This was supposed to be the year when the ugliness of Amare Stoudemire's ego would rear its head.
The Suns' had just missed the playoffs for the first time since 2004. Given Stoudemire's reduced role with Shaq in the paint, he could have used the situation to demonstrate why he is of immeasurable value, and thus deserves the closest thing to it—a max contract.
He could have decided to throw the teams' success out the window and pad his personal stats, hoping to pad his wallet even more next summer.
He could have decided to dominate season headlines with comments about his upcoming free agency, causing disharmony among the team and its followers.
Almost everyone who has followed the Suns and Stoudemire over the last few seasons expected him to do those things. Instead, he's been so quiet, no one has noticed his ego's absence.
Several factors contributed to this personality phenomenon.
First and foremost, the economy. Already cost-conscious, there was no way the Suns (or any team, at that point) would just offer a max contract for Stoudemire's relative talent compared to lesser players. The days of those contracts (see: Zydrunas Ilgauskus, Kenyon Martin, Nene Hilario, etc) are over.
Second, Stoudemire's worth was questionable at best after coming off of season-ending eye surgery to repair a partially-torn retina. The likelihood of a team fully investing in an unsure asset was nil.
Finally, Stoudemire had to be encouraged knowing new head coach Alvin Gentry would revert to the fast-paced, pick-and-roll oriented offense that established his dominance in the first place. As he, Suns' management and fans hoped, the change is making last season seem more an aberration than an death knell.
There's one more factor Stoudemire critics would toss aside: Amare Stoudemire is maturing as a player and a person. As improbable as it sounds, there is proof.
His post-game comments, both after victory and defeat, are seemingly humble yet hopeful. He focuses on the team's strengths, and when he does refer to himself, it's about what he can do, and not in an me-myself-and-I manner.
His stats aren't the gaudy numbers they have been in the past—Stoudemire is averaging a steady 20.5 ppg and 8.5 rpg while shooting 56 percent from the field. Despite not being the obvious alpha dog on a team with multiple weapons, the man nicknamed STAT hasn't complained.
And that, maybe more than anything Stoudemire could have done, may earn him the contract and respect he's looking for.