Amar’e Stoudemire is guaranteed $65 million from the Knicks over the next three seasons, one of the top 10 highest guaranteed contracts in the NBA, and one that has already proven impossible to unload.
With Stoudemire playing less than half of New York’s games since last Christmas due to injury, that contract is hurting. And who knows what percentage of games Amar’e will be able to make going forward?
Stoudemire has had several setbacks in this recent round of recovery from what has been portrayed as a relatively benign knee cyst. But just as you probably suspected, the problem is worse than that. Who misses eight-plus weeks from, essentially, a lanced boil?
ESPN blew the cover off this, connecting the cyst to Stoudemire’s mircofracture surgery in a preseason piece that went mostly unnoticed:
“Something else is going on in his knee besides the Baker's cyst," said Stephen E. Blythe, a Miami surgeon who's been practicing for more than 40 years and has experience treating pro athletes. "It's unusual to rest someone that long.”…The doctor said that because Stoudemire is a patient of microfracture surgery, he already has some damaged bone in his knee. Therefore, some degenerative changes could have been giving him trouble lately, resulting in the popliteal cyst.
In other words, the time on Stoudemire’s surgically repaired “70-year-old” knees may finally be up.
The rest of the league knows it. This offseason, the Knicks couldn’t give Amar’e away, per Howard Beck of the New York Times.
This past summer, the Knicks offered Stoudemire to nearly every team in the league — “available for free,” as one rival executive put it…no takers.
Combine Amar’e’s contract with Carmelo Anthony’s and Tyson Chandler’s guaranteed contracts of $67 million and $42 million through 2014-15, and the Knicks are knocking on the salary cap ceiling ($58.044 million) before even tending to the rest of the roster.
Throw in two more starters (or three if you don’t count STAT) and a bench, and the Knicks enter luxury-tax territory ($70.3 million).
TEAM TOT. ||$80,921,216||$78,601,352||$79,485,622|
What’s worse is, with a firm grasp on the No. 2 seed, the Knicks are playing as if they don’t need Stoudemire. Gasp, could he make things worse?
Stoudemire and the Knicks will need to figure out a new role for the power forward upon his return, hopefully as a bench player. It would be foolish to dislodge Anthony from the 4, where he’s vexing the whole league.
“Doomed” may be a bit hyperbolic, but when it comes to Stoudemire, the Knicks are damned if he plays and damned if he doesn’t.
On one hand, they need a healthy Stoudemire to take New York to the next level: the NBA Finals. The thing is, he might wind up limping out the rest of his contract on the court.
On the other hand, Stoudemire might continue playing in only 50 percent or less of Knicks’ games, a situation reminiscent somewhat of the Eddy Curry debacle.
Either way, the Knicks lose.
As it stands, the Knicks, though making a bid, are still not good enough to topple the champion Miami Heat, who have reclaimed their rightful place atop the Eastern Conference.
What New York needs is another player as good as Amar’e was in his better days to compete with the Heat, Oklahoma City Thunder and physical teams like the Chicago Bulls and Memphis Grizzlies (Los Angeles Clippers?).
As it stands, with an underperforming or non-playing Stoudemire hanging around, the Knicks could be considered doomed. Fans may be living through another Patrick Ewing-era, where New York excels throughout the season, goes deep in the playoffs, maybe makes a Finals appearance…but wins no ring.
It would be a shame to waste Carmelo Anthony and one of the more stolid, complete teams in the NBA over the next three seasons.
Lately, James Dolan has appeared more interested in winning a championship than just filling the coffers. Maybe the Brooklyn Nets and the bombastic Mikhail Prokhorov have something to do with that.
So, what about a third option, where the Knicks just blow up the team payroll by getting another big player, swallow the luxury-tax penalties and marginalize Stoudemire somewhere on the bench as a minute-eating role player?
Sounds like something Dolan is capable of. The things is, luxury-tax penalties become painfully punitive beginning in 2013-14, making any big ($15-20 million) play prohibitive.
Check out Moke Hamilton's "How NBA's Luxury Tax Penalties Will Impact Elite Teams" for everything you need to know about the new luxury tax structure.
Let’s hope it doesn’t come to any of this. Perhaps Stoudemire can return, remain healthy, jive with Anthony and get his numbers back up to par.
Given the past couple of years, that’s a lot to hope for.
All stats in this article are as of Dec. 30, 2012. Salary data courtesy basketball-reference.com.