The New York Knicks don't expect much from Amar'e Stoudemire.
When you think about it, that's a little sad. Not long ago, he was New York's big "get," the superstar everyone hoped would signal a new era for the Knicks.
What's even sadder, though, is that Stoudemire's value to the Knicks has sunk so low that another lost season from him probably won't have much of an impact on the team's fate. After two years of watching him struggle with injuries—a spat of poor health that ultimately resulted in a bench role during his abbreviated 2012-13 season—the Knicks have learned to temper their hopes for the big man.
Even with those reduced expectations, though, you have to believe that New York isn't especially excited about the fact that Stoudemire is already taking it easy.
According to Ian Begley of ESPN, "The Knicks forward has been working out at the facility but has opted against taking part in scrimmages to protect his oft-injured knees," teammate Raymond Felton said.
All things considered, it's probably a smart move to limit Stoudemire's activity at this early stage. The Knicks would love to get some use out of him over the long haul, so pushing Stoudemire before the season doesn't make a lot of sense. It's just unfortunate that we're already traveling down such a familiar path with this narrative.
Will Stoudemire's all-too-familiar fragility result in another "disastrous" season for the Knicks? I guess that all depends on the definition of the word.
The Money Pit
Let's get one thing straight: Financially, Stoudemire is already a catastrophe. After giving the Knicks a stellar 2010-11 campaign, the bespectacled forward has become drastically less valuable to the team. Two years and 72 missed games later, Stoudemire is on the very short list of the NBA's most untradeable contracts.
Broken down another way, the Knicks have paid Stoudemire roughly $502,190 for each game he's actually been healthy enough to play over the past two seasons.
With another two years and more than $45 million left on a monstrous deal, Stoudemire is already a sunk cost. New York hasn't gotten anything close to its money's worth so far, and there's no reason to believe we'll suddenly see Stoudemire play better in the final two seasons of his contract than he did in the first three.
That's not Stoudemire's fault. Effort has never really been at issue with him; injuries have simply reduced him to a shell of what he used to be. Whether he was worth the contract he signed in the first place has more to do with STAT's production than his health, and is another question entirely. We'll get there momentarily.
For now, it's not an exaggeration to say that Stoudemire already is a financial disaster for the Knicks. Whether he gives the Knicks 82 healthy games in 2013-14 or none at all, that won't change.
The Impact Quandary
If a guy is only going to play a small role for his team, how disastrous can his potential absence really be?
That's precisely the question we have to answer about Stoudemire and the Knicks this season.
Begley's report mentioned that the Knicks plan to limit Stoudemire to no more than 20 minutes per game, a shrewd plan that could help ration the limited miles left on his knees. Whether he'll start or come off the bench is still up in the air.
But either way, it's not as though New York is depending on Stoudemire for major production. And if he ends up missing significant time despite the team's efforts to preserve him, the evidence shows that the Knicks will probably be better off anyway.
New York raced out to a 21-9 start last season before Stoudemire played a single game. When he returned to play 29 games, the Knicks posted a record of just 16-13. When he went down for good on March 7, the Knicks predictably reeled off one of their best stretches of the season: a 17-6 finish that featured a handful of dazzling scoring performances from Carmelo Anthony.
Pinning that kind of record discrepancy on one player might seem unfair, but there's more proof to support the notion that Stoudemire missing games is actually a good thing for New York.
According to 82games.com, the Knicks' defensive efficiency improved by 2.1 points per 100 possessions when Stoudemire sat last year. Nobody who has ever watched STAT defend could possibly find that surprising.
But New York was slightly more efficient on offense without him as well, improving its rating by 0.9 points per 100 possessions last year.
In fairness to Stoudemire, it's important to mention that he was an excellent individual offensive player in 2012-13. He shot 57 percent from the field and averaged 21.8 points and 7.7 rebounds per 36 minutes. Neither of those last two figures quite measured up to his career averages, but they were pretty darn good for a sixth man.
But we can't just ignore the fact that the Knicks were better as a team on both ends without him.
It's also important to note that new addition Andrea Bargnani can duplicate a lot of the scoring punch (and defensive invisibility) that Stoudemire gave the Knicks last year. Critically, though, Bargnani's perimeter game fits better alongside Anthony because it allows 'Melo to take up residence in the mid and high post where he's most effective.
Stoudemire hamstrung Anthony last year. When the duo was on the floor together, Anthony's production dipped across the board and the Knicks' plus-minus suffered, per NBA.com.
Considering all of those facts, a limited—or possibly nonexistent contribution—from Stoudemire will hardly qualify as a disaster.
The Hard Truth
In some cases, it's not fun to be objective about a player. Stoudemire is one of those cases.
By all accounts a decent person whose immense physical talent has been sapped by injury, STAT is really just a guy who has suffered through some rotten luck. For his sake, let's hope he's healthy. After two difficult years, he deserves some better fortune.
The latest discouraging news about Stoudemire's health isn't surprising. What should raise a few eyebrows is the fact that he no longer matters enough to the Knicks for his lack of durability to constitute anything close to a disaster.