Amar'e Stoudemire's Toxic Contract Will Prevent NY Knicks from Reaching Ceiling

Vin GetzCorrespondent IMarch 20, 2013

Mar. 7, 2013; New York, NY, USA; New York Knicks power forward Amar'e Stoudemire (1) reacts after not getting a called foul against the Oklahoma City Thunder during the second half at Madison Square Garden. Thunder won 95-94. Mandatory Credit: Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports

For most of the New York Knicks' ugly 1-4 road trip out West, they had over $54 million in salary watching the game instead of playing it. That's about 68 percent of the team's entire 2012-13 payroll.

Amar'e Stoudemire ($20 million) missed all five games, while Carmelo Anthony ($20.5 million) and Tyson Chandler ($13.6 million) missed three-and-a-half each.

Anthony will be back in the lineup for the Knicks' next game, and it appears the knee is healed. After getting it drained, he told the New York Post:"I feel better, much better. It's gone—night and day. I can feel the difference. Just being able to move laterally. Jump."

That's welcome news, especially considering the accompanying bad news that Chandler will be out at least a week with what ESPN is calling "a small bulging disk in his cervical spine (neck area)."

As for Stoudemire, he will be gone for the rest of the regular season. The hope is he'll be back for Round 1 of the playoffs.

Marc Berman of the Post tweeted the "good" news:

Stoudemire vows to return from knee surgery "to help lead the Knicks to fight for a championship"

— Marc Berman (@NYPost_Berman) March 11, 2013

The Knicks need Amar'e now more than ever if they hope to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals, never mind the championship.

Yes, New York put the NBA on notice. They were 21-9 through their first 30 without Stoudemire. But things have changed. That was with Rasheed Wallace making a big impact, a five-fingered Raymond Felton, Anthony playing like an MVP and Jason Kidd with a little life still left in him.

A Finals run will require yet another comeback out of Stoudemire, his fourth in 2.5 years as a Knick. And that's assuming he'll return to form straight out of the box, which he was unable to do coming off knee-cyst surgery earlier in the year and has not been able to do each other time, either.

In other words: Forget it. Can you honestly say Amar'e is going to have an immediate impact off a similar surgery from the get-go?

Amar'e to have right knee debridement from #Knicks PR. Had left knee debridement before. Amar'e is out six weeks.

— Jared Zwerling (@JaredZwerling) March 9, 2013

It's not the end of the world. If the backcourt—Felton, Kidd and Iman Shumpert—can peak at the right time somehow (spell players and play just to win the Atlantic in preparation for the postseason, for example), Anthony and Chandler can then do the rest.

A surging team built around that core might be good enough to make it to the Eastern Conference Finals. Then, who knows what could happen?

But it does look like the Miami Heat are way out in front. Assuming the Knicks' title hopes die in the East, what next? It is clear they need something else—either a fully integrated, long-term healthy Stoudemire or whatever New York could get for him.

Unfortunately, the Knicks are now looking like long-term losers on both accounts when just a month ago they were starting to look like winners. Stoudemire was making an impact and beginning to average 30 minutes a game (over that in his last three).

The bulk of concern surrounding Amar'e Stoudemire now really entails 2013-14 and 2014-15, and these cyst issues are sounding suspiciously degenerative. That means they're not going to get any better.

It's a triple whammy for the Knicks.

First, it looks like Stoudemire's contributions for the remaining two years of his contract (at $21.7 million and $23.4 million) will be minimal.

By season's end, he'll have played just 51 percent of the regular-season schedule the past two years. Is his career over? Mitch Lawrence over at the New York Daily News is fair to point out:

"Amar'e Stoudemire will miss the remainder of the regular season for the NY Knicks and his career could be next. It's not a stretch to think that Stoudemire might have played his final game for the Knicks."

That would be a near disaster. The best the Knicks could hope for then would be Stoudemire returning in a role much like Wallace's if they're lucky. That would make something out of nothing, but not enough to fulfill title aspirations.

Secondly, any last hopes of moving Stoudemire have been eternally dashed. Dare it be said, he was grooming himself into some kind of trade-bait shape.

This is likely the final nail in the Chris Paul-to-New York coffin. Had New York amnestied Stoudemire's contract instead of Chauncey Billups', there was at least the small possibility Paul could have been a Knick in 2013-14.

Worse, the Knicks are already over the salary cap and in luxury tax-penalty territory for the next two years, making both keeping Stoudemire and signing another player (much less a difference maker) prohibitive.

Finally, and perhaps most dreadfully, Stoudemire's hogging of the salary cap has cast the future of the current roster in doubt.

Take J.R. Smith, who is having a career year. Smith is making just $2.4 million this year. He has a player option for only $3 million next year.

Per Jared Zwerling of ESPN: "His recent All-Star-like play is already fueling talk of his upcoming contract. Here's the deal: If he declines his $2.9 million player option, the Knicks have his Early Bird Rights and can offer him $5.55 million. While Smith could fetch more..."

What Zwerling is saying: If Smith is to stay in New York, he'll be taking one for the team. That is no certainty. And even then, what about 2014-15?

The Knicks are in salary cap hell and could very well be in the throes of another Patrick Ewing-like titleless era, thanks to Amar'e Stoudemire's toxic contract.