Ready or not Carmelo, here Amar'e Stoudemire comes.
Much has been made of the New York Knicks' success without Stoudemire. More importantly, though, much has been made of the success Carmelo Anthony is having without Stoudemire.
Not only is 'Melo averaging 26.8 points per contest (second-most in the NBA), but he's shooting a career-best 43 percent from the floor and posting a career-high 24 PER.
Anthony's out-of-body efficiency and leadership has the Knicks off to their best start in decades and he has subsequently emerged as an early league MVP candidate.
But again, this has all happened without Stoudemire; Anthony has reached the pinnacle of his potential without one of New York's most important players. The same player who endorsed his initial arrival.
Which begs the question: What happens when Stoudemire returns?
If we are to believe that the former All-Star's current timetable is accurate, his re-entry into the rotation is imminent. As soon as Christmas even. What is that going to do to the Knicks? Better yet, what's that going to do to Anthony?
Regardless of whether Stoudemire starts or comes off the pine, many are preparing for the worst. He and Anthony—including playoff bouts—have played 72 games side-by-side, posting a disappointing record of 31-41.
Naturally, with the Anthony-led Knicks riding high, most are concerned that 'Melo and Stoudemire will pick up right where they left off—losing together. How is Anthony to prove that he is the league's most valuable player if his team is losing as a direct result of his tactical struggles with Stoudemire?
He can't, and he won't.
There is even a case to be made that successfully re-integrating Stoudemire would prove detrimental to Anthony's candidacy as well.
If Stoudemire comes back to the floor as his former self and New York is torching opponents, how can Anthony be deemed the most indispensable player in the league on a team with two—possibly three—All-Star caliber players?
Sure, LeBron James did it only last season, but he's LeBron James. Anthony isn't.
Obviously, Anthony's MVP cause stands to be crippled either way upon Stoudemire's return. Boom or bust, 'Melo no longer will have an opportunity to distinguish himself the way he currently is.
Except that's not true.
From where I'm standing, Stoudemire's return can actually enhance Anthony's campaign.
I won't pretend returning to losing ways when Stoudemire gets back helps 'Melo's argument, because it doesn't.
Should Stoudemire disrupt the flow of the Knicks and Anthony's success, though, that could boost the perception of 'Melo's importance to the team.
More likely than not, however, such an occurrence would only damage it. League MVPs are supposed to be LeBron-esque. They can thrive alongside anyone, leading their team to victory in the face of adversity.
Which is why Stoudemire's return stands to accentuate Anthony's chase for James' current crown.
Like it or not, Stoudemire's presence is an obstacle. He presents Anthony and the Knicks with a challenge, one that dictates they re-work an already winning formula.
If 'Melo can prove, once and for all, that he can co-exist alongside Amar'e—that he can lead New York to victory with and without his fellow superstar—his importance to the team will only further be asserted.
Look at this way: many remain fearful that Anthony and Stoudemire cannot co-exist, and that the Knicks are incapable of housing both superstars in the same rotation. How is it not beneficial to Anthony's MVP crusade to prove such a notion incorrect?
Thus far, Anthony has proven to be everything he has never stood for. Yes, he's scoring in excess, and yes, he's not dishing out an overwhelming number of assists, but he's become more of a leader.
Gone are the days where Anthony's will—not the team's—is done. Gone are the days where he refuses to lead. Gone are the days when he is viewed as contagion that stands to poison the collective.
Instead, 'Melo has led by example. He's still the same deft scorer he has always been in isolation, yet has embraced the art of spot-up shooting. His current true-shooting percentage (56.9) is the highest of his career and the Knicks are posting an offensive rating of 117.3, the highest mark any of Anthony's teams have ever hit.
Even more notable, though, is 'Melo's commitment to defense. It's not just that the Knicks are plus-11.2 per 48 minutes with him on the floor, the highest mark of his career, but he's also visibly committed on the defensive end.
This is an Anthony—despite a few lapses—who is getting back on defense. An Anthony who is contesting shots at the rim. An Anthony who rarely loses focus on either end of the floor.
It's an Anthony who has already quieted most of his doubters by converting a majority of the negative narratives surround him into fallacies.
There's now just one feat left for him to lay claim to—proving he can succeed alongside the star he was brought in to play with in the first place.
If Anthony is truly committed to the Knicks, if he's truly a legitimate MVP candidate, that's a vocation he'll relish in.
And subsequently conquer.
All stats in this article are accurate as of December 10, 2012.
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