Following four consecutive seasons where Amar’e Stoudemire averaged more than 20 points and eight rebounds per game in Phoenix, the Suns offered Stoudemire a long-term max deal worth $96.6 million.
But there was just one caveat with the Suns’ offer—it contained a minimum-minutes-played stipulation due to concerns that the organization had about the health of Stoudemire’s knees.
Stoudemire turned down the Suns’ offer back in 2010 and signed a five-year contract with the Knicks worth nearly $100 million.
The fact that the Suns were concerned enough about Stoudemire’s health to add a minutes-played stipulation to his contract offer combined with Stoudemire’s decision to turn down that offer should have sent up a red flag for any team looking to sign him to a long-term deal.
But evidently the Knicks were willing to take on that kind of risk to acquire Stoudemire.
During his first season it New York it appeared as if that risk was going to pay off and Stoudemire was going to be worth every penny of his $100 million contract.
Stoudemire averaged 25 points, eight rebounds and two blocks per game during the 2010-11 season with the Knicks, which was statistically one of his best seasons in the league.
But things began to turn south for both Stoudemire and the Knicks during the 2011-12 season.
A series of injuries caused him to miss 35 games during the 2011-12 season and another 53 games during the 2012-13 season.
Stoudemire had somewhat of a comeback campaign last year with the Knicks where he played in 65 games—starting 21—and averaged 11.9 points per contest.
However, Stoudemire’s minutes were still limited by the Knicks coaching staff, so the 11.9 points per game actually translates to 19.0 points per every 36 minutes played. That number is certainly lower but not too far off from his averages back in Phoenix and during his first season with the Knicks.
While there was not much that Stoudemire could do about his injuries during the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons, his $100 million contract was arguably the single largest reason why the Knicks were unable to build up a championship team over the past few years despite Carmelo Anthony producing league-leading scoring numbers.
Stoudemire’s contract completely handcuffed the Knicks with regard to their ability to bring in another big-time free agent to replace some of the offensive productivity they had lost with Stoudemire.
The Knicks were essentially forced to pay out $56.29 million over the past three seasons to a player who was hardly on the court, which is of course a financial disaster for any organization.
Stoudemire was locked into his contract through the 2013-14 season but had an early termination option for 2014-15.
This was the first real opportunity that Stoudemire and the Knicks had to restructure his contract to a point where the team would have enough cap space to keep Anthony and acquire another big-time free agent.
James and Wade have also officially opted out of their contracts for the 2014-15 season while Bosh, although currently undecided, is expected to opt out of his contract as well.
Wade was in a situation quite similar to Stoudemire’s in that he was going to be paid more than $20 million for the 2014-15 season when it was clear to most that his game had declined to a point where he would probably be worth a little more than half that amount.
Yet Wade still decided to opt out and will more than likely work with Pat Riley and the Miami Heat to come to an agreement that would allow Wade to stay in Miami but would also provide the Heat with the cap space necessary to acquire the players they need to win another NBA title.
Stoudemire decided to take a different route, though.
On June 15, Stoudemire officially informed the New York Knicks that he would not be exercising his early termination option and would collect his $23.4 million salary for the 2014-15 season. This handcuffs the Knicks for yet another year and dramatically increases the likelihood of Anthony heading for door, taking any chance the Knicks had at contending in the Eastern Conference next season with him.
While the Knicks and their fans were of course disappointed with the injuries that Stoudemire had suffered over the past few years and his lack of productivity as a result of those injuries, it was clear that neither the team nor Stoudemire could do much about the unfortunate series of events that had unfolded since 2011.
Stoudemire couldn’t make himself heal any faster, and the Knicks were already locked into a guaranteed contract with Stoudemire.
But this season could have been different.
Instead of Stoudemire and Anthony working together with the Knicks to restructure their contracts and negotiate pay cuts in order to attract another big-time free agent to New York—similar to what happened in Miami back in 2010 and what is likely happening in Miami again right now—Anthony opted out of the final year of his contract while Stoudemire decided not to exercise his early termination option and will collect $23.4 million next season.
Of course it would have been a terrible financial decision for Stoudemire to exercise his early termination option as it is abundantly clear that Stoudemire is currently worth only a fraction of $23.4 million that he is scheduled to receive next season.
But is it too much for the Knicks organization and its fans to expect a player like Stoudemire to opt out of his contract and work with the team to free up enough cap space to acquire the assets necessary to contend for an NBA title?
That is what Wade and the other members of the Big Three have done in Miami, so why couldn’t players such as Stoudemire and Anthony have done the same in New York?
This is a question that every Knicks fan should be asking; particularly if Anthony does indeed decide to hightail it out of town and the Knicks have yet another dreadful season in 2014-15.