We saw what happened to the New York Knicks at the end of last season, when injuries robbed them of an opportunity to truly compete in the playoffs.
They went from a surprise contender in February to a fading, injury-plagued mess by the time the postseason rolled around and they can't let the same thing happen to them in 2012-12. And that's one of the many reasons why Amar'e Stoudemire needs to proceed with caution as he continues to rehab his knee.
Via ESPNNewYork.com's Ian Begley, the forward underwent a debridement on his left knee at the end of October, a procedure that requires a six- to eight-week recovery period. A source told ESPNNewYork that Stoudemire is targeting a Christmas Day return, just in time for a battle with the L.A. Lakers.
Begley also reports that Stoudemire participated in shooting and conditioning drills on Tuesday before tweeting:
Amar'e Stoudemire (@Amareisreal) December 4, 2012
Head coach Mike Woodson seems cautiously optimistic that Stoudemire could be back on the court soon, though he didn't offer any specifics. Woodson told the Sporting News:
We're going to accept Amar'e back when he's ready to go, and when that is, I don't know. I really don't. That's a great sign he's out running and he's shooting a little bit. We're just going to gauge it as he goes along, and doctors and Amar'e will tell us when he's ready.
It's doubtful that the Knicks would allow Stoudemire to return before they were absolutely certain he was 100 percent ready to be back on the court, but just in case, better for him to give himself extra time to heal rather than not enough time.
As of now, the Knicks can afford to let Stoudemire take his time. They're 12-4. They're first in the Atlantic. Offensively, they rank fourth in the league and defensively, they rank eighth. They're playing well, and their record reflects it.
The fact is, any team can afford to let their stars take their time right now. It's December. It's not that the first couple of months of the season don't matter, but...well, they kind of don't. The best team in the first half can wind up being the worst team when all is said and done at the end of the regular season, and the worst team can turn things around late and end up being one of the best.
The teams that end up playing the longest during a season are the teams that stay the healthiest. Last season, the Knicks couldn't stay healthy. By the time the playoffs arrived, they didn't have Jeremy Lin or Stoudemire for some of the time, due to an ill-advised fist-to-the-fire-extinguisher, and it killed them.
And for this particular Knicks team, staying healthy isn't going to be a given: It ranks as one of the oldest teams in NBA history. That doesn't guarantee injuries, of course, but it does suggest that they might crop up as the long season wears on.
Returning for that Christmas battle is tempting, but if Stoudemire has to miss it, it won't be the end of the world. Especially if it means he'll be able to stay on the court when it actually matters—when the Knicks are fighting for playoff positioning at the end of the regular season.