In Amar'e Stoudemire's defense, he has never gone on record as refusing to give up his spot as starting power forward on the New York Knicks. It was coach Mike Woodson that seemed intractable to that end, calling Amar'e his starter before the season in spite of Carmelo Anthony's fine work at the position last year, only backing down when Stoudemire's arthroscopic knee surgery forced him to take to the sidelines. And, in Stoudemire's defense, he's worked his tail off to overcome what was an embarrassing second season as member of the Knicks last year — missing 19 games, injuring his hand after punching a fire extinguisher, making fewer than half his shots for the first time since he wasn't of legal drinking age.
[Adrian Wojnarowski: Celtics star Rajon Rondo picked unnecessary fight]
Now, as Stoudemire readies himself for what he hopes is a mid-December return to action, the talented but personally frustrated forward/center is watching as sources around him throw out bits and pieces of info that are sure to warm the hearts of Knick fans frustrated with his injury-plagued play over the last 12 months. Apparently, Amar'e wouldn't mind it at all if the Knicks chose to bring him off the bench once he's healthy enough to play. ESPN New York's Ian Begley takes it from here:
"All he cares about right now is helping the team and winning," said one source, who has been around Stoudemire regularly in recent weeks. "He'd be fine with coming off the bench if that's what they want."
"He just wants to win," the source says. "He sees how well they're playing and just wants to help. He'll be fine with whatever they want to do."
We're just fine with that. As fans from afar, it would be nice to see the 10-4 Knicks carry on their winning ways, especially with so many good things coming out of a frontcourt that features Anthony and center Tyson Chandler doing the dirty work.
Of course, the Knicks and Stoudemire have $64 million reasons to be sheepish about turning Stoudemire into a sixth man scorer off of the sidelines. That's how much the team owes their one-time franchise player between now and 2015, the contract is completely uninsured even if Stoudemire has to walk away from the game due to knee troubles, and the embarrassment for Amar'e, coach Woodson, and the front office might be too much to keep him out of the starting lineup.
Embarrassment and stubbornness that, unfortunately, has proven to get in the way of New York's winning ways in the past.
Before the season started, we held out some hope that a full training camp and improved Stoudemire could find a way to work in the same frontcourt as Anthony and Chandler, and though Stoudemire hasn't gotten a chance to sway or squash those hopes so far this year, the team's remarkable play with him out of the lineup this season and during parts of 2011-12 is just too much evidence to overcome. Amar'e might be back with new moves, a more refined Hakeem Olajuwon-styled post game, and healthier knees later this year; but at this point it just doesn't matter.
The current lineup is working. The current lineup is 10-4, even with Jason Kidd missing some time and Rasheed Wallace hitting fewer than 39 percent of his shots. The current lineup — Kidd when healthy, Raymond Felton when eating properly, Ronnie Brewer when not breaking things, Carmelo Anthony when never at small forward again please, Tyson Chandler when awesome — has to stick. New York has been too good to mess with it.
And, at this point, Stoudemire is a center. It's what happens when you slow down.
At center last season, even in the midst of myriad health and chemistry setbacks, Stoudemire flourished offensively at the pivot position. His team kind of blew chunks defensively, but these are things you can work with while Amar'e works things as a go-to pivot player off the pine. In my ideal world, Stoudemire would be taking shots away from Wallace as Rasheed fires eight and a half three-pointers for every 36 minutes he plays (!) while only shooting only 31.3 percent from behind the arc. But Rasheed has significant value, so far at least, as a defender off the bench. Lineups featuring him play expertly on that end. And with his spacing — at least what Rasheed thinks is his spacing — in place, perhaps he and Stoudemire can find something together as bash brothers off the bench.
That's the hope, which is all we really have for Amar'e these days. It isn't as if he has let down the Knicks, they signed him to that contract knowing full well that there is no precedent for big men playing through microfracture surgery into their 30s and half a decade (at the time of Stoudemire's first game as a Knick) following the procedure. Stoudemire's worked to the best of his ability, and between his awful defensive instincts, dodgy knees and lineup frustrations, it isn't working.
Time for something new. Stoudemire — or, at least, two sources close to him — apparently agrees.
Here's hoping his coaching staff does as well.
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