At long last, Amar'e Stoudemire is back in the New York Knicks' rotation. In the four games since returning from knee surgery, the six-time All Star has averaged 10 points and 2.3 rebounds over 20.5 minutes off the bench. Though he has looked better and better in each game back, it is time for Knicks management to swallow their pride and let him play not to provide depth to the team, but so he can audition in his new role as a trade chip.
Don't get me wrong. As a Knicks fan, I love watching Stoudemire as much of the next guy. When the Knicks signed him back in 2010, I literally jumped for joy.
However, I am also a realist. Though Stoudemire's time in New York has been generally successful and it would be sad to see him go, the Knicks would be better suited to see how much they could get in exchange for him. The truth is that this season has proven that the Knicks do not need Stoudemire, and the draft picks they could get in a trade involving him would ensure more success in the future.
First, let's talk about how the Knicks fared without Stoudemire this season. Though his size was sorely missed in some games, not to mention his ability to stretch the floor, New York was still able to get off to a 6-0 start and stay at or near the top of the Eastern Conference. In his absence, Carmelo Anthony moved to power forward and pest extraordinaire Ronnie Brewer played the 3.
Given how well the team performed without him, it's clear that the Knicks would be best suited dealing Stoudemire and his uninsured contract. Despite his injury woes, he still has great size and scoring ability. Given how so many teams are desperate for both, New York could definitely receive a nice package in return, one that features both great talent and draft picks.
All needs and trade packages aside, the main reason that the Knicks need to trade Stoudemire is because of Carmelo Anthony. They struggled to play together under Mike D'Antoni and even though they showed prowess sharing the ball when Mike Woodson took over, it's clear which man is the better fit.
Though Stoudemire has the size to be a tough defender at 6'11", 245 pounds, he is a scorer first and really only takes rebounds as they come to him. His low post game this season has improved but again, it is not his strongest suit. If he and Anthony are to play together, their best work comes when Stoudemire is at center, but that's difficult to make happen now that the Knicks have the dangerous Tyson Chandler in the middle.
More importantly, though he is only 6'8", Anthony is better suited playing power forward for the Knicks. His ability to create his own shot and make mismatches on defense is a skill that sets him apart from the rest of the pack, and ultimately makes him a better player than Stoudemire. By making Anthony play the 3 and Stoudemire the 4, you put two score-first players in a defensive system that really only calls for one player to star in the scoring department.
The numbers of both players when they play various positions are ridiculous. As a power forward this season, Anthony's player efficiency rating (PER) has been a career-best 25.9. Playing the 3, the highest PER he ever registered was 22.2.
Compare that to Stoudemire, who registered a 22.7 PER playing center for the Knicks in 2010-11. Once Chandler came aboard and he was shifted back to power forward, that number dropped to 17.7.
That said, the key to Stoudemire and Anthony playing well together is to separate Stoudemire from Chandler, as he is clearly better suited to playing the 5. Unfortunately, that isn't going to happen. Chandler is signed to a long-term contract and is also the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, and also leads the NBA in field goal percentage. To sit him down just for Stoudemire's sake is just as bad as taking multiple possessions off on defense.
That isn't to say that Anthony and Stoudemire cannot perform well together and that letting Stoudemire play is just a means of other teams watching what he can do. If Stoudemire can be fully committed to defense in Woodson's system as a power forward and only score as necessary, sort of like a less-explosive Josh Smith, then the Knicks need not seek trade offers for him.
Still, given how well the team has performed without him, particularly Anthony, the Knicks owe it to themselves to at least see who and what teams are willing to give up for their star big man. Stoudemire's time in the Big Apple has been fun, but it's time for him to stop playing for the Knicks and take his talents elsewhere, if that can be arranged.