It’s obvious Amar’e Stoudemire isn’t the same guy who the Knicks signed in the summer of 2010. A multitude of injuries (mainly to his knees) have sapped the athleticism from one of the games most explosive players. The Knicks signed Amar’e with the hope that LeBron James would follow his lead and come to the Mecca. Mike D’Antoni had a vision of LeBron becoming the modern-day Magic Johnson, handling the ball on every possession and working a high post pick and roll with Stoudemire that would be unstoppable.
While this idea was always a pipe dream, LeBron’s decision to take his talents to South Beach left the Knicks out in the cold. Joe Johnson, the Knicks other target that off-season decided to take a max deal from the Nets leaving the Knicks with Amar’e as their sole prize that summer.
While New York may not have been able to unite James and STAT, the Knickerbockers were still in great shape. Amar’e was coming off an all-star season in Phoenix where he played a full 82-games and averaged 23.9 ppg and 7.9 reb. At age 28, his 5-year $100 million dollar deal made sense. The Knicks had been atrocious since the day they dealt Ewing and they needed to sign a superstar to prove that New York was once again an attractive destination. Amar’e fit every criteria they were looking for and would be the ideal centerpiece stretch 5 for Mike D’Antoni’s return to his 7 seconds or less offense.
The elephant in the room was that the deal was uninsurable because of Stoudemire’s past eye and knee injuries. Stoudemire had microfracture surgery on his left knee in November of 2005 and required surgery for a detached retina in 2009. The Suns had offered Amar’e close to a max contract that same summer, but had included a minutes played clause that kept the contract from being fully guaranteed. As worrisome as the left knee was, there were reports the Suns were even more concerned with his right knee. The Knicks weren’t in a position where they could strike-out that summer after selling their fans on waiting for 2010. So perhaps against better judgement they decided to give Amar’e a fully guaranteed deal and worry about the knee issues later.
In the first half of the 2010-2011 season Amar’e looked like the MVP of the association. Pre-All Star break, STAT was averaging 26.7 ppg, 8.6 reb and 2.2 blk. He was providing highlight reel dunks nightly. He seemed to have a telepathic connection with Raymond Felton and D’Antonio had the Knicks playing fast and loose. New York jumped out to a 22-17 record and with a young core of Gallinari, Felton, Chandler, Mozgov and Fields the future was promising. Going into the summer of 2011 the Knicks were in place to still have the flexibility to bring in another max free agent and build around Amar’e.
Then the Melo drama happened.
Anthony forced his way to New York with help from Knicks owner James Dolan (Lead singer of JD and the Straightshot). Dolan overruled GM Donnie Walsh who balked at the high asking price. After being sore the Knicks missed out on James, Dolan demanded that the Knicks deal for Anthony before the trade deadline. Anthony was desperate to be dealt to the Knicks so he could sign a max deal instead of signing that summer with the club for slightly less money. Walsh was confident the Knicks could hold off and sign him in July and keep the young core intact. It had been reported that a deal to the Nets was nixed because Anthony had told them he wouldn’t sign an extension in Brooklyn because he was dead set on becoming a Knick. That didn’t deter Dolan who wanted another superstar to pair with Stoudemire regardless of the cost.
When the deal went through, the Knicks dealt 3 draft picks and every young piece on the roster outside of Fields to bring the best scorer in the league to the Garden along with veteran point guard Chauncey Billups. Days after the deal Anthony signed a 3-year max extension ensuring the franchise was his for the foreseeable future. Only months after it began, the Amar’e Stoudemire era was over.
Trading for Anthony at that time was a panic move by a desperate owner. Melo and D’Antoni were never able to get on the same page,and Anthony and Stoudemire never really fit together on the floor. Both guys needed the ball in their hands and often when they touched the basketball, the possession died in their hands. D’Antoni didn’t try to work the two of them in a high post pick and roll where Stoudemire had flourished with Nash and Felton. That’s where STAT was most comfortable, but Anthony preferred to do his scoring off isolation. The ensuing results were hardly encouraging.
