The Rise and Fall of Amar'e Stoudemire's New York Knicks Career
More than three years ago, STAT signed on to be the man in New York, assuming the responsibility no other star wanted to at the time. In return, the Knicks paid him handsomely for his services, bestowing upon him sums of cash other teams weren't willing to pay.
Their marriage has since experienced highs and lows, just like any other relationship. Lately, though, there haven't been as many ups as there have been downs.
Stoudemire's health has diminished with each passing season. Injuries haven't just snuck up on him, they've encapsulated him, creating a public hell he and the Knicks have spent two-plus years navigating.
On the eve of his fourth regular season in New York, nothing has changed. If anything, things are worse, leaving Stoudemire and the Knicks to wonder if they'll ever get better.
A New Beginning
The Knicks are back.
—Amar'e Stoudemire in 2010 (via Yahoo! Sports)
The 2010 free-agency extravaganza didn't go as planned for the Knicks, who had scrapped and clawed through numerous years of losing to have the spending power it would take to sign multiple superstars. But New York wasn't the enticing destination the Knicks had hoped it would be.
LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh spurned Orange and Blue, among other teams, and formed a Big Three with the Miami Heat. The Knicks were even slighted by Joe Johnson, who re-upped with the Atlanta Hawks instead.
Coming out the other side of that summer empty-handed wasn't an option for these Knicks, not after the inordinate amount of time they spent as the league's resident laughingstock.
Driven by the dream of forming a superteam, the Knicks nabbed the only star who seemed genuinely interested in spearheading a new era for the franchise—Stoudemire.
New York signed him to a five-year pact worth $99.7 million, the catch being it couldn't be insured. If Stoudemire were unable to play due to problems with his knees or eyes, a driving force behind the Phoenix Suns' decision not to pay their prized forward anywhere near what the Knicks were offering, New York would receive no compensation.
At the time, that caveat was neither here nor there. New York got its star. That's all that mattered.
"The Knicks are back," Stoudemire said.
He wasn't lying. Things were already starting to change in the Big Apple. Stoudemire had yet to take the floor, but he was already recruiting fellow superstars to join him.
"I've talked to Carmelo Anthony that he needs to come out here," Stoudemire said before his deal was even official, per the New York Daily News' Mitch Abramson. "I've talked to Tony Parker. Both guys are ready to join me if I decide to come here. So we will see if we can work it out."
Soon after, Chris Paul, another star the Knicks were pining for, gave an infamous toast at Anthony's New York wedding.
"We'll form our own Big Three," Paul allegedly said of playing with STAT and 'Melo in New York, according to the New York Post's Marc Berman.
No games had been won and no baskets had been scored, but the Knicks were already reaping the benefits of employing a superstar.
They were back.
I'm hoping he's the MVP this year. That's kind of what he should shoot for and I'm sure what he's trying to be.
—Mike D'Antoni, Knicks head coach, on Amar'e Stoudemire in 2010, according to the New York Daily News' Frank Isola
Amid a barrage of trade rumors, Stoudemire carried the Knicks. They began the season just 28-26 prior to their trade for Anthony, but STAT was having an MVP-caliber season.
Through the first 54 games, he averaged 26.1 points and 8.6 rebounds a night while sitting out just once. That the Knicks were barely above .500 mattered, just not as much as Stoudemire's performance.
The Knicks were still in position to snag a playoff berth after a six-year hiatus. That's what mattered. They had surrounded Stoudemire with an average-to-inexperienced supporting cast, and he was still delivering.
Those who had scoffed at his arrival were left to soak in their own mistake. Stoudemire wasn't only playing well, he was playing a lot. His 36.8 minutes per game was a career high, as was his usage rate (30.9 percent). Things were panning out quite nicely, considering the hand he and the Knicks were dealt.
"With that being said, I feel like if we all improve and get better then we have a great chance of doing something special this year," Stoudemire said, per Isola.
