TrueHoop: Louis Amundson
Yet it does rank as one of the growing curiosities in the NBA this summer:
Why, on Aug. 18, is Louis Amundson still available?
With his high-energy contributions throughout Phoenix’s thoroughly unexpected run to the Western Conference finals, Amundson didn’t merely cement his standing as a fan favorite in the desert. He legitimately emerged as one of the faces synonymous with the Suns’ vaunted bench bunch last season, which had Phoenix privately fearful throughout the playoffs that Amundson could attract some decent free-agent dollars in spite of his well-chronicled limitations as an offensively-challenged power forward who’s also undersized.
Yet free agency is nearly seven weeks old and Amundson remains unsigned. He’s still waiting after watching the Suns decide to fill their Amare Stoudemire void by re-signing Channing Frye, signing Hakim Warrick and trading for Hedo Turkoglu to be a ball-handling power forward.
It appears, though, that Amundson’s wait might finally be ending. Sources close to the situation say that the 6-foot-9, 225-pounder is inching closer to a decision, with at least three teams known to be actively in pursuit – Golden State, New Orleans and Indiana. One source says an unidentified fourth team remains in the mix.
Another source told ESPN.com that the Hornets and Warriors are making the hardest push, but the Pacers have not been shy about their need for another big man after using Troy Murphy’s expiring contract last week to help facilitate the four-team traded that netted the point guard Indy has long coveted in Darren Collison
The 26 year old averaged 4.7 points, 4.4 rebounds and just under one block in 14.8 minutes per game last season and told the Arizona Republic earlier this summer that Charlotte and Toronto had also registered interest in signing him.
Mind you, Amundson also acknowledged to the newspaper that he badly wanted to stay with the Suns or, after playing his high school ball in Colorado, perhaps hook on with the Denver Nuggets.
“I really liked it [in Phoenix],” Amundson said. “I don’t like leaving.”
- Goran Dragic: +22
- Leandro Barbosa: +17
- Jared Dudley: +16
- Louis Amundson: +17
- Channing Frye: +10
As a measure of contrast, none of Phoenix's starters finished in the plus column.
The Suns are unusual in that Alvin Gentry doesn't install a traditional rotation. At the 12:00 mark of the second and fourth quarters, these five guys take the floor as a single unit. On Tuesday night, they dazzled. Dragic probed the Lakers' defense. Barbosa was decisive with his trigger. Dudley was his usual bundle of energy and heady intuition on both ends of the floor. Amudnson did yeoman's work up top screening for his guards (and snuck behind the Lakers' bigs for a couple buckets of his own). And Channing Frye? After enduring one of the most brutal stretches we've seen in recent years from a sharpshooter, Frye broke out of his slump with a vengeance.
Individual attributes aside, it's the collective spirit of this unit that propels them. A sampling of their work in Game 4:
Barry Gossage/NBAE/Getty Images
With the game on the line, the Suns couldn't keep the Blazers out of the paint.
Amare Stoudemire is a certain kind of NBA big man. Call him an All-Star. Call him a multi-talent. Call him a bucket-getter, a shooter and a dunker.
He's all that and a bag of chips. But do not accuse him of shutting down the paint. That game is all about holding firm, building walls, reducing options and directing traffic. Stoudemire's special talent is breaking through walls, not building them.
The question is: What kind of big man do you play alongside Stoudemire? A big paint-patrolling behemoth, like say, Shaquille O'Neal, drags down the tempo of Steve Nash and company, and eats up the real estate around the rim that is integral to Nash's drive-and-kick game.
The Suns have experimented through the years. This season they found two players who fit. Robin Lopez has the energy, muscle, length and tenacity to hassle opponents around the rim, and Channing Frye has blossomed as a 3-point shooter.
But Lopez is out with a bad back, and likely will miss the entire first round.
The Suns recognize they have a problem. Frye is their "next best" big man. Why not just play him?
The theory here is that Frye and Stoudemire together give opponents too much access to the paint, where there are all kinds of rebounds and easy scoring opportunities.
So the Suns did something a bit desperate and odd three weeks ago: They declared an emergency and broke the glass surrounding Jarron Collins. His skill is to be large and a little mean, and to patrol the parts of the neighborhood Stoudemire can't. The Suns seldom give him the ball, and despite letting him take the court with the starters, could hardly ask for less. Is there any other NBA starter who hasn't played more than 18 minutes in any game all season?
Against Portland in Sunday's Game 1, the Blazers had some luck in the paint, especially through Andre Miller and Jerryd Bayless layups, as well as never-ending possessions fueled by bunches of offensive rebounds. As Lopez and Collins looked on in street clothes, neither Frye nor Stoudemire nor gloom of night could keep those Blazers from their appointed rounds under the basket.
There was one Phoenix big man who frustrated the Blazers, though, and that was the high-energy benchwarmer Louis Amundson. As Amundson's ponytail bopped around the court, stifling drives, catching lobs and closing out shooters, Portland's interior game suffered.
There will be dozens of articles about the only series that started with a road team's win. Many will pinpoint key moments, like Miller's 3-pointer or Martell Webster's twin blocked shots near the end of the third.
But to me the essential moment came with 6:26 left. That's when Suns coach Alvin Gentry sat Amundson in favor of the shooter Frye. Phoenix is unapologetic in its commitment to offense, where Frye excels. But everyone in the building knew the substitution had the potential to hurt at the other end.
The game was tied at 83.
Things happen fast in the NBA. Little leaks in the defense can quickly flood. Miller, Bayless, LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum ... The Blazers scored on eight of their next ten possessions to lead 99-92 less than five minutes later. Try as the visitors might to let the Suns back in over the final 1:29, the contest was decided.
The signature play of the run came off a Batum miss. Aldridge waltzed down the lane and flipped up an unlikely putback, which dropped in. It was a little lucky the shot fell, but it was no coincidence that Aldridge got to the hoop unimpeded. No Sun touched him, which will be something to think about for Game 2
The energetic young Sun has been fingered as the primary suspect in a heavy duty popcorning of Shaquille O'Neal's van. (Filling the car with popcorn, by the way, accounts for, I think, 95% of NBA pranks.)
O'Neal is on Twitter and on video at the link above making sure everyone knows he was the victim of an Amundson prank.
O'Neal wants the world to know that it is not acceptable to mess with his car or his food, and there will be hell to pay tomorrow.
Amundson's motivation? Perhaps, O'Neal speculates, Shaq and his buddies messed with the young man's bicycle one too many times.
Amundson's punishment? O'Neal is on video conspiring to let the clippers (much worse than the Clippers, or not) do their thing to the young big man's dome in the morning. People have been appointed to hold Amundson down while O'Neal does the work.
For the Suns, this is the way the season ends: Not with a bang, but a buzz.