For Amar'e Stoudemire, 2014-15 Season Is About Recapturing Pride

Jim Cavan@@JPCavanContributor IAugust 28, 2014

New York Knicks' Amar'e Stoudemire walks on the floor during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Portland Trail Blazers Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014, in New York. The Trail Blazers won the game 94-90.(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

Four years ago, Amar’e Stoudemire’s stock was skyscraper-high. After seven stellar seasons with the Phoenix Suns (as well as the injury-decimated 2005-06 campaign), the high-flying forward was headed east to rejoin longtime coach Mike D’Antoni as the new face of the New York Knicks—a strategic cornerstone and superstar savior all rolled into one.

For Knicks fans, what followed was yet another harsh lesson in the consequences of rash decisions. Usurped by Carmelo Anthony as the team’s de facto leader, Stoudemire struggled to recapture the glory of seasons past. As the injuries piled up, STAT’s pull retreated further still.

Now, with one $23.4 million payday between him and free agency, Stoudemire’s New York legacy threatens to sound an all-too-familiar refrain: that of a fading star overpaid for past performance, who failed to deliver on his once-palpable promise

Unfulfilled promise aside, STAT’s last Knicks go-round is all about pride.

Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

As if redeeming his Knicks tenure weren’t difficult enough already, Stoudemire now faces an even more discouraging prospect: being traded to a bona fide bottom-dweller.

According to Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders, the Philadelphia 76ers—in the midst of a bottoming out to end all bottoming outs—could be interested in taking on STAT’s hefty contract. That is assuming, of course, that New York is willing to part with a prospect in the process.

From Philly’s perspective, the logic is simple: By acquiring Stoudemire, general manager Sam Hinkie no longer risks having to pay out the difference between the league-sanctioned salary floor of $56.759 million (which the Sixers are currently under) and the team’s current payroll.

In this scenario, STAT would be little more than a temporary fix—a throwaway pawn with little purpose beyond improving Philly’s bottom line.

OAKLAND, CA - MARCH 30: Amar'e Stoudemire #1 of the New York Knicks in a game against the Golden State Warriors on March 30, 2014 at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or usin
Rocky Widner/Getty Images

That alone should be enough to light Stoudemire’s fire.

More immediately, the six-time All-Star faces the daunting task of adjusting to new coach Derek Fisher’s triangle offense, a system predicated on the kind of precise spacing and playmaking that haven’t been strong suits for Stoudemire.

Not that that’s stopping STAT from exuding an air of optimism.

“With the triangle offense, it’s probably the best situation for all of us,’’ Stoudemire told Marc Berman of the New York Post. “We get a good system we can run and stay consistent on. I’ve adjusted to any system I’ve played in. It won’t be a problem.’’

OAKLAND, CA - MARCH 30: Amar'e Stoudemire #1 of the New York Knicks attempts a free throw shot against the Golden State Warriors on March 30, 2014 at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downlo
Rocky Widner/Getty Images

Eager as he might be to broaden his basketball skill set, Stoudemire now faces—with the additions of Jason Smith, Samuel Dalembert and Quincy Acy—something of a frontcourt logjam. And that’s on top of New York’s existing ranks of Anthony, Cole Aldrich, Andrea Bargnani and rookie Cleanthony Early.

Besides, as HoopsHabit’s Maxwell Ogden recently highlighted, the Stoudemire-triangle fit isn’t a seamless one to begin with:

As previously [stated], the strong-side role for Stoudemire would depend on his ability to consistently go to the low block. He’d play predominantly with his back to the basket and work with something of a selfless, yet score-first mentality.

You’re not wrong if you’re concerned.

For as skilled as he is offensively, Stoudemire has never been one to routinely play out of the post. He’s more of a pick-and-roll finisher with a perimeter game to complement it.

While he’s capable of playing with his back to the basket, the low block has never been his strongest area of expertise. That will need to change, or at least improve, if the Knicks are to properly run the triangle offense.

With so many other options at his disposal, Fisher’s leash on Stoudemire promises to be a short one indeed. Coupling that with New York’s transitioning personnel suggests this could be another season deferred.

Stoudemire’s margin for error has never been slighter.

Jim Mone/Associated Press

At the same time, Stoudemire has shown a consistent willingness—an eagerness, even—to adapt his game. Taking the more optimistic view on STAT’s triangle prospects, Bleacher Report’s John Dorn underscored how the begoggled forward’s improved post-up game might prove a boon, rather than a burden, to Fisher’s triangle designs:

His vicious face-up game from Phoenix is essentially extinct, but instead Stoudemire has reappeared as a reliable back-to-the-basket scorer, which is inherently valuable from a triangle big. In 2013-14, he was one of only three Knicks to log player efficiency ratings better than league-average. From Dec. 1 through the end of the season, his 57.1 effective field-goal percentage would've qualified for the fourth-best mark of his career over a full season.

Dorn’s analysis brings up an important point: For all the injury setbacks and questions over how he fits in the team’s hierarchy, Stoudemire’s offensive efficiency—a hallmark of his dating back to his early years in the NBA—hasn’t wavered much.

The question now becomes whether Stoudemire can stay healthy enough to avoid the kind of minutes-restriction levied by former head coach Mike Woodson a season ago. Accepting New York’s complete lack of defense for what it is, Stoudemire’s offensive prowess remains—in the hands of the right strategic steward—a potent weapon.

Fisher knows even a losing season likely won’t remove him from team president Phil Jackson’s good graces. As such, it’s in the former’s interest to give Stoudemire every possible chance to prove he can thrive in the triangle—trade rumors be damned.

Matt Slocum/Associated Press

As for Stoudemire, if there’s one thing we’ve learned about the oft-injured forward over the past few years, it’s that pride trumps all every time.

“To keep bouncing back, it takes a lot of mental and physical effort,’’ Woodson told Berman in an interview toward the end of last season. “He keeps doing it. That to me is a sign of a true pro. A lot of guys would after a while forget it [and say]: ‘I had enough, enough is enough.’ He hasn’t been like that. I admire him for that. I know how hard he’s worked.’’

For Stoudemire, the real work is about more than just proving himself on the basketball court. He’s done more than enough to solidify his legacy on that front.

Rather, it’s about making his last Madison Square Garden go-round—if this season is indeed that—one that re-endears him to a fanbase whose favor has waned.