Season outcome notwithstanding, the Knicks had already done something special by taking a chance on Stoudemire. Now he was returning the favor.
Be Careful What You Wish For
It's what he wants. It's what I wanted, to come to New York and play on the big stage. He has the same type of swag. This is what he wants and he can handle it. We're going to do it together.
—Amar'e Stoudemire on the Knicks trading for Carmelo Anthony in 2011 (via ESPN.com)
After months of dancing around and toward one another, the Knicks and Anthony were finally united.
New York gave up a not-so-small fortune to place him alongside STAT, trading away core pieces like Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler and Raymond Felton, along with Timofey Mozgov, a 2014 first-round pick and $3 million in cash.
The collateral damage was deemed a necessary sacrifice. Stoudemire needed a star partner, that second scorer to help him carry the Knicks toward a championship.
"Every team needs a 1, 1A punch," Stoudemire opined, per ESPN.com. "And so with the ways that we both can score ... we're very versatile, so it's hard to guard us."
Anthony and Stoudemire's honeymoon was short-lived, though. New York played .500 basketball the rest of the year, finished 42-40 and crept into the playoffs as the Eastern Conference's sixth seed.
More troubling than the Knicks' mediocre record was Stoudemire's play next to Anthony. His numbers dipped significantly during those final 28 games.
Playing next to Anthony, a statistical decline of some sort, especially on offense, was to be expected. Next to him, Stoudemire was no longer the first option, which meant fewer touches and, therefore, fewer scoring opportunities. Then again, the Knicks traded away a stable's worth of firepower for Anthony. There should have been more than enough individual possessions to go around.
Come playoff time, none of that mattered. The Knicks had their two stars and a first-round date with the third-seeded Boston Celtics. It was time to see how far their brand-new duo could lead them.
The Beginning of the End
It has to be better. I knew last night I wasn't 100 percent. I wasn't 50 percent last night. I was pretty much in pain the whole game, from start to finish. I just don't want to further injure the injury. We understand how bright the future is here with the organization. ... We want to continue that success out here in the next few years. So we don't want to damage anything by overdoing it.
Having already lost Chauncey Billups and Game 1 against the Celtics along with him, the Knicks needed their two stars to bear an even heavier burden. What they got was another dropped bomb.
Stoudemire suffered back spasms during Game 2 warm-ups. Though he attempted to play through them, he wound up sitting the entire second half, watching as Anthony nearly shot the Knicks to victory.
Following the loss, Stoudemire told reporters he wasn't able to move leading into the first quarter, according to NESN's Evans Clinchy:
I could hardly move. I was trying to play through it. I went to the training staff and had it worked on before the game. Right before the national anthem, I went to get a little more work done. I tried to push through it and play on it, but once I felt that sharp pain, I just couldn't take it.
Stoudemire suited up and played 33 minutes in Game 3, going 2-of-8 from the floor for seven points. Boston clobbered New York 113-96 to set up a series-clinching Game 4.
Once again, Stoudemire took the floor in hopes of helping the Knicks stave off elimination. On this night, he logged 44 minutes and finished with 19 points on 5-of-20 shooting. The Knicks lost the game and the series.
"It was all heart," Coach D'Antoni said of STAT after the loss, per The Associated Press (via ESPN.com). "He just gave it all."
"With him and Carmelo going forward," D'Antoni added, "the Knicks are in good shape."
Maybe so, but Stoudemire sure wasn't.
Let's Try This Again
We all have done thing out of anger that we regret. That makes us human. Bad timing on my part. Sorry guys. This to [sic] shall pass.
—Amar'e Stoudemire on Twitter after suffering a self-inflicted laceration during the 2012 NBA playoffs
Sensing their pursuit of Paul was not conducive to the core they had assembled and, quite frankly, unrealistic, the Knicks pulled the trigger on a trade for Tyson Chandler once the NBA lockout subsided.
