Amar'e Stoudemire's exorbitant contract is hindering the New York Knicks' ability to assemble a championship-caliber roster. General manager Glen Grunwald has shopped the six-time All-Star for over a year, but has not found any takers. Grunwald should not go too far in trying to sweeten a deal.
Stoudemire has two years and $45 million dollars remaining on the five-year, $100 million contract he signed with the Knicks in 2010. The deal appeared to be a sound investment after the 6'10'' forward averaged 25.2 points per game during his first season in New York.
Then Stoudemire's body began to break down.
He injured his back in the 2011 playoffs and again the following year. Last season, he underwent surgery on both knees. Amar'e played in just 76 of 148 games over the past two seasons and was not the same player when he was on the court. The injuries had sapped Stoudemire of his explosiveness.
STAT was still effective when healthy, averaging 14.2 points and 5.0 rebounds in 29 games last season, but that is a far cry from the type of production a team expects from a maximum-salary player. His horrendous defense makes it difficult to leave him on the floor in crunch time.
Coach Woodson plans to limit STAT's minutes this season and may keep him out of back-to-back games. Still, it is hard to imagine him staying healthy for an entire season. To make matters worse, the Knicks were unable to insure Stoudemire’s contract due to previous knee injuries.
The Knicks desperately need another superstar to play alongside Carmelo Anthony, but will be unable to afford one under the salary cap as long as Stoudemire is on the roster.
New York used the amnesty provision on Chauncey Billups, so the only way to get out from under Stoudemire's deal prior to the summer of 2015 would be to trade him. However, Amar'e's injury history and uninsured contract make that virtually impossible.
In order for a team to take on Amar'e's salary, the Knicks would have to sweeten the deal by either taking back one or more dreadful contracts or parting with valuable assets.
Swapping Stoudemire for a couple of overpaid players would leave the Knicks in the same predicament. Anything short of a superstar would fail to put the Knicks over the top and continue to make it difficult for them to acquire a premiere talent.
New York is an aging team, short on valuable assets. It does not have a first-round pick in 2014 (sent to the Denver Nuggets in the Carmelo Anthony trade) or 2016 (sent to the Toronto Raptors in the Andrea Bargnani deal) and currently cannot trade its 2015 or 2017 picks (NBA rules prohibit a team from trading first-round picks in consecutive seasons.)
Tim Hardaway Jr., the 24th pick in the 2013 draft, is not talented enough to push the needle on a potential Stoudemire trade, which leaves Iman Shumpert as the only coveted young trade piece on the Knicks roster.
Shump is an excellent on-ball defender who is coming off an impressive sophomore season in which his three-point shooting efficiency skyrocketed to 40 percent.
The Knicks would be ill-advised to include Shumpert or first-round picks in such a deal because unloading Stoudemire would not provide the team with nearly as much financial flexibility as many fans presume. As seen in the chart below (via Shamsports.com) the Knicks have $87.5 million in guaranteed salary this coming season and will probably be at or above $91.6 million in 2014-15.
|Metta World Peace||$1,590,000||$1,661,550||N/A||$3,251,550|
|Tim Hardaway Jr||$1,196,760||$1,250,640||$1,304,520||$6,033,525|
The 2013-14 salary cap is $58.679. So even if the Knicks were somehow able to deal Stoudemire ($21.7 million) and Shumpert ($1.7 million) without taking any players back (highly unlikely), the team's salary would be about $64 million, still more than $5 million over the cap.
Plus, the Knicks would be almost completely devoid of assets with which to create further flexibility. Grunwald would likely be unwilling (Tyson Chandler) and unable (Bargnani) to part with the team’s next highest paid players in order to clear enough cap room to sign a superstar.
New York will be capped out again in 2014-15, assuming Anthony re-signs with the team after opting out of his contract next summer, as expected. If he signs elsewhere, Grunwald will have much bigger problems.
Removing STAT’s contract from the ledger would at best put the Knicks above the cap but below the luxury tax apron ($71.7 mil. this season), allowing them to sign a player to the mid-level exception for about $5.2 million per year. That is nowhere near enough to yield an All-Star.
This Knicks team is built to contend through the 2014-15 season. Stoudemire, Chandler, Bargnani and Raymond Felton's contracts come off the books in the summer of 2015, and New York does not have any guaranteed contracts for the 2015-16 season.
The Knicks need to break with their history of trading promising youngsters and draft picks for mediocre short-term returns. If Grunwald finds a team that is desperate for a big-name player and willing to take Stoudemire off his hands, he should jump at the opportunity. Otherwise, New York should hold tight until the summer of 2015.