New York Knick fans spent the early portion of the 2012-13 season dreading the looming return of Amar'e Stoudemire.
Suddenly, that date can't come fast enough.
It's not as if this team has struggled without him.
In fact, it's been just the opposite. At 17-5, New York is leading the Eastern Conference, and its winning percentage (.773) trails only that of Oklahoma City (.818).
The reason for this new-found urgency is that Carmelo Anthony, their unquestioned leader and MVP candidate, sprained his ankle after a violent collision with Dwight Howard in New York's 116-107 win over the Los Angeles Lakers.
New York doesn't need Stoudemire's return (which he told reporters was coming "soon," according to Al Iannazzone of Newsday) to help withstand what is only a minor injury by all accounts.
But the injury highlights where Stoudemire can have his biggest impact on this club—helping New York find success without Anthony.
Anthony's leading the team in minutes played with 35.6 per game. Prior to his early exit in the Lakers game, he had logged over 37.5 minutes in four straight games. He topped the 38-minute mark six times before that stretch.
Those types of minutes aren't unheard of in the league. In fact, he ranks just 32nd in the NBA.
But few players mean as much to their franchise as he means to New York. So it's not as if he's coasting while on the floor.
The Knicks have emerged as legitimate title contenders. They have disposed of one championship-caliber opponent after another.
Extra basketball in April and May is the expectation, not the goal.
So coach Mike Woodson needs a fresh Anthony for that stretch run.
New York has a collection of complementary pieces but no go-to scorers other than Anthony.
Stoudemire could be that guy. He's been one before, even during his tenure with the Knicks (24.7 points per game in 2010-11).
Whether he can still be the guy remains to be seen, but it's worth figuring out sooner rather than later.
There's a strong opinion around the basketball world that a Stoudemire-Anthony pairing isn't one built for sustained success.
But if Stoudemire's return buys Anthony some extra minutes of rest, that's time where the two aren't sharing the floor.
It's up to Woodson to find that delicate balance of playing time between the two players. It has to be enough to satisfy both, but it may wind up being fewer than the perennial All-Stars are accustomed to in order to maximize their effectiveness.
The impact of Stoudemire's return has been the elephant in the room for the Knicks since their hot start. With the team playing so well, fans and analysts alike have worried about the team's ability to handle this drastic transition.
Stoudemire is too expensive to move and too talented to keep out of the rotation.
If Woodson's golden touch (the Knicks are 35-11 since he took over for Mike D'Antoni in 2011-12) extends to this duo, New York will emerge all the better for it.
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