"We made a commitment to our Knicks fans that we would put together a team that would compete for an NBA championship year in and year out," owner James Dolan said, via Begley. "The addition of Tyson along with Amare [Stoudemire] and Carmelo [Anthony] is another important piece of that puzzle."
Championship aspirations went awry early on as the team dynamic began to break down. Reports indicated that Anthony allegedly requested a trade and that D'Antoni himself asked the Knicks to deal him as well. Magic Mike eventually relented, resigning with New York sitting at 18-24.
"He had a certain ideal of a system we were supposed to implement," said Stoudemire, per CBS New York. "We all didn't quite buy into it, and he got frustrated and I think that's why he took his way out."
By now, it was clear this wasn't what Stoudemire envisioned. Anthony and he were struggling to coexist on the floor, and now he found himself playing for coach Mike Woodson, a man who catered to iso-heavy wings, not post-up-oriented, pick-and-roll-heavy bigs.
On top of all that—D'Antoni's departure, a dysfunctional locker room, Linsanity, etc.—Stoudemire missed 19 games during the regular season, largely thanks to a bulging disc in his back that forced him to sit out 13 in a row. He returned in time to play the final four contests of the regular season, before the seventh-place Knicks squared off against the second-place Heatles.
After losing Game 1, the Knicks dropped Game 2. On his walk back to the locker room, a frustrated Stoudemire punched the glass casing surrounding a fire extinguisher, per Begley. He suffered a laceration in his right hand and needed stitches, forcing him to sit out Game 3.
"I am so mad at myself right now, I want to apologize to the fans and my team, not proud of my actions, headed home for a new start," he wrote on Twitter.
I am so mad at myself right now, I want to apologize to the fans and my team, not proud of my actions, headed home for a new start— Amar'e Stoudemire (@Amareisreal) May 1, 2012
New York dropped Game 3 but stole Game 4 on their home floor with STAT back in the lineup. He notched 20 points and 10 rebounds, helping the Knicks end a 13-postseason-game losing streak.
Miami would win Game 5, though, as the Knicks were unable to get out of the first round for a second straight time with Stoudemire and Anthony.
"Miami is a very good team," Stoudemire said after Game 5, per the AP (via ESPN.com). "You have to give credit to them."
Another loss. Another season filled with disappointment. Another string of injuries for Stoudemire. Things had to get better next season. They just had to.
More of the Same
It's definitely frustrating because I was starting to play well and I was feeling great. But it comes with the game of basketball. It happens to be something that I have to deal with in my career. So I keep my spirits up. I've got to attack my recovery the way I attack the rim.
—Amar'e Stoudemire on a conference call after suffering yet another injury in 2013
Turns out things didn't have to get better.
In his 2012 preseason debut against the Toronto Raptors, Stoudemire ruptured a popliteal cyst behind his left knee, then underwent surgery to clean up tissue in said knee, per Newsday. He would miss the first 30 games of the season, during which time Anthony led the Knicks to a 21-9 start and first place in the Atlantic Division.
As his return neared, debates began to ensue over how coach Mike Woodson should use him. Should he start? Come off the bench? Not play at all?
Coming off the bench wouldn't have sat well for many six-time All-Stars. Egos would have been fractured and, quite possibly, internal wars would have been waged. But not with Stoudemire. To his credit, he took a team-first approach, making it clear he would play in whatever capacity he was asked to.
Less than one month before he would return, Stoudemire told members of the media he was willing to do whatever it took to win, as quoted by the New York Post's Fred Kerber:
Whatever it takes to win. You guys [media] know me. Ever since I've been here, I've been all about winning and been a total team player. So whatever it takes to win, that's the goal.
I'm totally open to it. I've been here for three years now. You should know how much of a team player I am. In Phoenix ... it was a team-oriented game and the same applies here in New York.
And come off the bench he did. In 29 games as the team's sixth man, Stoudemire averaged 14.2 points and five rebounds on 57.7 percent shooting in 23.5 minutes.
