The New York Knicks need Amar'e Stoudemire.
Not the Amar'e Stoudemire they thought they signed back in 2010 and not the Amar'e Stoudemire who took the NBA by storm through most of the 2010-11 crusade. Just a willing Amar'e Stoudemire.
Much has been made of the six-time All-Star's return. With the Knicks posting the second-best record in the Eastern Conference, there was plenty of concern surrounding how he would take to coming off the bench.
Even after Stoudemire quelled such concerns with his "whatever it takes to win" mantra, most continued to doubt whether he would fit in with the new-look Knickerbockers. And despite his claims that he is poised to dominate, most continue to doubt that he will return to superstar form.
At the risk of perpetuating a string of pessimism, let me acknowledge that such worries are not unfounded.
After multiple knee surgeries and a slew of setbacks, it's unlikely that Stoudemire ever returns to being the top-15 player he was once considered to be—and that's not a problem.
New York doesn't need him to be an All-Star. They don't need him to play 30-plus minutes a game or score 20 or more points a night. They don't even need him to start.
They just need him.
To date, the Knicks are banged up. When they finished their recent West Coast road trip, five key players—four of them arguably starters in Carmelo Anthony, Raymond Felton, Iman Shumpert, Stoudemire and Rasheed Wallace—were nursing injuries without clear timetables as to when they would return.
For the oldest team in NBA history—even one with the fifth-best record in the Association—that's a problem. It's a huge problem.
Stoudemire stands to make it less of a problem.
The Knicks will always be concerned about the health of 'Melo as long as he's chasing loose balls into the stands and sacrificing his body for victories. They'll also be forced to continue monitoring Felton, who attacks the rim with nothing short of reckless abandon. The same can be said for Shumpert as he works his way back from a torn ACL. And Wallace's age alone is cause for concern.
Stoudemire, though? He has the opportunity to be different.
New York will always be forced to limit his minutes, especially in the early going of his re-entry, but after extensive conditioning, rest and rehabilitation, Stoudemire is officially one of the healthiest Knicks on the floor.
I kid you not.
He may be a perpetual injury risk, but right now, he's a fresh body who's yearning to prove himself, dying to prove that he belongs.
And the Knicks need that; they need his presence.
The depth that he provides is going to be invaluable, especially down the stretch. Head coach Mike Woodson is surrounded by an onslaught of veterans, rendering extensive depth a necessity, not a luxury.
Prior to Stoudemire's return, the excess of depth has been more of a mirage. Sure, on paper, the Knicks are one of the deepest teams in the league. But when you read their injury report, their rotation thins out considerably.
Now, however, Stoudemire is working his way back into that rotation, a rotation that sorely needs him. He will spend a majority of his time playing center in the second unit, and it is there that he has the opportunity to have a profound impact on this team, on what was once his team.
I'll be one of the first to admit that there are plenty of questions facing Stoudemire as he navigates the rest of the season. Anytime a player of his caliber comes back after an extended absence, there are plenty of conflicts to wade through.
But let's not make the mistake of over-complicating this the way Marc Berman of the New York Post has:
They won’t need him to get a top-four seed and home court in the first round. They will need him at close to his All-Star best to get the top seed — which may be the difference in a potential Eastern Conference Finals showdown with the Heat.
The Knicks’ frontcourt is too old and injury-prone not to need a beastly Stoudemire to win a title. But what version are they getting back exactly?
Berman refrains (for a change) from making any boldly inaccurate assertions, yet he implies that the Knicks need him to become an All-Star again—which they don't.
Would it be welcomed? Would it squelch any remaining doubts that continue to plague New York?
Of course, but so will him being a valuable sixth man off the pine.
What we must understand is that Stoudemire has the opportunity, yet again, to do something great for the Knicks. Only this time, his greatness is not predicated on him being great, but rather, him simply being available.
We know that Amar'e is one of the most explosive talents in this league. We know that he's going to continue to be asked to assume the center position, a slot in which he posted a PER of 25 from only last season.
We know that his God-given abilities suggest he can still play at a high level, at an All-Star level.
What we—and he—must also come to know is that the Knicks don't need him to do any of that. Again, they just need him.
The Knicks need him to compress defenses to create open shots for their shooters. They need him to establish a sense of purpose on defense. They need him to score. Not in excess, just score.
Most importantly, though, they need him to remain healthy.
When he's healthy, that's when he stands to make an impact, that's when he will enhance the dynamic of this team. He'll improve New York's attack simply by being present, regardless of if he averages 10 or 20 points a game.
Remember, the basketball sphere is up in arms about his return in fear of him disrupting the Knicks' top-notch chemistry. Ergo, it's clear New York isn't in need of another superstar; it's already winning as is.
Do the Knicks need Amar'e Stoudemire to play at an All-Star level to contend?
What it does need is a willing body, a healthy body. A body that's prepared to do "whatever it takes to win."
They need Stoudemire's body, in whatever capacity it and his abilities can be had.
"After two-plus seasons with the Knicks, the only certainty with Stoudemire is uncertainty," Berman of the Post wrote.
Once again, I'm inclined to disagree with my shiny-headed friend.
Because after two-plus season with the Knicks, the only certainty with Stoudemire is that New York still needs him as much as it did the day it signed him.
Just in a different capacity.
*All stats in this article are accurate as of December 31, 2012.