We already knew that Amar'e Stoudemire chose a cautious approach this summer, electing to rest his haunted frame rather than pursue another offseason of low-post work with Hakeem Olajuwon, and that his slow-and-steady mantra was extending to pre-training-camp scrimmages and, in all probability, to training camp itself. As it turns out, though, the New York Knicks' forgotten $100 million power forward may have had another reason for taking it a bit easier in the mid-summer heat — he was recuperating from yet another trip under the knife, according to Frank Isola of the New York Daily News:
According to a Knicks source, Stoudemire had an unreported surgical procedure in July to repair one of his ailing knees. The Knicks open camp on Tuesday and have yet to announce that Stoudemire has had a third knee operation in 12 months. The surgery was described as "clean up" and isn't considered major.
However, the secrecy surrounding Stoudemire's latest health issue could be an indication that the club is not optimistic that they can rely on the veteran power forward.
It also could be an indication that they remain, inexorably, the Knicks, a furtive, stonewalling organization that has long seemed to regard mere honesty about things that have happened as some sort of competitive disadvantage. Whichever explanation works best for you, I guess. (It also might mean that we need to start lending a lot more credence to the anonymous fan posts at Knicks blog Posting and Toasting, where an Amar'e surgery story was shared nearly a month ago.)
We still don't know which knee was "cleaned up" — the left knee, which underwent microfracture surgery back in 2005, and in which the 30-year-old big man suffered a ruptured popliteal cyst and underwent debridement surgery that caused him to miss the start of last season, or the right knee, which also needed debris removal in March that kept him out until midway through the Knicks' second-round playoff series with the Indiana Pacers. (A rusty and ill-equipped Stoudemire struggled mightily against the Pacers, averaging just under four points in eight minutes per game as Indiana ousted New York in six games.) But Knicks coach Mike Woodson, whose 2014-15 contract option the team just exercised, did confirm that Stoudemire had undergone a minor procedure this offseason during the team's Monday Media Day session, and Stoudemire told reporters that the "extremely minor" procedure was done in the interest of prolonging his career. So at least there's that.
It's more bad news for Knicks fans still stinging over revelations like J.R. Smith's post-contract-signing knee surgery (which Smith honestly termed Monday "a family decision," as in, it was better for his family for him to lock up the contract before entering the O.R., which you can't really argue with) and subsequent five-game suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy, and the seemingly random pre-camp replacement of general manager Glen Grunwald with bad-old-days signifier Steve Mills. In pure on-court terms, though, it probably doesn't change a whole heck of a lot in terms of Stoudemire's likely efficacy and role for New York this season.
For one thing, while the term "minor surgery" must always be regarded skeptically when used by a Knicks organization that went from "optimistic" about Rasheed Wallace's return to pronouncing him out for the season two weeks later, it's a minor surgery that happened two months ago; Stoudemire returned from each of last year's debridement surgeries after roughly two months on the shelf. (Amar'e said Monday he's "still recovering.") For another, Woodson's already on the record as saying he plans to restrict Stoudemire's minutes this season, so even if there were to be any lingering effects from the summertime surgery, their impact would likely be limited by the coach's reticence to give Amar'e too much run.
For a third, the Knicks' multiple frontcourt imports — trade target Andrea Bargnani, free-agent pickup Metta World Peace and re-signed big man Kenyon Martin — each already figured to see plenty of rotation run at the four and five spots, minimizing the potential fallout of Stoudemire's absence. Perhaps most importantly, one fewer mouth to feed up front could lead Woodson to return Carmelo Anthony to power forward alongside center Tyson Chandler, an All-Star alignment that — when paired with swingman Iman Shumpert at the three and a pair of point guards in the backcourt — made the Knicks one of the league's most lethal offensive units last season.
In the best-case scenario for the Knicks, Stoudemire carefully works his way back into shape during training camp and is able to start the season in the role that best suited him during his brief 29-game appearance last season — as a primary offensive option operating in the shadow of the basket against (mostly) second-unit big men for about 25 minutes a night, scoring just under 22 points per 36 minutes of floor time and steadily marching to the free-throw line to keep the offense humming when Anthony and Smith need breathers. In the worst-case scenario, he's again unable to stay on the floor with those cursed and uninsurable knees, the $45.1 million he is owed over the next two seasons remains a spreading stain on the Knicks' salary cap ledger, and the task of supplementing the Knicks' premier scoring weapons falls to someone else ... just as it did for nearly a third of 2011-12 and the bulk of last season.
If that seems quite a long way from the affirmation that the Knicks were "back," the 30-point streak, the MVP chants and all the rest of it, well, it is. But that's where we find ourselves with Amar'e Stoudemire these days — hoping for the mere occasional flash of the fires of old, but increasingly resigned to the reality that anything more than that is most likely a distant, and fading, memory.