His return, however, was like a double-edged sword. New York went just 16-13 with him in the lineup, rather unimpressive when you consider it closed the year out 54-28. Still, so long as he was succeeding on an individual level, there was hope.
Then, as quickly as that hope came, it vanished.
Following a March 7 bout against the Oklahoma City Thunder, in which STAT nearly led the Anthony-less Knicks to victory, an MRI revealed swelling in his right knee. He would undergo yet another knee debridement, causing him to miss six weeks and the remainder of the regular season.
Sans Stoudemire, Anthony led the Knicks out of the first round and into a second-round battle against the Indiana Pacers. Stoudemire returned for Game 3 and played the rest of the series, but he never logged more than 12 minutes in one night. Indy dropped New York in six games, and the Knicks were sent home earlier than anticipated, Stoudemire's future with them hanging in the balance.
He was, and is still, owed $45 million over the next two seasons, so trading him remained unrealistic. But could he even be a sixth man? Was he important to the team at all?
This past campaign was supposed to be the Knicks' year. Derrick Rose and Rajon Rondo were nursing ACL injuries, and New York had found success against Miami during the regular season, using a battery of three-pointers to win three of the four games they played.
Reality quickly set in after Game 6, though. The Knicks were done. Again. And were entering an offseason teeming with questions they didn't have answers to. Again.
No Light at the End of the Tunnel
Yeah, I think about it. I think about it sometimes. He was one of the reasons why I wanted to come to New York. So for me not to have that chance, the opportunity to get a full season in and get a rhythm going with him, it's not something I thought would happen.
—Carmelo Anthony on not having a chance to play with Amar'e Stoudemire, as quoted by Bleacher Report's Jared Zwerling
Immediately after the Knicks were bounced from the playoffs, Stoudemire questioned Coach Woodson's use of him and his role on the team moving forward.
"We didn't give it a chance," Stoudemire said, per the New York Post's Marc Berman. "We need to understand exactly what my style of play is and what I bring to the table. It's something I have to sit down with Coach Woody and express to him."
Inserting Stoudemire back into the starting lineup didn't seem likely. Not after the Knicks traded for Andrea Bargnani and it became common knowledge STAT would still be on a minutes cap. And most certainly not after Isola reported he underwent another knee surgery over the summer.
News of his latest procedure has left many, including the Knicks, wondering when he'll be able to suit up. Newsday's Al Iannazzone writes that Woodson is unsure if Stoudemire will play at all during the preseason, though STAT himself hasn't ruled out being ready for opening night.
Amar'e said it's possible he will play in the season opener Oct. 30 and he believes he can dominate again.— Al Iannazzone (@Al_Iannazzone) October 8, 2013
"I do envision myself getting healthy and being able to dominate as I once did before," Stoudemire said after a lengthy workout, per Iannazzone. "I can't control injuries. All I can do is work extremely hard and do all I can do to prevent them and hopefully, this time will be the last time."
No one, not even Stoudemire, really knows if this will be the "last time." History suggests it won't be. That Stoudemire will suffer another injury, then another setback, no matter how many precautions he or the Knicks take.
How well will Stoudemire play upon his return?
"To see him go forward and then take some steps back every time, it's just sad," Anthony said, per Zwerling.
Sad doesn't even do this situation justice. Tragic is more fitting.
Stoudemire was a pioneer for the organization. He signed on for the long haul when no one else would, when LeBron didn't. He's one of the reasons Anthony himself even wanted to play in New York. And next summer, when Anthony is likely to explore free agency, and with the Knicks weighed down by STAT's cumbersome contract, he could also be one of the reasons Anthony leaves.
"We need him," Anthony said, via Iannazzone. "He's a big key to this team's success."
Sadly Tragically enough, if it comes to this, he and his never-ending string of injuries will be a big part of the Knicks' downfall too.
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