While Amar'e Stoudemire agreed on a five-year contract worth nearly $100 million with the New York Knicks, many of the other top free agents still remain unsigned, weighing their options for what might be the biggest decision of their careers.
LeBron James, the biggest name in this free agent class, is the Knicks' top priority, and the Stoudemire signing may be the final domino that sways the king.
The Big Apple might be his next destination.
Stoudemire now becomes the first of the top-tier free agents to switch teams. With the signing, the Knicks hope that they now have the pieces in place to convince James that they can win—now.
With the Knicks' core of Stoudemire, James, Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, and possibly another free agent if they can get creative, New York can contend in the East.
That is not a far cry at all, considering that we may be seeing a shift of powers in the East. Boston’s future is seriously in doubt, even if the roster remains intact, and Orlando lacks a true go-to scorer.
Stoudemire, who turns 28 in November, was looking for a team that still believes he can be a top big man in the NBA. The Phoenix Suns offered Stoudemire five years and $96 million, but only guaranteed $71 million of the contract due to Stoudemire’s past injuries.
The Suns moved on adding Hakeem Warrick and re-signing Channing Frye. The Knicks may have overpaid for Stoudemire’s services. But that doesn’t mean that he is a bad fit in New York.
In fact, Stoudemire is a great fit in New York. He will be playing for former Suns head coach Mike D’Antoni. Stoudemire saw himself go from a 13-point scorer during his rookie season to a 20-point scorer when D’Antoni arrived.
Stoudemire and D’Antoni have met, and supposedly hashed out any problems from their Phoenix years. D’Antoni made it clear to Stoudemire that he wants him on the roster, and still believes the forward could be a dominant player.
Stoudemire brings the Knicks a legitimate star among the best big men when it comes to production. He averaged 23 points and nine rebounds last season.
David Lee put up similar numbers last year, but Lee is nowhere near the athlete Stoudemire is, nor does he carry the same star power. Stoudemire brings star power the Knicks haven’t seen since the Patrick Ewing days.
For the Knicks, however, Stoudemire is only one piece of the puzzle.
The Knicks now have the leverage, and can sell LeBron James on playing alongside Stoudemire, unlike the Bulls, Heat, and Nets, who can only sell LeBron on the possibility of playing alongside another star.
Notice I said the word possibility.
Pairing James with Stoudemire can provide the Knicks with a tandem just as good as the Lakers' duo of Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. The Knicks won’t be on par with the Lakers because they need to fill the rest of their roster, but they have the core in place to contend for an NBA title.
Remember at the trade deadline, when James and the Cavs showed great interest in Stoudemire and even proposed to send their young forward JJ Hickson in the deal. The Cavs made it clear Stoudemire was their first priority, but they just couldn’t get a deal done and settled for the lesser Antawn Jamison.
James and Stoudemire could perfectly complement each other. Stoudemire occupies the paint, and can step out for an 18-foot jumper, while James can assume the role of playmaker and get Stoudemire the ball in comfortable spots.
James and Stoudemire could run what could be the best pick-and-roll in the NBA.
A complaint about Stoudemire is that he complemented Steve Nash, and much of his points came off Nash’s playmaking ability. While that may be true, James is just as much of a playmaker as Nash is.
Zydrunas Illgauskas and Mo Williams are two average players who would’ve never been All-Stars had they not played with LeBron James. Stoudemire and James would run D’Antoni’s offense the same way Nash and Stoudemire ran the offense in Phoenix.
The Knicks don’t have to spend all their cap space this summer, as Eddy Curry’s contract comes off the books in 2011. And while the 2011 free agent class doesn’t include the big names of this free agent class, Amar'e Stoudemire said Tony Parker and Carmelo Anthony were ready to come play with him in New York.
While that may be down the road, the Knicks will have the financial flexibility to add another top-tier player next summer, something only the Knicks can sell LeBron James.
All that being said, signing Stoudemire to a long term deal is also a risk. Stoudemire had microfracture surgery a few years back, and there is a remote possibility he may need another surgery down the road.
Stoudemire is also at the peak of his game right now. He turns 28 in November, and an athletic big man like him might start to see his abilities decline once he reaches his 30s.
Other possibilities the Knicks could explore would be re-signing David Lee, giving the Knicks a trio of Lee, Gallinari, and Stoudemire, three versatile big men who would allow Mike D’Antoni to get creative.
The Knicks could also look into adding Gilbert Arenas through a trade. But Arenas seems to be a last resort for any team, and his contract is too much to swallow.
The Knicks are also looking at other free agents like Mike Miller.
If the Knicks can’t convince James or any of the other big names on the market, Donnie Walsh's two-year plan may be considered one of the biggest failures in NBA history, considering the fans have tolerated a whole decade of terrible basketball.
The bottom line is that the Knicks made the first big move of the summer, and will rely on Stoudemire to recruit players to New York. They hope to eventually contend for a title and fulfill Donnie Walsh’s plan.
Stoudemire declared that the Knicks are back, and with the help of another free agent, that may be the case.
However, we’ll have to wait and see.