The Knicks struggled mightily after the deal going 20-23 the rest of the way finishing 42-40. The Knicks were the 6th seed and were swept in the first round of the playoffs by the 3rd seeded Boston Celtics. Chauncey Billups and Stoudemire were both hurt in the series and Anthony put the team on his shoulders but without any help the series was a lost cause. Stoudemire injured his back in the in the second game, which probably was a result of how much D’Antoni had leaned on him early in the season playing him nearly 37 minutes a night despite his medical history.
The players were locked out to start the 2011-2012 season. When the lockout ended and the league opened for business, every franchise had a new provision at their disposal, the amnesty clause. Each team was able to amnesty a player and remove their contract if signed prior to the new collective bargaining agreement. The clause excused a team for signing an erroneous deal and they were able to waive that player and he would no longer count against the salary cap. The Knicks should have kept the amnesty clause in their back pocket as a safeguard against a potential injury to Amar’e. Instead they decided to use it immediately on the expiring contract of Chauncey Billups who was set to make $15 million in the last year of his contract. The Knicks then went out and signed center Tyson Chandler fresh off a championship in Dallas, hoping he would make up for the defensive shortcoming of both Stoudemire and Chandler.
That off-season, Amar’e had spent his summer and fall rehabbing his back and felt fresh and healthy to begin the campaign. When the lockout ended the Knicks stumbled out of the gate before being saved by Jeremy Lin. In early February with Anthony ailing and Stoudemire mourning the loss of his brother, Linsanity ensued.
Stoudemire played well with Lin in the 4 games they played together while Anthony was out. It was the only time that season Stoudemire looked completely comfortable and it happened to coincide with Anthony’s absence. During that period D’Antoni stated he intended to ride Lin “like freakin’ Secretariat, which he did to a tune 9-3 record before the all-star break.
Following the break Anthony returned and continued to undermine D’Antoni by not buying into the team concept of the offense, Melo wasn’t comfortable with playing pick-and-roll. He prefered isolations, jab steps and holding the ball deep into the shot clock. Finally D’Antoni had enough and after a 6 game losing streak that dropped New York from the playoff picture, he resigned in mid-March. According to an article written by Yahoo! Sports Adrian Wojnarowski the locker room was divided:
“Dolan is blaming the coach,” said a source with knowledge of the Knicks’ locker-room dynamics. “Tyson [Chandler], Baron [Davis], A’mare [Stoudemire] – guys who came to play for Mike – or that system – are pissed. Lin isn’t happy either.”
The Knicks rallied under Woodson to make the playoffs but not without completely overhauling their style of play. The roles of Stoudemire and Lin were marginalized and Anthony became the sole focus of the offense. Melos effort and attitude improved and the Knicks were able to secure the 7th seed in the Eastern Conference which pitted them against the Miami Heat. In game one, rookie Iman Shumpert tore his ACL. That blow combined with shoddy officiating doomed the Knicks. After a game 2 loss that put the Knicks in a 2 game hole, Stoudemire lashed out in frustration and punched a glass fire extinguisher case cutting his right hand severely. He missed game 3, but played very well in a game 4 win and solid in the 5th game loss.
During the summer of 2012, Stoudemire tweaked his knee. He missed the first 30 games of the season of the 2012-2013 season. When he returned he was supposed to be on a strict minutes limit capping his gameplay at 20-25 minutes. Carmelo Anthony went down with an injury in March and missed 6 of 8 games during one stretch, Woodson relied heavily on Amar’e in his absence playing him over 30 minutes a night. The increase in workload was too much for Amar’e who had to have a knee debridement which put him on the shelf till the second round of the playoffs. When Stoudemire returned against Indiana he was used sparingly and the Knicks lost to the Pacers in 6 games.
