Amar'e Stoudemire brought the New York Knicks back to relevance, but at what cost?
The New York Knicks are almost three full seasons into the Amar'e Stoudemire era. High hopes, countless injuries and early playoff exits have led to the Knicks' most promising season this century. Unfortunately, Stoudemire is on the bench, recovering from knee surgery that will keep him sidelined for at least the rest of the regular season.
The following is a look at the highs and lows of Stoudemire's career in New York, and whether the Knicks may have made a mistake by bringing him in.
Stoudemire, at the ESPYs, days after signing a lucrative contract with the Knicks
In the wake of LeBron James publicly spurning New York (and everyone else) on live television during his infamous "Decision" to join the Miami Heat, the Knicks' future looked bleak. Several years of losing and eliminating their best players in order to clear salary cap space had resulted in nothing.
And then along came Amar'e Stoudemire.
Instantly, the Knicks had hope again. Upon signing with New York, Stoudemire declared, "The Knicks are back." He was right.
Everything that has happened to the Knicks over the past three seasons—for better or worse—was put into effect at this moment. Playoff appearances, the acquisition of Carmelo Anthony, Madison Square Garden coming back to life—none of it would have happened without Amar'e Stoudemire taking that first step and coming to New York.
Stoudemire made an immediate impact in New York. In his first season as a Knick (2010-11), he put up numbers that had the crowd at the Garden chanting "MVP!" on a regular basis.
The Knicks' new star averaged 25.3 points, 9.1 rebounds and two blocks per game. He also had a stretch of nine straight games scoring at least 30 points.
Stoudemire seemed to be worth every penny of his hefty contract. At least so far.
When Carmelo Anthony joined the team, the Knicks were instant contenders. Or were they?
The combination of Anthony and Stoudemire seemed like enough firepower to overwhelm any opponent. Fans were excited because now their team had not one, but two mega-stars who could get the Knicks closer to being able to rival the Heat's super-combination of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
It took some time for the team to adjust to the changes, though. Besides bringing in Anthony, the Knicks also acquired veteran point guard Chauncey Billups. However, they lost just about all of their top guys not named Stoudemire, including featured players Raymond Felton, Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari.
The team went 12-13 to finish the season but seemed to pull it together by winning five of the last six games of the regular season.
In the 2011 postseason, the Knicks were looking to make some noise. With stars Stoudemire and Anthony, and the former champion Billups running the offense, New York had the potential to beat anyone.
Then came the injuries.
Stoudemire hurt his back and Billups injured his knee. Stoudemire tried to play through it, only managing seven points in Game 3 of the series against the Boston Celtics, and shooting 5-of-20 in Game 4.
Just like that, the season was over. A year that began with such promise ended with the type of disappointment Knicks fans had experienced far too often.
The 2011-12 season was cut short by a lockout. When play finally began in late December, the Knicks—now with new center Tyson Chandler and no longer with the services of Chauncey Billups—had not had a training camp to get the new pieces of the team to meld as a unit.
In February 2012, Stoudemire's brother, Hazell, died in a car accident. Stoudemire struggled with his performance throughout that month, but then dropped 10 pounds and bounced back for a strong March, shooting 56 percent.
Sadly, injury struck again.
Stoudemire suffered a bulging disc in his back that sidelined him until the season was almost over. He came back before the playoffs, which his team needed. They were set to play the Heat in the first round.
After losing a fight to a glass case, Stoudemire was sidelined in Game 3 against Miami
One of the most infuriating and infamous events in Knicks history took place during the 2012 postseason.
The Knicks had just lost Game 2 of the first round of the playoffs to the Heat, and were going home to New York down two games to none. But before heading back up north, they had to get to the locker room first.
On the way there from the court, feeling the frustration of a bitter loss and a less-than-stellar performance (a pedestrian 18 points in 41 minutes), Stoudemire took out his aggression on the case protecting a fire extinguisher.
Granted, conventional wisdom says to break the glass in case of emergency, and the Knicks were certainly facing one. Unfortunately, instead of putting out a fire, Stoudemire just tore open his hand and bled a lot.
The damage was so bad that he missed Game 3. He returned with an absurd amount of padding on his hand in Game 4, which the Knicks won. Unfortunately, it was their only victory in the series, and once again, New York was done after one round.
Stoudemire sat for nearly all of 2012.
There was a sense of optimism going into the 2012-13 season. It was the first time the Amar'e Stoudemire/Carmelo Anthony/Tyson Chandler Knicks would have a full offseason and training camp to gel as a unit. But then Stoudemire got hurt.
A burst cyst in his left knee sidelined Stoudemire before the season even started. He didn't return until January 1. New York finally had a full training camp and preseason, but once again, injury kept the team incomplete.
Fortunately, the Knicks started out on fire without Stoudemire, but that led to questions about his value. Would his return make the team even better, or throw them off? And with Carmelo Anthony now thriving at the power forward position, questions swirled regarding how Stoudemire would fit in.
When the New Year began with Stoudemire back in the fold, the Knicks' forecast was looking positive. Even better was Stat's willingness to come off the bench. This allowed him to play limited minutes to get back into the game, while not interrupting the dynamic of the starting five.
Plus, a second unit featuring Stoudemire and J.R. Smith is better than many teams' first units.
After a slow start during the first two weeks of January, Stoudemire regained his form. For the season, he is shooting .577 from the field and averaging 14.2 points per game in only 23.5 minutes, for a respectable 21.8 points per 36 minutes. Not only that, but his footwork and movement under the basket has looked better than it has in years.
Everything was coming together for Stoudemire and the Knicks. It seemed too good to be true....
Too good to be true, indeed. Stoudemire's legs betrayed him once more, Seriously, you could write a medical textbook about this guy.
The latest setback, trouble with his right knee—the one that used to be his good one—required surgery and a recovery time of at least six weeks. Of course, that's what the Knicks are saying.
Stoudemire's last injury was supposed to keep him out for two or three weeks, but it ended up being between two and three months.
And there you have it: three seasons of excitement and frustration. Hope followed by disappointment.
The Knicks are paying Stoudemire nine figures as he breaks down before our very eyes, spending much more time on the sidelines than above the rim. It would be easy to say it was a bad deal, much like Allan Houston's infamous payload in 2001 that netted him $100 million over six years.
The key difference is that Houston's awful contract came after he had already helped lead the Knicks to year after year of deep playoff runs and one trip to the NBA Finals. His good years—and his team's—were behind him.
Stoudemire, on the other hand, started a new era in New York when he signed his deal. Without him, the Knicks wouldn't have landed Anthony or Chandler. As it stands, they're poised to finish the season as the Atlantic Division champions, something the Knicks haven't done since 1994.
So was bringing Stoudemire to the Knicks worth it? Time will tell, but it would be hard to say it wasn't.