Amar'e Stoudemire can still be a source of hope for the New York Knicks, as long as he stays were he belongs—on the bench.
Much ado had been made over where the six-time All-Star would fit into New York's rotation upon his return. Head coach Mike Woodson stifled such fuss by making it clear Stoudemire would work his way back into the rotation from the pine.
Such a solution was only temporary, though, as the power forward's minutes could only be restricted for so long. There would indubitably come a time when he would be fit for extended duty and the Knicks would have to make that one decision Woodson and company have danced around for nearly half the season.
That time we speak of is now.
Amar'e Stoudemire has cleared another hurdle in his attempt to come back from left knee surgery.
Stoudemire's minutes limit has been increased to 25-30 per game, Mike Woodson said on Sunday.
Earlier in the week, Stoudemire's minutes had been capped at 20-23 by the Knicks' medical staff. Team doctors issued that edict after Stoudemire experienced soreness in his surgically repaired left knee following a season-high 28 minutes against Boston on Monday. So the latest development is a positive for Stoudemire.
Rightfully so, this latest development is huge for STAT, but it's even bigger for the Knicks.
Now is the time when Woodson needs to etch the star's role in stone; now is the time when he needs to make a concrete decision on Stoudemire's future.
Per Begley once again, however, New York's coach remains non-comittal in assigning Amar'e a permanent role until his minutes are no longer restricted by any means:
Another positive for Stoudemire on Sunday? Woodson said before the game that his minutes limit increased to 25-30.
Stoudemire's minutes had been capped at 20-23 by the Knicks' medical staff earlier in the week.
But Stoudemire will continue to come off the bench for the time being, Woodson said.
Woodson has said he wouldn't consider inserting Stoudemire into the starting lineup until his minutes are no longer restricted. When asked about the possibility of starting Stoudemire on Sunday, Woodson was evasive.
"Again, we're just going to gradually play him and see how things go and [Sunday] he'll come off the bench," the coach said.
We can all appreciate the fragile nature of the situation Woodson is in. On the one hand, he doesn't want to bruise the ego of a could-be star. On the other, he doesn't want to compromise the integrity and potency of his team. Therefore, his evasiveness is understandable.
But only for a little while longer.
Woodson has done right by the Knicks and Stoudemire by leaving him on the bench for now, yet he'd be doing both parties an even bigger favor by removing the "for now" of it all.
Because Stoudemire needs to continue to come off the bench. End of story.
No one's saying he can't play 30-plus minutes a game (though I wouldn't recommend it), but by playing outside of the starting lineup, Stoudemire and New York's mutual success stands to go from theoretical to fact.
I understand the Knicks are 29th in points scored in the paint per game (33.2) and desperately need Stoudemire's improved post maneuvers, yet those same maneuvers will be just as valuable coming off the bench.
New York has come as far as they have utilizing Carmelo Anthony as a power forward. As a stretch 4 (per 82games.com), Melo is posting a PER of 26.6 per 48 minutes and an effective field-goal percentage of 52.9. He's second in scoring with 29.3 points a game, shooting a career-best 42.1 percent from deep and playing some of the best defense of his career; he's holding opposing power forwards to a PER of 14.5 per 48 minutes when he's on the floor.
You should be. You should also be aware that tinkering with such prolific chemistry could prove fatal.
Why would the Knicks jeopardize that?
Inserting Stoudemire into the starting lineup disrupts New York's spacing and either forces Anthony to jostle for position with Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler, or cut off his inside attacks altogether.
Collective success is predicated upon putting your best players in the most optimal position to succeed. Leaving Stoudemire on the bench does just that for Melo.
As well as Stoudemire himself.
Let's not forget that as a sixth or seventh man, Stoudemire will be used (mostly) as a center, where he has proven to excel.
Degenerative knees, back and all, Stoudemire has the athletic edge over most centers—especially those who play within the second unit. It is there he can exploit their lack of mobility with his bolstered post game and burn their poor perimeter defense off the dribble or with a mid-range jumper.
Most importantly, though, bringing Stoudemire off the bench stands to reverse the current narrative when he and Anthony play simultaneously.
Within the second unit, Stoudemire is separated from Tyson Chandler, meaning he shifts to the 5. That allows Melo to stay at the 4, where he continues to torch defenses. It also opens up the spacing on the floor for both players, thus allowing them to play off each other, not in spite of one another.
So yeah, Stoudemire belongs on the bench.
What should happen with Amar'e Stoudemire once the cap on his minutes if fully lifted?
It's there he can be the anchor of an already impressive supporting cast. It's there he can play the position that elevates his production and effectiveness.
It's there that he can become the focal point of the offense.
It's there he can actively change the outlook of his pairing with Anthony.
It's there that he is willing to stay.
And it's there that he stands to turn a suddenly slipping and decimated fringe contender like the Knicks into a patented powerhouse.
*All stats in this article are accurate as of January 15, 2013.