This off-season, Stoudemire had another procedure done to one of his knees, the third in one year. It’s unknown which knee received the most recent debridement, but the fact that he had to go under the knife again is startling. He returned by the end of training camp and has played only limited minutes so far this season.
Woodson seems intent on not overly taxing Amar’e. The original plan was to have him platoon with Kenyon Martin and avoid any situations where he’d play back to back games. He’s been largely ineffective when he as seen minutes.
I don’t agree with the original plan to preserve him. Take a look at the way Popovich uses Tim Duncan. You wouldn’t need to play Amar’e that as much as Pop played Duncan, but the blueprint is there. Last season Duncan averaged 28 minutes a night. He was routinely benched in blow-out losses. He received some DNP’s on back-to-backs. That’s what Woodson needs to do.Give Amar’e a hard cap of 25 minutes a night and never play him 3 consecutive games. If Woodson is set on limiting Amare’s minutes the way he had initially intended, I can’t see how Stoudemire will ever be able to find his rhythm or shake the rust off if he isn’t allowed to play.
It seems like they prevailing feeling around the league is that Amar’e is shot, especially after his poor performance Tuesday at home against the Bobcats. It was the first time I can ever remember the Garden crowd booing Stoudemire. The media than began to pile on and TNT commentator Charles Barkley went as far in an interview on 98.7 ESPN Radio to claim that Amar’e had “lost his talent”:
You all in trouble with Amar’e. I like Amar’e as a person, but I don’t see him doing anything in the NBA, to be honest with you. I think he has lost his skill. He lost his talent…He played the game on talent when he was younger. He played the game 100 percent on talent. And now he has lost his talent and he is in serious trouble.”
I agree to an extent. Amar’e was an explosive force when he was younger. He was faster and stronger than anyone else who played his position and he relied mainly on his athleticism early on in Phoenix. That wasn’t the case though by the time Stoudemire joined the Knicks. He had a nice jump shot that complemented the pick and roll really nicely. Throughout his time in Phoenix, both with D’Antoni and Gentry the team ran basically the same offense. He and Nash ran pick and roll. When he first got to New York, he and Felton ran pick and roll. Then Dolan dealt Felton and the team became increasingly reliant on Melo playing isolation. Amar’e is at his best when he is in the high post playing pick and roll or pick and pop. He’s never been great back to the basket. Take a look at these shot charts from his tenure with the Knicks:
Obviously this year is a small sample size. Stoudemire’s shot tendencies have changed dramatically. Under D’Antoni, he had more freedom to take shots further away from the basket. In 2010-2011 he took 21 three-pointers. Not that he should be shooting trey’s, but under Woodson he’s never taken one. His mid-range jumper attempts have dropped dramatically as well. These charts show (and to an extreme this season) that Amar’e is expected to do his damage with his back to the basket and within 10 feet. Woodson won’t tolerate him taking long jumpers and I’m not exactly sure why. We all know the much hyped publicity piece of STAT heading down to Olajuwon’s ranch to learn how to play in the post. That was a great summer story for writers to wonder what it would be like for Amar’e to play on the block. He can’t play on the block. These charts show it. He’s never been able to, in fact he dreadful with within 10 feet. He’s a face up player who thrives taking mid-rangers or rolling off a screen to attack the basket.
I understand that when he and Chandler are on the floor together that Tyson is the guy initiating those screens in the high post. Chandler’s gone for the next six weeks and Amar’e is going to have to pick up some of that slack, but he’s not going to be able to do that from the block. Let him face the basket, look his defender in the eye and give him the ability to create off the dribble or settle for jump shots we know he’s capable of making, especially from 15 feet away on the left side of the court.
Amar’e Stoudemire isn’t completely finished. He just needs to be put in comfortable situations where he has an opportunity to succeed, where he’s thrived. He might be in the twilight of his career, but I don’t believe he’s finished just yet. Woodson can still save Amar’e.