The New York Knicks have made a lot of questionable personnel decisions in recent years, and with Amar'e Stoudemire nursing yet another knee injury, not amnestying his $100 million contract looks like it could be the worst of all.
But we shouldn't be so quick to dismiss the decision.
Yes, he's overpaid—very overpaid—but when you think about why it was done—and compare it to other decisions the franchise has made—it isn't so bad.
Let's go back to 2011. The Knicks had made the postseason for the first time in years and did so with a new "Big Three" of Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups. Things were looking up, but with the NBA lockout looming, there was uncertainty ahead.
STAT and Melo were both locked down to multi-year deals, but Billups had a team option for $14 million. Knowing they'd need a point guard but being unsure about exactly how much they'd have available to spend when free agency opened, the Knicks chose to bring back Billups.
The end of the lockout came with two things that changed the game for the Knicks. First, Tyson Chandler shocked the world and decided to leave the Dallas Mavericks following their championship season, and, second, the league introduced the amnesty provision, allowing teams to rid themselves of one contract from the salary cap.
The contract would still have to be paid in full, but the player would be off the roster, and cap space would open up.
New York had two needs, and only one could be filled. They could either keep Billups as the point guard or amnesty him and have just enough to sign Chandler as the defensive leader they needed.
You may ask why the Knicks bothered picking up Billups in the first place, but you have to take into account that no one really expected Chandler to be available, and there was no guarantee that the amnesty provision would be introduced at the time.
The other big question was why they chose to amnesty Billups over Stoudemire. Surely considering his injury history, it would have made more sense to get out from under STAT's monster deal to make way for Chandler.
Not necessarily. Stoudemire had a good $80 million left on his contract at that point, and Billups had only the $14 million. James Dolan has a lot of money to work with, but spending that much for nothing in return isn't particularly attractive, even to him.
Stoudemire was coming off of an MVP-caliber season, so New York banked on Stoudemire keeping up that level of play and avoiding significant injuries. It's a risk that hasn't paid off, but it was a risk worth taking.
Alternatively, New York could have just kept Billups and saved the amnesty for later. Instead of signing Chandler, the Knicks could have found a cheaper defensive alternative and spent the $14 million on someone else when Billups' contract expired in 2012.
One can only speculate on where the Knicks could have gone from there. It really depends on who would have come to New York for $14 million that year. Chandler ended up as the Defensive Player of the Year, so they certainly wouldn't have found anybody better for that price.
Amnestying Stoudemire rather than Billups only would have saved $5 million, which really isn't that much in the NBA. To put things in perspective, the Knicks would still be flirting with the luxury tax had STAT been amnestied.
The $5 million saved also wouldn't be greatly helpful to the Knicks. They are allowed to spend $3 million every offseason regardless of the cap situation, and you also have to consider that Stoudemire is a better player than Billups, even with the injuries.
What a lot of fans have a problem with is why Stoudemire was even given the contract in the first place. Giving one of the league's most injury-prone big men such a huge contract didn't make a whole lot of sense.
The argument there is that without Stoudemire in place, Melo—the man Dolan truly wanted—would not have come to New York. Whether that's true or not is another question.
Either way, you can't argue that the Knicks haven't handled the contract well since then. You'd expect a team with a contract like STAT's on the books to struggle building a roster, but that hasn't been the case.
By using sign-and-trades, good scouting and veteran players who value winning over money, New York has built a relatively deep squad.
Convincing J.R. Smith to sign for only $2.8 million and signing Raymond Felton for only $4 million after a down year are just two examples of shrewd moves the Knicks have made to build around Anthony.
As it stands, the Knicks don't have a single player outside of the Big Three making more than $4.6 million, which really says it all.
With all of Stoudemire's injuries and all the money owed to him, not being able to amnesty him is a tough situation with which to deal.
That said, the fact that New York is still a top-10 team and that the amnesty clause went to good use contradict the idea that this is the worst decision in recent Knicks history.
The last decade has seen the Knicks make some awful moves—like say, the Eddy Curry trade or the Jerome James contract—but this isn't on that level. With the team sitting atop the Atlantic Division, it just doesn't compare.
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