After sitting out the first 30 games of the regular season nursing a chronic knee injury, six-time NBA All-Star Amar’e Stoudemire is finally ready to suit up for the New York Knicks as he is expected to play later tonight as the team hosts the Portland Trail Blazers at Madison Square Garden.
Injuries have taken a huge toll on Stoudemire. During the 2011-12 regular season, Amar’e averaged just 17.5 points and 7.8 rebounds, which were drastic drops from his totals the previous year (25.3 points, 8.2 rebounds).
He hasn’t become irrelevant in the grand scheme of things for New York, but I’m sure the team would love nothing more than for him to return to the dominating, physical presence he once was.
Fortunately, at least up until this point, his absence has been anything but detrimental to the team’s success. The Knicks currently sit atop the Atlantic Division with a record of 21-9 and are just half a game out of the top spot in the Eastern Conference, slightly behind the defending NBA Champion Miami Heat.
A major criticism of the team in the past was their inability to win games with both Amar’e and Carmelo Anthony (the 2nd leading scorer in the NBA at 28.5 points per game) on the court at the same time (Knicks have a losing record with the two of them in the starting lineup). With Stoudemire out of action and the Knicks early season success, that statement became even truer.
It appears now that Stoudemire will in fact come off the bench as the teams sixth man. Or, at the very least, a major contributor for the Knicks second-unit.
Does Amar’e have a problem with that decision? Apparently not.
“Whatever it takes to win. You guys [media] know me. Ever since I’ve been here, I’ve been all about winning and been a total team player. So whatever it takes to win, that’s the goal.”
Even if it takes coming off the bench.
“I’m totally open to it,” he said. “I’ve been here for three years now. You should know how much of a team player I am. In Phoenix … it was a team-oriented game and the same applies here in New York.” (Fred Kerber/New York Post)
Head Coach Mike Woodson has said in the past that no player on his team would lose their starting spot due to injury, but that looks more and more likely now considering the circumstances.
“I’m going to address that when we get to that point,” Woodson said last week. “Right now, I’m just taking it a day at a time and work the guys we have in uniform.”
With team chemistry being as cohesive as it has been through 30 games, it would make absolutely no sense for Woodson to re-insert Stoudemire back into the starting five on a permanent basis, barring any future injuries to other players of course.
In fact, it’s hard to debate the fact that keeping him on the bench for the remainder of the season is the absolute best move for this team.
Considering his injury history, holding Stoudemire to 20-22 minutes a night as he competes against the second-units of other teams would the smartest decision, both for him and the Knicks. It could very well prolong his career and keep him in tiptop shape as the Knicks make a legitimate push for an NBA Championship in 2013.
Having a second-unit which consists of Amar’e and scoring threat J.R Smith doesn’t look too shabby.
It’s clear as day that this team thrives when Carmelo Anthony starts at the four spot and Amar’e isn’t around gobbling up shot attempts. Why ruin that just to sooth egos?
I don’t doubt the claim that Stoudemire is “fine” with riding the pine so to speak, but that $100 million dollar contract he’s currently getting paid as well as his past success in the NBA as a multiple-time all-star could eventually make him one unhappy camper if he doesn’t (eventually) get the playing time he desires.
With recent injuries to key players on the Knicks roster, it’s plausible that Amar’e could see some time in the starting unit to help compensate for those missing pieces.
However, if this team truly has championship aspirations, then Amar’e Stoudemire needs to come off the bench and stay there.
The Knicks have a good thing going at the moment. The team is winning, the rotation is solid and optimism is at an all-time high.
Why screw things up now?