COMMENTARY | Flash back to 2010: Amar'e Stoudemire, fresh off a fully guaranteed max contract from the New York Knicks, was the toast of the Big Apple.
One of the league's leading MVP candidates, Stoudemire quickly became the face of the franchise and concerns over his uninsured $100 million contract dissipated with every 30-point outburst.
The honeymoon would last just a few months. The Knicks' February 2011 trade for Carmelo Anthony squashed the pick-and-roll chemistry that was fostered between Stoudemire and Raymond Felton and turned a team that was fun to watch into a squad that couldn't get out of its own way on either end of the court. After starting the season 28-26, the Knicks lost 18 of their final 32 games, including a four-game sweep in the first round against the rival Boston Celtics.
Stoudemire's second season in New York didn't get much better, as he had to deal with his brother's death, a bulging disk in his back and missing Game 3 of the team's first-round loss to the Miami Heat after punching a fire extinguisher, which required stitches. Last year, he was relegated to a bench role after missing the first 30 games of the season and missed 31 more at the end of the year, including most of the Knicks' playoff run.
To say Stoudemire has something to prove to Knicks fans would be an understatement. There are many reasons that the 2013-14 season could be a make-or-break one for the former star of New York, starting with...
NBA teams can only legitimately afford to pay three stars under the salary cap while still being able to fill the rest of their roster (unless you're the Brooklyn Nets). As part of the Knicks' Big Three with Anthony and Tyson Chandler, Stoudemire commands a large portion of the team's salary cap but hasn't done much to earn his money since that magical first-half season.
Unfortunately, for Stoudemire, he will have to try and prove his worth to the team and its fans under a minutes cap this season. That isn't to say he can't be productive and give the Knicks a spark off the bench, but nobody could earn $20 million playing just 20 minutes per game. His contract is an albatross for a Knicks team that is at least one player away from being a legitimate contender in the East.
If Stoudemire can't prove his value to the Knicks this season, he may become trade bait as expiring contracts are all the rage in today's NBA landscape. New York would get some serious cap savings that it could use to compete in 2014-15, while a non-contending team would clear space the following offseason.
It's a shame to see a player's career derailed by injuries, as anybody who watched Brandon Roy before his knee problems would attest. Knicks fans feel little sympathy for Stoudemire, however, who has continued to cash big checks while doing little to earn them. He is on track to enter next season healthy, albeit limited, and staying on the court will go a long way to giving the Knicks some return on their investment.
The Suns, along with many other NBA front offices, saw these issues coming with Stoudemire. If the Knicks weren't desperate to land a big name in the summer of 2010, they would have offered a contract more in line with what Phoenix offered: 5 years, $71 million and only three years fully guaranteed. Rather than reaping the savings of such a deal right now, the Knicks are stuck with damaged goods.
Even since Anthony came on board, he and Stoudemire have struggled to share the court effectively. Neither star plays much defense and while Anthony thrives in isolation, Stoudemire loves to play pick-and-roll basketball and has an excellent mid-range game. Stoudemire also doesn't fit well with Chandler, whose offense is limited to pick-and-roll action and hustle points from offensive rebounds.
The one saving grace for the Knicks is that in a limited role, Stoudemire likely won't have to see the court much with Anthony and Chandler. Coming off the bench instead, he will see the majority of his minutes with Pablo Prigioni, J.R. Smith, Kenyon Martin and either Metta World Peace or Andrea Bargnani. Stoudemire will have an opportunity to play to his strengths and if he can play a key role off the bench, Knicks fans may accept him for what he is now.
While Stoudemire isn't in danger of being cut, he could become expendable via trade if he doesn't prove himself this season. The Knicks and their fans will be watching closely to see what kind of return on investment they will get from the remainder of his contract.
If he can't perform in New York, Stoudemire's only value would be to a tanking team willing to eat his salary to take if off the books in another year. What a fall from grace the would be for a man who was arguable the leading candidate for MVP just 2 1/2 years ago.
Chris Tripodi lives in New York and has been a Knicks follower since the days of Patrick Ewing and John Starks in the early 1990s. He has written for numerous online sources, namely Draft Insider, Optimum Scouting and Jets 101.
Follow him on Twitter @christripodi.
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