The New York Knicks are Carmelo Anthony's team, and there is a perception among fans and basketball insiders that the Knicks will only advance so far as he carries them. If things go wrong and the Knicks fail to win a playoff series, Anthony would bare the brunt of the blame.
Of course, basketball is a team game, and the Knicks' success will depend on the performance of several key players in addition to Anthony, chief among them, Amar'e Stoudemire.
Stoudemire was an explosive power forward in the prime of his career when the Knicks signed him to a five-year, $100 million contract in the summer of 2010. Management hoped he would attract other superstars to New York City, and he delivered when his good friend, Carmelo Anthony, demanded a trade to the Knicks months later.
When the Knicks acquired Anthony in February of 2011, Stoudemire had the more impressive resume of the two. STAT had appeared in six All-Star Games, compared to Anthony's four, and had been selected to the All-NBA first or second team on five occasions. Anthony made the All-NBA second team just once, in 2010.
Stoudemire was also having a phenomenal 2010-2011 season at the time of the deal. Yet, from the moment Carmelo Anthony landed in the Big Apple, he soaked up the spotlights of Broadway.
Regardless of their career accolades, Melo was widely considered the better all-around player. The Brooklyn native was a more versatile scorer and a superior passer, and he possessed greater defensive instincts.
Perhaps, more importantly, Anthony was the bigger star. He had gained national recognition during his freshman year at Syracuse University when he led the Orange to a national championship in 2003.
His legend only grew as scouts compared him to his friend and fellow member of the 2003 draft class, LeBron James. Excellent marketing by Jordan Brand kept Anthony in the national spotlight in the years that followed.
Anthony developed into a sensational scorer and great all-around player with the Denver Nuggets, though he was not the same caliber player as James or even players like Dwyane Wade, Derrick Rose, Kobe Bryant or Chris Paul when the Knicks acquired him. His brand had surpassed his game.
Anthony's cult of personality enabled him to dictate his coach and depending on who you believe, possibly his teammates in New York. Former Knicks' coach Mike D'Antoni quit after Anthony refused to buy into his spread offense. He was replaced by Mike Woodson, who won Carmelo's approval with a steady dose of isolation plays.
Many Knicks fans believe that the team declined to match the Houston Rockets' offer to overnight sensation Jeremy Lin because Anthony did not want to play with him. They also remember that Carmelo forced the Knicks to gut their roster to acquire him via trade when he could have just signed with the team as a free agent a few months later.
Meanwhile, Stoudemire's career took a turn for the worse after Anthony's arrival in New York. The former Phoenix Sun injured his back during the Knicks' playoff series against the Celtics and hobbled his way through the Celtics' four-game sweep, contributing just 14.5 points per game, compared to 25.3 in the regular season.
He lacked explosiveness during the lockout-shortened 2011-2012 season, and just when he appeared to be getting his legs back under him, he was sidelined with a bulging disc in his back. STAT finished the season with his lowest scoring and rebounding averages since his rookie season.
The bad breaks continued when he banged knees with Chris Copeland during the second week of the preseason. Stoudemire will miss the first six to eight weeks of this season after undergoing a debridement of his left knee, the same knee that required microfracture surgery in 2005.
Based on his recent back and knee injuries and disappointing 2011-2012 campaign, STAT appears to be on the downside of his career. His days as an elite player are behind him.
Knicks fans are frustrated by his inability to stay healthy. They will voice their criticism if he struggles on the defensive end and rue the day he signed what is now a virtually untradeable contract, but there is a sense that Stoudemire's decline has been beyond his control.
His uncertain future has shifted the burden of leading the Knicks more squarely onto Anthony's shoulders. Unlike Amar'e, Carmelo is still perceived to be at the peak of his powers, the one remaining superstar capable of leading the Knicks deep into the playoffs.
Even with a diminished Stoudemire, he has a talented, deep and experienced supporting cast, led by reigning Defensive Player of the Year Tyson Chandler.
After enduring years of futility, followed by two early playoff exits, New Yorkers are running out of patience. If their beloved Knicks do not advance past the first round of the playoffs this season, Carmelo Anthony will feel their wrath.
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