Three years ago, the Knicks signed Amare Stoudemire to a max contract and gave him the reigns to their rebuilding project. During the beginning of the season, Stoudemire became “the guy” and proclaimed that “New York is back.”
The team wanted to bring in another max contract but failed to land Lebron James when he made his decision. They made a blockbuster trade midseason to get Carmelo Anthony and Stoudemire took a back seat to one of the game’s most prolific scorers.
Fast forward to this season. The Knicks started off hot and have continued to play that way through the first 33 games of the season. Stoudemire was not part of the team’s early success and has only played in three games this year while recovering from left knee surgery. One of the biggest concerns when he returned on New Year’s Day was how the team dynamic would be affected when he was plugged back into the lineup and so far there have been no issues.
The reason for the smooth transition lies heavily on the shoulders of Stoudemire and how he has handled this situation. Normally a starter, Stoudemire has accepted a role on the team’s second unit where he will not be looked at as the main scoring threat, like he has for most of his career.
So far in his first three games, Stoudemire is averaging just nine points and two rebounds in 18.3 minutes per game. These are well below his career numbers of 21.5 points and 8.7 rebounds per game.
Amare Stoudemire (left) and Carmelo Anthony (right) are by far the two biggest stars on the Knicks but Stoudemire has taken a backseat to Anthony because of his scoring prowess. PHOTO COURTESY: HOWARD SIMMONS/NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Stoudemire’s main focus this year has to be on playing defense and he has already acknowledged that. Last week, he claimed that no coach has taught him defense before but he is now finally being taught defensive strategies, which will ultimately help his game.
The Knicks came out of the gate playing shut down defense and although they have lost that lately, they still have to pride themselves on the defensive end. If Stoudemire can’t improve his defense he’ll see his role diminished even further.
The beauty of what Stoudemire is doing is that a lot of guys making that type of money and with that much success in their careers would not be open to this. It is the ultimate ego check and shows that Stoudemire is willing to put the team before him.
Teams obviously want that from all their players but in this day in age, it is not something that is seen very often. In a time where individual stats mean everything to the player and a culture that loves scoring points, athletes do not often want to take a step back from being the guy and accept a role to benefit the team. Stoudemire has done this twice in his three years in New York.
The Knicks will truly be tested with three months left in the regular season. Since the two started playing together, many have said that Stoudemire and Anthony can’t play together (most recently former Knick Stephon Marbury). The Knicks are 2-1 record since Stoudemire has been back, but if things take a sudden turn for the worse the blame will most likely fall on Stoudemire.
If that does happen it will be extremely unfair to Stoudemire but it will be easy to make him the scapegoat. The best thing to do right now is to not think about that and assume that Stoudemire and his teammates will stay true to their roles and carry this team deep into the postseason.
With the humility shown by Stoudemire the chances seem very high that this will happen.
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Contributor – Dave Ragazzo – @DRagazzo_Sports
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