When Amar'e Stoudemire played his first season with the New York Knicks in 2010-2011, he had an MVP-caliber season. Once again flourishing in Mike D'Antoni's fast-paced offense, Stoudemire posted 25.3 points, 8.2 rebounds and 1.9 blocks while shooting 50 percent from the field.
Then reality set in.
Since that first Knicks season, Stoudemire has been the injury-prone big man he was in Phoenix. He has not played a full season since and this year, his fragility has shone bright.
Stoudemire has only appeared in four games this season due to surgery on his left knee, and has come off the bench in limited minutes, though he did play a season high 28 minutes against the Boston Celtics on January 7. Averaging just 18.3 minutes entering that game, the oft-injured Stoudemire was sore afterward and, according to Ian Begley of ESPN New York, will see more limited action in the Knicks' January 8 game against the Indiana Pacers.
Stoudemire downplayed his soreness, saying that he felt "great," but let's be honest. The explosive Amar'e of old is gone and now that he has hit 30, his injury problems are never going to go away.
It can be seen in how he's played since his return. Rather than the fluid and explosive big man he was in years past, Stoudemire's movement seems balky, creaky and so unlike what fans are used to seeing from him.
Granted, that could just be him trying to get his legs back, and Stoudemire has had some bright moments in his return. He had an emphatic blocked shot in his first game back on New Year's Day to go with an eye-popping dunk, and he showed some fine work above the rim against the Celtics as well.
But those are isolated incidents. Yes, they are fun to watch and relive, but Stoudemire is going to be a red flag player for the rest of his career due to his body's unpredictable nature in terms of injury.
The sad part is that he has always been injury-prone, but the Knicks still signed him to an uninsured contract worth $100 million. This means that if Stoudemire suffers a career-ending injury tomorrow and has to retire, insurance companies will not bail the Knicks out. The team is on the hook for every last penny until the deal expires.
Looking at his previous injury history, it's hard to blame those companies for not getting involved. Though he has managed to play a full season or something close to it for six of what is set to become 11 years in the NBA, Stoudemire's injury woes are well documented.
In his second year in the league with the Phoenix Suns, Stoudemire sprained his ankle and was limited to 53 games. Ankle sprains often happen in basketball and this one just happened to be worse than others, but it is child's play compared to what else Stoudemire has gone through.
In 2005, Stoudemire underwent microfracture surgery on his left knee (ironically the same one on which he had surgery prior to this season) and was limited to three games in the 2005-2006 season.
The fact that he was able to come back at all and still perform well following this surgery is incredible, as the procedure is notorious for cutting careers short and/or lingering. Golden State Warriors center Andrew Bogut has appeared in only four games this season due to having the procedure on his ankle, and former No. 1 pick Greg Oden's history with the surgery is well-known.
The injury bug bit Stoudemire again in 2009, when he suffered a detached retina and missed the final two months of the season following surgery. Newer fans will notice that Stoudemire wears protective goggles whenever on the court, and it is because of that very injury.
The Knicks were willing to look past all of this when they signed him, but then last season happened. Stoudemire was having an off year, averaging just 17.5 points per game (his lowest since his rookie year), but all seemed to be well on the health front. In March, his back started acting up and he was diagnosed with a bulging disk.
Will fans ever see the Stoudemire of old again?
This injury dated back to the Knicks' playoff series against the Boston Celtics in 2011, in which Stoudemire strained a back muscle. He attempted to play through the pain, but was clearly not himself. He averaged just 14.5 points and 7.8 rebounds that postseason, shooting just 38 percent from the field as Boston swept New York in four games.
This injury prevented him from participating in basketball activities during the lockout that delayed the following season, but that's not the point. The fact that Stoudemire was slowed down so much by a back injury under the age of 30 is very telling, and should have made it obvious to fans that his days of averaging 20 and 10 a game were over.
That isn't to say that Stoudemire is no longer an effective player. Once he's back in full game shape and adjusts to his role in Woodson's system, be it as a starter or off the bench, he should be able to average between 13-15 points and maybe six or seven rebounds per game.
However, to say that he will do so without struggles is ludicrous. Stoudemire's body is a ticking time bomb and if history is any indication, he'll miss at least some time with various bumps and bruises down the stretch.
Hopefully, by that point, fans will have come to expect that as the norm for him.