PHOENIX (AP) – The Phoenix Suns will be without all-star forward Amare Stoudemire for about four months after he underwent surgery to repair damage to his injured left knee Tuesday.

The extent of the injury was determined during “diagnostic” surgery by team doctor Thomas Carter, who then proceeded with the repair, Suns president Bryan Colangelo said.

Stoudemire, who turns 23 next month, signed a five-year, $73 million contract extension last week, the maximum allowed under the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement with the players union.

Colangelo said the team knew of Stoudemire’s knee problem during contract negotiations, but was not aware of the extent until Tuesday’s surgery. The team projects Stoudemire to return around the All-Star break Feb. 17-21.

Carter detected the defect in an MRI exam several weeks ago and initially dealt with it through treatment and rest.

Stoudemire first talked about the soreness several weeks ago. After it worsened during last week’s training camp in Tucson, he sought the opinions of three doctors before giving Carter the go-ahead for arthroscopic surgery.

“Dr. Carter, in consultation with Amare, chose the best course of action in terms of treating it aggressively and taking care of it now rather than letting it become a lingering problem,” Colangelo said.

In a news release, the Suns said Carter repaired a joint surface defect roughly one centimeter in diameter on the inside of his left knee.

“The surgery went well and other than the defect that we treated today, Amare’s knee is remarkably and structurally healthy,” Carter said in the statement released by the team.

“Given Amare’s age and the nominal size of the location of the defect, I am confident the microfracture procedure performed will allow a healthy and normal return to action.”

Considered the cornerstone of the franchise, Stoudemire has improved each year and was a main component of a team that won a league-best 62 games last season.

The 6-foot-10, 245-pound forward was fifth in the NBA in scoring at 26 points per game last season, his third in the league. He averaged 30 points in the playoffs, 37 in the Western Conference finals against Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs.

Stoudemire’s loss will leave the Suns with a vastly different team through most of the regular season.

With the trade of Quentin Richardson and the departure of Joe Johnson via free agency, the only starters from last season’s team will be the NBA’s most valuable player, Steve Nash, and all-star Shawn Marion.

“It’s out of our control, so we’ve got to go out and make the most of what we have and not worry about the piece we’re missing,” Nash said after Tuesday’s practice. “We’ll try to build our team and hopefully be a better team when he returns.”

Coach Mike D’Antoni said the team probably would go small more often to better utilize the personnel. Everyone will have to shoot more, he said, including Nash and Marion.

“We don’t have any inside post presence,” Marion said. “However you want to look at it, he’s a beast in there, so we are going to miss that inside threat. But with Kurt (Thomas) and Brian (Grant), we do have some inside bangers.”

Stoudemire had been bothered by soreness in the knee for several months. He had worked out last week in training camp, but sat out the team’s scrimmage and final practice to have the knee examined by three doctors.

“Amare will be fine,” D’Antoni said. “I fully expect him to be great when he comes back and wow the fans for 10 more years.”

AP-ES-10-11-05 1727EDT

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