With the Knicks starting the season 8-0 and winning 10 of their first 14 games without the oft-injured Stoudemire in the lineup, there was some serious concern as to whether his insertion would disrupt the superior chemistry the team had established.
As talented a player as Stoudemire once was, and even still is, he and Carmelo Anthony have not proven they can coexist within the same lineup.
Anthony prefers to dominate the ball. He has his entire career, and it's worked for him. The problem is Stoudemire is at his best with the ball in his hands as well. Outside of pick-and-rolls, neither player is especially known for their movement off the ball.
As such, this pairing hasn't culminated in much. They've played in just 72 games together and posted a disappointing record of 31-41.
That is why so much stake has been put into what Knicks coach Mike Woodson must do upon Stoudemire's return.
Does he place him back in the starting lineup where he and 'Melo have hardly excelled and played their way toward two first-round playoff exits? Or does he shake things up, bring Stoudemire off the pine and make him the highest-paid sixth man in the league?
Though the former has proven ineffective, the latter was believed to be potentially detrimental.
How would Stoudemire react to assuming a bench role? How would he take to being relegated outside the starting lineup? Could his ego withstand such a monumental hit?
Therein lied the problem—Stoudemire's ego. Separating him and Anthony makes plenty of sense, but not if it causes friction on the court or in the locker room.
But the Knicks no longer have to worry about it—Stoudemire has sorted out the dilemma for them.
According to Ian Begley of ESPNNewYork.com, the six-time All-Star has no qualms about coming off the bench, as long as he can help the Knicks win:
Amar'e Stoudemire would accept a role as the New York Knicks' sixth man if asked, two sources with knowledge of Stoudemire's thinking told ESPNNewYork.com.
"All he cares about right now is helping the team and winning," said one source, who has been around Stoudemire regularly in recent weeks. "He'd be fine with coming off the bench if that's what they want."
Make no mistake that this takes a burdensome weight off the Knicks' shoulders. Woodson has remained evasive about his plans for Stoudemire when he returns, but now, he's free to make a definitive decision—no matter what that decision may be.
And that's not just huge, it's gargantuan for a New York team that has finally assembled a lineup that works, without forcing anyone involved to make extensive sacrifices.
The case can be made that 'Melo and Stoudemire just need more time together to develop a rapport, that they are capable of thriving off one another alongside Tyson Chandler, and that ultimately may be true.
But the Knicks don't have that kind of time. Not when Stoudemire is as fragile as he is, not when their title window is only open for a couple more seasons.
And certainly not when Anthony is currently posting the highest PER of his career at 24.2, a direct result of spending a majority of his time at power forward.
Having Stoudemire come off the pine allows such success to continue. It frees Anthony up to play the 4 and allows Chandler to remain the Knicks' primary screen-and-roll player without having to jostle for position with Stoudemire.
So from Anthony and Chandler's standpoint, this move just makes sense.
And you know what? It makes sense for Stoudemire as well.
He's no longer the explosive athlete he once was. His knees, his back and fire extinguishers around the globe won't allow it.
Does he remain one of the premier athletic specimens in the league? Yes, but not to the point where he can play 30-plus minutes every night.
Allowing the Knicks to bring him off the bench, however, limits those minutes and preserves his health, ensuring he can be as effective as possible.
It also provides him and Anthony with the opportunity to finally thrive together without making any significant adjustments.
Because separating Chandler and Stoudemire is arguably even more vital to the Knicks' success than splitting up him and Anthony.
With Stoudemire coming off the bench, he'll be playing alongside a wealth of stretch forwards in Steve Novak and Rasheed Wallace. This will leave him to spend plenty of time at center, where he spent much of the 2010-11 season and also where he posted a 24.3 PER.
That, again, is huge.
Without Chandler on the floor, Stoudemire and Anthony won't seem as cluttered a pair. Stoudemire can favor one side of the block while Anthony goes to work on the other. He can also be used as a high pick-and-roll decoy when the Knicks want Anthony to clear out.
Simply put, Stoudemire's willingness to come off the bench, to do whatever it takes to help this team, opens up a swarm of options for the Knicks, options they certainly wouldn't have with him in the starting lineup.
All season long, New York's success has been predicated on doing what's necessary to win. If that entailed Anthony dropping just nine points against one of the best teams in the league in the San Antonio Spurs, then so be it.
Because this season has been about putting the team first.
The same team that has seen every player buy into the concept of accountability. The same team that has devoted itself to executing at all costs. The same team that currently boasts the most efficient offensive attack in the Association.
The team that has put the needs of the collective above all else, above everything else.
And yes, the same team that is going to remain on fire now that it's clear Stoudemire stands for everything they have come to emulate.
All stats in this article are accurate as of November 29th, 2012.
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