The New York Knicks can reach their ceiling with Amar’e Stoudemire on board, but what ceiling is that? Losing the Eastern Conference Finals?
They will have to fight for that even.
This is not how it was supposed to be. The fact is the Knicks are stuck in above-average, but not true contending, limbo for the next two years, anchored in place by the Big Three immovable contracts—the worst being Stoudemire’s under-performing one.
Carmelo Anthony is going nowhere, and after that postseason performance (and the whining), Tyson Chandler’s package value took a dive.
“If The Knicks were a blackjack hand, they’d be an 18,” said the New York Post’s Mike Vaccaro. “It’s a good hand, not a great hand.”
With an 18, you have to stand pat, and that best predicts the Knicks’ roster and record the next two seasons—standing pat. Meanwhile, the competition keeps getting fiercer.
Let’s look at four possible scenarios regarding the Knicks and Stoudemire, from most likely to least.
Knicks Plateau with Amar’e Stoudemire
Are the New York Knicks going to win the NBA Finals with the roster they have now?
It sure seems unlikely.
Jim Boeheim said what many fans don’t want to admit:
Boeheim maintains little hope that Carmelo Anthony can win an NBA title with the Knicks. "Not on that team," Boeheim said. "He did what he can do. Everybody's killing him. They're getting nothing but older. They're not going to get better. They need two more options. They're not going to beat Miami. Indiana's not going to get worse, they're going to get better. It doesn't look good.” (via Syracuse Post-Standard)
Tell us how you really feel, Jim.
Mired in salary-cap and luxury-tax quicksand for the next two seasons, thanks primarily to the nearly-dead $21.7 million and $23.4 million owed to Stoudemire, the Knicks have almost no roster flexibility.
They are limited to draft picks and cheap free agents (mid-level exception, veteran’s minimums), unless some kind of improbable package pairing a key player (Iman Shumpert, Raymond Felton) with Stoudemire trades them out of their situation.
Most likely stuck with Stoudemire and unable to get that second superstar, the Knicks will—much like the Patrick Ewing years—vie but never get over the hump. Maybe they’ll get to the Eastern Finals. Maybe not.
Knicks Trade Amar’e Stoudemire
Now here’s a curve ball. The supposedly improbable Stoudemire trade is the Knicks’ second-most likely maneuver. This is how trapped New York is.
And the trade won’t happen this season, either.
The Knicks already tried shopping Stoudemire before the 2012-13 opener. Not a nibble.
The New York Times’ Howard Beck broke that “this past summer, the Knicks offered Stoudemire to nearly every team in the league—‘available for free,’ as one rival executive put it. But they found no takers.”
Still too many years left.
Stoudemire’s value will go up in the final year of his contract (2014-15). All he has to do is stay on the court.
If he excels, it’s possible New York (ironically) will be able to unload his expiring contract on another team looking to get over the hump and out of their own longer-term salary-cap hell.
In return, the Knicks receive a multi-year contract and maybe a player who jells better with Carmelo Anthony or a more reliable second-scoring option.
Knicks Win it All with Stoudemire
Winning it all somewhere in the next two seasons is within the realm of possibility for the New York Knicks. They are undoubtedly one of the best teams in the East when all cylinders are firing.
Tyson Chandler will need to bounce back to his Defensive Player of the Year form. He’ll get some young and big help off the market.
J.R. Smith has to up his game to become a consistent and legitimate (20 to 30 PPG) second-scoring option.
The backcourt (Jason Kidd, Raymond Felton) needs to control the ball and ball distribution better.
Iman Shumpert must continue on his upward arc.
At least one other role player (Kenyon Martin or Chris Copeland?) will have to make an impact.
Carmelo Anthony needs to express greater leadership (when do you see him aggressively dress down a teammate after a big error? Never).
Mike Woodson has to make quicker in-game adjustments.
And who knows what contributory gem New York might pick up cheap?
If the Knicks win it all with Stoudemire on the team it probably won’t have much to do with Stoudemire. With his restricted minutes, lack of speed and physical presence, and inability to integrate into Anthony’s offense, Amar’e’s role will continue to be comparatively minor.
Knicks Buy out or Void Stoudemire’s Contract
The Knicks have bought out bad (or injured-player) contracts before (Stephon Marbury, Larry Johnson).
This won’t be the case here. It does not solve the cap problem and Stoudemire is at least worth whatever cheap roster replacement the Knicks would garner.
A physician diagnosed career-ending injury—not something to hope for—is the only way out of the Stoudemire morass.
As Jared Zwerling of ESPN notes, “Stoudemire would be off the books only if a physician selected by the league and players' association determined that his knees had career-ending implications.”
This has happened before. The Portland Trail Blazers shook Darius Miles’ and Brandon Roy’s contracts this way.
For James Dolan, this is still a costly option. Since Stoudemire’s contract is uninsured, the Knicks will have to pay him. It just won’t count against the cap.
That might be prohibitive enough to force a cheap replacement anyway.
Any way you look at it, Stoudemire is definitely a Knick through 2013-14 and most likely on board for most (and probably all) of 2014-15. New York is just going to have to win it with him.