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Suns’ future uncertain after year of tumult

PHOENIX – The Phoenix Suns face an uncertain summer in the wake of tumultuous season that ended with them out of the playoffs for the first time in five years.

Shaquille O’Neal says he wants to stay but knows he could be traded, if anyone could be found to accept his $20 million contract for next season. So could the team’s other high-priced All-Star, Amaré Stoudemire.

“Any of us could go,” Steve Nash said. “There are a lot of factors that could go into it – payroll, personnel. You know this is going to be a very dynamic decision-making process for the franchise. Anything could happen.”

Nash isn’t going anywhere. The 35-year-old two-time league MVP has a year left on his contract – at $13.125 million – and the Suns want to sign him to an extension that would allow him to end his career in Phoenix.

General manager and ex-Arizona Wildcat Steve Kerr downplays the trade possibilities.

“I don’t see a massive overhaul as being necessary,” Kerr said. “We won 46 games in a season in which we endured a lot of turmoil, from the coaching situation to the injury to Amaré to a pretty big midseason trade – a lot of changes and we won 46 games. Ninety percent of the time that’s good enough to make the playoffs.”

But, Kerr added, “You have to listen to everything regardless of the player. That’s our job, to evaluate what’s out there, what our possibilities are.”

O’Neal, who turned 37 in March, is coming off his best season in three or four years. He averaged 17.8 points per game and led the league in field goal percentage at just under 61 percent.

“I didn’t believe I could play the way I played this year,” O’Neal said, adding that he and the team’s trainers have put together a summer plan for him. “I’ll be looking to have another fabulous year next year and two more years after that.”

He knows the Suns would listen to trade offers.

“I realize that every summer something might happen, something will change,” O’Neal said. “I just told Steve I’ve been under a lot of general managers but no one has treated me the way you did, so whatever happens, I understand the business. You just have to move on.”

Then there’s Stoudemire, who was the subject of many trade rumors at the All-Star break. Suns owner Robert Sarver and Kerr decided against a deal.

Instead, they fired coach Terry Porter and promoted assistant Alvin Gentry.

Gentry jettisoned Porter’s more structured system and returned to the freestyle approach that former coach Mike D’Antoni orchestrated over the previous four successful and highly entertaining seasons.

Stoudemire scored 42 points in Gentry’s second game as coach, but the next day the All-Star power forward underwent season-ending surgery to repair a torn retina.

Stoudemire, who averaged a team-high 21.4 points in his 53 games, will earn $16 million next season.

He has an option for the 2010-11 season at $17.7 million but is expected to reject that and go in search of a deal that would pay him the maximum allowed under NBA rules. The Suns aren’t likely to go to that financial stratosphere, so they might want to get something for him in a trade before simply allowing him to walk away after next season.

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