Passing Judgment – The Amare Quandary

For about a decade, I was a dormant New York Knicks fan.  There was no reason to watch games or follow the team during much of the 2000’s because of piss poor play, terrible management, and a hideous roster filled with washed up, unlikeable players.  Gone were the days of Patrick Ewing, John Starks, and Charles Oakley.  But when Isaiah Thomas was finally relieved of his duties and Donnie Walsh was brought in, the storm clouds started to dissipate in anticipation of the summer of 2010 when the Knicks would have enough salary cap flexibility to start rebuilding.  Of course, we all wanted LeBron James to take his talents to Madison Square Garden.  But that didn’t happen.  Instead, the Knicks brought in Amare Stoudemire with a five year contract worth just under $100,000,000.  While he was no LeBron, he was an established superstar who could make the Knicks relevant again.

The move was not without risk.  Stoudemire had a significant injury history including microfracture surgery on his knee, as well as a detached retina.  But he had played for Mike D’Antoni in Phoenix so the Knicks knew what they were getting.  After a slow start to the 2010-2011 season, the Knicks embarked on a long winning streak that captivated a starving fan base and put the franchise back on the map.  The Knicks were finally back in NBA prominence gaining national television exposure on a regular basis for the first time in years.  With players such as Raymond Felton, Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari, and Landry Fields, the Knicks played cohesive and intelligent basketball led by their star, Amare Stoudemire. 

But after free agency in 2010 changed the landscape of the NBA, it became clear that the Knicks needed another superstar to pair with Stoudemire in order to compete with the Miami Heat, Los Angeles Lakers, and other superpowers of the NBA.  That is when the Knicks pulled off a blockbuster trade with the Denver Nuggets and acquired Carmelo Anthony for most of their starting lineup.  One of the most compelling storylines of this acquisition was how Stoudemire and Anthont, both prolific scorers, would be able to play together and get their looks at the basket.  The Knicks ended up making the playoffs but were promptly swept away by the Celtics in the first round.  However, in the middle of the series, Stoudemire aggravated a back injury and could not finish the series.  This led to a valiant effort by Anthony, but to no avail.

Entering the 2011-2012 season, there were high expectations for the Knicks in their first full season with the superstar duo.  However, it has been a complete rollercoaster of a season marred with injuries, inconsistency, Lin-sanity, a coaching change, and more questions of where everyone fits into the grand scheme of the team.

In March 2012, Stoudemire was diagnosed with a bulging disk in his back and will likely be out the rest of the regular season and possibly the playoffs if the Knicks gain a berth.  Without Jeremy Lin, the Knicks point guard play is a major question mark having to rely on aging players like Baron Davis and Mike Bibby, along with an unproven Toney Douglass.  This means that Carmelo Anthony once again must put the team on his back and lead the way.  But before that, when Stoudemire and Anthony were on the court together, they never meshed well in providing the lethal scoring combination that Knicks’ fans envisioned.  Stoudemire looked old and worn down from various ailments.  He was unable to play the kind of defense necessary to justify loading the lineup with offensive threats.

Looking ahead to next year, the Knicks will realistically not be able to make any splashes in free agency due to their salary cap limitations.  Re-signing Jeremy Lin will be a priority, but besides that, the roster should remain mostly the same.  That begs the question of how this will work when everyone is on the floor together for an extended period of time.  Despite Lin’s small sample of games, it appears that he can effectively run the point and put his teammates in the best position to score – which is the main priority of a point guard.  However, his defense is a work in progress. 

The point of this is that the Knicks may not need Amare Stoudemire going forward.  That is hard to say given what he did to single-handedly bring the Knicks back to respectability in 2010.  He has played his heart out, even during difficult times when his brother was tragically killed in a car accident.  But the fact is that he is physically breaking down and cannot be counted on for 81 games.  His presence on the court essentially leaves the Knicks at a disadvantage defensively.  With the other scoring options the Knicks have, Stoudemire’s role is diminished as well. 

It would serve the Knicks best in the long run to trade Stoudemire and his contract to free up salary cap space and focus more on defense and point guard consistency.  I say this with mixed emotions because I personally like Stoudemire as a player and I appreciate what he has done for the franchise.  But the Knicks will be handcuffed by his contract over the next three years, and they certainly will not get the equivalent performance for the value of the deal. 

If the Knicks are going to become a viable contender for a championship next year, they must improve their defensive consistency and find a balance between Carmelo and the rest of the team.  The way they have played under Mike Woodson is a small sample of exactly that.  It hurts not having Jeremy Lin there, but they are getting by with Davis, Bibby and Douglass – for now.  They can have success if they continue this style of play.  But think about this – if you plug Stoudemire back in the lineup, then you sacrifice a lot of defense for a minimal impact on offense.  That is not the blueprint for success.  That is just the reality.

 

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