When Amar'e Stoudemire signed a max contract with the New York Knicks before last season, he returned respectability and relevance to the once-proud franchise. A little more than a year later, Stoudemire must save the Knicks again.
The question is: will he?
If Stoudemire were to accept a role off of the bench, he could alleviate many of the concerns over his ability to play alongside Carmelo Anthony.
Stoudemire, a legitimate superstar who averaged 25 points, eight rebounds and nearly two blocks per game last year, could very well balk at such a notion. However, it would not be wholly unprecedented. Many championship teams featured superstars that accepted lesser roles because it improved their chances of winning.
One could look back into Knicks history to see an example: the last time the Knicks made it to the NBA Finals in 1999, the San Antonio Spurs featured perennial All-Star David Robinson and second-year phenom Tim Duncan.
As The Admiral's NBA.com bio notes, Robinson made changes to his game for the betterment of the team: "Robinson unselfishly redefined his game to accentuate the skills and strengths of Duncan. Robinson began to play away from the basket at the high post, allowing Duncan the freedom to maneuver down low."
By moving STAT into the second unit, both Anthony and Stoudemire would find more favorable floor spacing. Each would be able to assume the role of primary inside scorer while the other is resting—Anthony posting up, and Stoudemire attacking the rim on pick-and-rolls.
Stoudemire could also regain his own effectiveness by playing more minutes against the second unit of opposing teams.
Even on a night against the Bulls in which Stoudemire's offensive stat line will look impressive (20 points on 7-of-12 shooting), his numbers were inflated by a better than average night with his mid-range jump shot, particularly in a third quarter that saw him score 13 points.
If allowed to play more minutes against the opposing bench, Stoudemire's lack of explosiveness could be minimized, as his experience and talent advantage would more than compensate.
His only made basket of the first half came just as Carlos Boozer was subbed out in the first quarter and Taj Gibson was brought in. Jeremy Lin drove to the basket and found an open trailer in Stoudemire when Gibson got turned around on defense.
In addition, coach Mike D'Antoni typically removes the majority of his starters towards the end of the first quarter, but leaves one in to bridge the transition to the Knicks' second team. Often times, that player has been Anthony.
In this scenario, Stoudemire would assume that role.
If Stoudemire were to enter the game midway through the first quarter, D'Antoni could have him be the "starter" that anchors the transition, and Stoudemire could do it at full strength against a tiring starting line, followed by the reserves.
The break between quarters would give him rest, enabling him to play the majority of the second quarter. He would play the tail end of his stint alongside Anthony when he returns with five minutes elapsed in the second.
Following this plan, both Stoudemire and Anthony would play roughly 15 minutes per half, but only six or seven minutes simultaneously.
Offensively, the problem has not been Stoudemire's chemistry with his point guards. Both Lin and Baron Davis can run the pick-and-roll effectively. Lin would also have more opportunities to learn the nuances of playing with each star individually.
Moving Stoudemire to the bench—but still giving him a starter's complement of minutes—will allow Anthony more touches while doing nothing to hinder Stoudemire's offensive production.
The move might also help address two other glaring weaknesses of the Knicks: rebounding and defense.
Depending on the opponent, one could make an argument for Jared Jeffries, Josh Harrellson or Iman Shumpert to move into the starting lineup.
Jeffries and Harrellson are both active interior defenders, and Shumpert is a better on-ball defender against guards and small forwards. All three bring energy and toughness that would help set the tone for the Knicks' defense and rebounding effort.
Tonight's game against the Bulls, a 104-99 loss, might offer the best example of why this is necessary.
Stoudemire finished the game with three rebounds, at times getting caught flat-footed as Bulls players grabbed offensive rebound after offensive rebound. Stoudemire finished the game tied for sixth in total rebounds on his team—behind players including, but not limited to, Landry Fields, Shumpert and Steve Novak.
Novak, a 6'10" three-point specialist, is averaging a career-high 1.76 rebounds per game this season.
Stoudemire excelled last year when he took the team on his shoulders. Now, he could allow the entire team to excel by swallowing his pride.
As he said in tonight's postgame interview on the Madison Square Garden Network (MSG), "We gotta find a way to win. We keep saying it but, we gotta find a way."
Amar'e Stoudemire, the way is before you. Are you willing to accept it?
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