Amar'e Stoudemire was once touted as the player that would lead the Knick's franchise back to relevancy and help bring a championship to the city of New York. However a number of injuries and declining performance have since changed the outlook on the player that the Knicks administration once felt was worthy of a near $100 million deal back in 2010.
Ian Begley of ESPN reported that Stoudemire's luck took a turn for the worse as a knee surgery at the beginning of the year, as well as another surgery on the opposite knee at the end of the season, kept him out of all but 29 games in the regular season and most of the postseason.
His decline has led many fans to rightfully question whether or not Stoudemire is truly capable of helping the Knicks in the future or if the team should attempt to cut ties and move on.
It is clear now that Stoudemire will likely never be worth the remainder of the contract that he is owed, but that does not mean he is incapable of contributing to the Knicks' future success. However, the Knicks are going to need to focus this offseason on getting the 30-year-old power forward's body right, as health will be the key to turning Stoudemire back into an asset rather than a distraction.
When healthy this year, Stoudemire averaged a solid 14.2 points on 57.7 percent shooting, five rebounds and 0.7 blocks over just 23.5 minutes a game.
He started to look much more comfortable in the paint and was utilizing areas of the court he often ignored, which was helping to neutralize the issue that Carmelo Anthony and he were too similar in offensive style to work well together on the court.
In addition, Stoudemire has worked well with Tyson Chandler when paired in the front court together, as NBA's Advanced Statistics indicates that both players' plus/minus statistic increases significantly to a plus-8.4 per 36 minutes when the two share the floor. He is even capable of coming off the bench with a similar level of confidence and effort that was seen when he was starting alongside Anthony.
Stoudemire has been working extremely hard the last few season's to improve his game on the block, and it appears that he will once again look for outside help to expand his offensive repertoire.
According to Brett Pollakoff of NBC Sports, Stoudemire will once again seek the guidance of Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon in order to adjust his game to better complement his teammates and fulfill the needs of the Knicks.
All of the news out of the Stoudemire camp is encouraging so far as it appears that not only is he accepting of any role that will best help the Knicks find success, but he is committed to improving the area of his game that will allow him to contribute most effectively.
The key to him being able to utilize any of his refined skills will be the health of his knees towards the end of the season next year.
Knee issues seem to constantly plague big men in the NBA, and as they age, it is very rare to see players with knee issues similar to Stoudemire's regain the form they had in seasons past. The Knicks are going to have to take a very conservative approach next year in order to avoid the wear on Stoudemire's knees early in an attempt to have him healthy for the end of the season and the playoffs.
There are a number of players that have found success utilizing a conservative approach to the regular season that the Knicks may be able to adapt for their ailing power forward.
In particular, Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan have both allowed their coaching staff to limit their minutes early in the year, allowing them to coast through the regular season without too much wear and arriving at the playoffs without their bodies completely broken down from the rigors of the regular season.
Although both Garnett and Duncan take this approach due to their age and minor issues, it would be a wise approach for the Knicks to follow as Stoudemire may be able to build up over the season to a more significant role if his knees are given a break early. It would not only allow New York to utilize Stoudemire's strengths in short minutes during the regular season but would allow Stoudemire to find chemistry with his teammates as a healthy contributor on a team that he sometimes appears lost on.
It is true that Stoudemire has not lived up to the high expectations he inherited when he arrived in New York, but the numerous setbacks that he has experienced do not have to stop him from helping his team reach a higher level of competitiveness in the Eastern Conference.
He can still be a much-needed infusion of size and toughness into the Knicks rotation and can certainly find a role that will allow him to effectively contribute on a regular basis.
Hopefully, the Knicks will work closely with him over the summer to get his body as healthy as it can be and work out a plan that will slowly increase Stoudemire's playing time as the season progresses.
When healthy, Stoudemire could be the key to the Knicks finding success in the later rounds of the playoffs and becoming more competitive at the top of the Eastern Conference.