His childhood was rough, to say the least. With his mother's continuing problems with the law, his adulthood hasn't been much of a picnic either. He bounced around from high school to high school with scant attention being paid to the fundamental aspects of his game. Yet he was still able to fashion a lottery selection and Rookie of the Year award immediately afterwards based almost entirely on raw talent and athletic gifts.
Immediately after that showing, the first of his many injured years came down the pike. Immediately after that season, Steve Nash(notes) returned to Arizona, clearly the perfect point man for an athlete that just had to catch, gather and finish. Then, after a single season spent in basketball heaven with Nash, Amar'e's knee took off. Microfracture surgery. A full year was lost. Three years after that? A horrific eye injury.
Now, he's a free agent. For a few more days, at least, until he officially signs with the New York Knicks. The Knicks feature next to no players. Eddy Curry's(notes) expiring contract. A crazed but promising shooter in Danilo Gallinari(notes). Toney Douglas(notes), Wilson Chandler(notes). A coach who used to let Stoudemire run loose in Phoenix, perhaps the best coach in this league to deal with Stoudemire's many ups and downs, but one who has never been shy to point out the downs.
And that's it. Because Amar'e can preen and promise and tell you that the Knicks (with, at this point, four players under contract for next season) "are back," but they're not. They're nowhere near it. And he can float other free-agent names and outright tamper with the likes of Tony Parker(notes) and Carmelo Anthony(notes) — players that are under contract until 2011 — but it's all a show, at this point. One that I still don't understand.
I'll never understand the guy, though, so how can I understand what the guy does? I can't understand showing up to a baseball game with your name on a personalized jersey, turned around backwards so that everyone can see that, yes, it's Amar'e Stoudemire. I don't understand leaving a team with Steve Nash as a point guard to join a squad with, what, maybe Luke Ridnour(notes) at this point? You hope? Perhaps Monta Ellis(notes), after a complicated deal?
I don't fully understand leaving the Suns. Essentially Amar'e's flight to New York came about because the Suns offered him a little over $3 million less over the course of a five-year deal than New York did, after needlessly underestimating New York's desperation and Stoudemire's value on the open market, and beginning negotiations with a much smaller deal. Amar'e should have been upset about that.
Amar'e's side will also try to talk about the minutes allotment, how Stoudemire's fourth and fifth years would not be guaranteed if he failed to reach 2,200 minutes, but if Amar'e was in any way reasonably healthy, that would have been a cinch to achieve.
To start, Stoudemire was allowed to toss out five games a year that featured his lowest minutes total. Let's say, on top of that, he missed 10 games due to tendinitis or some sort of fatigue-based I'm-getting-older injuries. This would leave him having to average 30.5 minutes per game in order to make the full amount of the deal, and that's without those five games getting tossed out. Barring a freak injury, this was an attainable goal.
And with a team like Phoenix — admittedly older and without a general manager, but one that still made it to the conference finals last year, and boasting Steve Nash for the foreseeable future — that still feels like a chance you have to take. All you're doing is banking on your own good play, your own smart work. You can handle that, right Amar'e?
There are many good reasons to go to New York. The city, for one. Unmatched in this green world. The chance to be the man, no doubt. The ability for a fresh start, to plug all those holes with newer, bluer names. The $3 million more. Guaranteed money, and not having to worry about losing a year and a half of salary just because some klutz falls into your knee.
This is not a bad deal, for anyone. Not for Amar'e, and certainly not for the Knicks. The guy can play, and it continually boggled me as to why he wasn't mentioned alongside LeBron James(notes) and Dwyane Wade(notes), as Chris Bosh(notes) was. Amar'e Stoudemire is worth the money, and as embarrassing a figure as James Dolan is, the Knicks with room to grow are worth taking a chance on.
I just hope he understands what he's getting into. Because Knicks fans have dealt with big names and bigger overhauls before. Certainly not an overhaul to this extent, but they've seen ownership groups come and go. They've splurged on Pat Cummings, they've traded for Kiki Vandeweghe. They shot for Michael Jordan and Reggie Miller, and ended up with Chris Childs and Allan Houston(notes). They, very publicly, went through a disappointing season, near-dissolution, rebirth, and shocking finals appearance all over the course of a six-month span in 1999.
They dealt with Scott Layden, they lived with Isiah Thomas, and they had to try to build up the muster to cheer for Jonathan Bender(notes) and Tracy McGrady(notes) last year. We can mock this franchise's delusion and losing ways, but we also understand that Knicks fans — as insufferable as some of them may be — have been through some, um, stuff. Usually with a bit more crazy added in one season than most fanbases have to deal with in a decade. A lifetime, even.
That's the high-risk, high-reward New York-way. They wouldn't have it any other way, and Amar'e? You've now fully subscribed to that way. You're not going to get the ball in the perfect place, every time down court. You're going to have every bit of post-practice talk scrutinized and made back-page ready, every day. You're going to have to come correct, whether you get all the help in the world, or if you're stuck there by yourself for a little bit.
All these teams are not the same. New York is different. Special, even when it's losing 55 games a year. So keep telling us the Knicks are back. Keep pumping yourself up. All of this fun and bluster means absolute squat once the ball goes up next fall.