return the Suns to the playoffs after last season's absence.
"Right now, we got some young guys that we have to mold to become successful players in the league," Stoudemire said. "They need constant leadership from myself, Steve and Grant Hill, and we will work to do that.
"I hope everything pans out and we play as well as we know we can – make the playoffs and go as far as we can. That's ideal. … If we keep winning, hopefully I can be here for another five or six years."
Stoudemire's more immediate goal is to get back in basketball shape and prove he can return to playing at an All-Star level.
First up: Finding a pair of goggles. Stoudemire never would have needed season-ending surgery if he hadn't abandoned the goggles he used last fall after his initial injury. His newest pair will be big enough to cover his entire eye area – bigger, he said, than the pair former Los Angeles Lakers forward James Worthy used to wear.
"Being cool is definitely a big thing of mine, being swaggered up," Stoudemire said. "But you definitely want to protect yourself, man. That's the most important thing."
But even with his new eyewear, Stoudemire knows only time will bring his future with the Suns into focus.