On the bus from the hotel to McKale, the radio pumps out classic rock, but the coaches' mood is dark. The results of a second opinion on Stoudemire's knee are in: The injury is much worse than expected and could keep him out for up to nine months. (Four days later he would undergo microfracture surgery to repair a lesion, and his projected return was sometime in February.) Mike has already uttered what will become the Suns' mantra: "We just have to make the playoffs." He brightens briefly. "I coached them last year when we won 62," he says to Iavaroni and Weber. "It's on you now."
The coaches kick around how to compensate for Stoudemire's 26.0 points and 8.9 rebounds per game. "Shawn's just got to be a monster," says Mike, "and he has to understand we need him at the four spot." Though he made the Western All-Star team last season by playing mostly power forward, the 6'7", 215-pound Marion has continually expressed a desire to play small forward.
"We've got to get one more runner to join the pack," says Weber.
"No use looking to make a deal," says Mike. "There's no big men around like Amar�."
He claps Gentry on the back. "All right, Alvin, you coached the Clippers," Mike says. "What do we do now?"
At the arena Mike gathers the team around. His speech is breezy but direct. "I guess most of you guys know about Amar�," he says. "Looks like the best it can be is that he's out a month. Or he could be out six months. So we just have to band together and get it done another way. I don't have any doubts whatsoever. Just make sure you take care of yourself. Get in your extra shooting, talk to Aaron [trainer Aaron Nelson] right away if something comes up medically. Because you know what? We have to find a way to score 110 points. We have plenty here to do it, but we've got to find a different way from last year. So let's band together and go bust somebody's ass and get it done."
Practice is spirited but, again, ragged. The question hangs in the air: How will they get 110 a night without Amar�? The best answer to that-Marion-is the subject of the nightly meeting in Mike's suite. Though he makes spectacular plays and is a tenacious rebounder and defender, Marion is hard to read and to reach. The coaches are also concerned that he is doing too much bitching about others' mistakes.
"Shawn'll be all right," concludes Mike. "We don't need to worry about him."
OF THE ORANGE AND THE WHITE