July 2010. The New York Knicks had signed superstar Amar’e Stoudemire, to a five-year, $97 million deal, luring him away from the Phoenix Suns.
Stoudemire was coming off on of his biggest seasons yet, averaging 23.1 points per game and 8.9 rebounds per game on 56% shooting.
Fast forward about five years. The Knicks sit at 10-44, an embarrassment for such a big market franchise. A now 32-year old Stoudemire wanted out, and the Knicks gave him his wish. Stoudemire was bought out yesterday, ending his career as a New York Knick.
It’s easy to look at Stoudemire’s tenure as an utter failure. The Knicks only made the playoffs in three of his four full years, and only won a single playoff series. The pairing of him with Carmelo Anthony was billed to be deadly, but instead the two struggled to play with one another on the court.
It’s also easy to view Stoudemire as a scapegoat for the Knicks failures, and many Knicks fans have done so. His massive contract plagued the Knicks, pushing them below the salary cap, with very little cash to spend on free agents. His often injury plagued seasons also hurt the team greatly.
Despite that, Knicks fans should be thanking Stoudemire rather than applauding his departure. Sure, it wasn’t as successful as we all had hoped, but it isn’t solely his fault.
Look at the circumstances the Knicks were in when he signed. The Knicks were coming off a 29-53 season, and were in the process of blowing up the team. They hadn’t made the playoffs in six years, and hadn’t won a first round series since 2000. They had a bleak future, having traded away most of their draft selections away in years past.
Those factors led to the Knicks constant whiffing on big name free agents, such as Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Tony Parker, and Jason Kidd, to name a few. Stoudemire was the only one to agree to sign on.
In his first season as a Knick, the team was instantly transformed. Him and Raymond Felton formed a deadly pick and roll duo, and Stoudemire himself was an MVP candidate. He averaged 25.3 points per game and 8.2 rebounds per game, while shooting 50% from the field. His stats took a minor hit when Carmelo Anthony arrived, but he still finished 9th in MVP voting. He had one of the most memorable stretches in Knicks history, having 9 consecutive games scoring 30+ points.
Most importantly, Stoudemire lead the Knicks to a playoff berth. For the first time since 2004, the Knicks were above .500 and in the playoffs. Basketball was finally back in New York, and the Knicks were finally relevant. They were swept in the first round, but with Stoudemire and Anthony paired up, it could set the stage for a bright future.
Well, turns out it didn’t. The Knicks would make the playoffs the next two season, but Stoudemire was rarely on the court. Like he did with Kobe Bryant, Mike D’Antoni appeared to have run Stoudemire to the ground. The Knicks were fully aware that Stoudemire was becoming injury prone, but D’Antoni ran him out for 36.8 minutes a game in his first season as a Knick.
Sure, maybe it didn’t have that much of an impact, but at the same time if D’Antoni had limited him a bit he could’ve been better suited for the remainder of his contract.
Two back procedures and three knee procedures in the span of just four years would change Stoudemire’s career. In order to preserve him, the Knicks asked Stoudemire if he would be willing to accept a bench role and limited minutes. This was just two seasons after an MVP year.
How many players would accept that?
Going from an all star and a starter, to a measly role player. Not many would, but Stoudemire did. He changed his game for the Knicks, using more post up plays like they asked of him. His post up play percentage rose from 10.4% in 2011-2012, to 35.9% in 2012-2013.
He still struggled with injury problems, but blaming him for the Knicks failures is ridiculous. Look at James Dolan’s mistakes. Chris Paul had wanted to be a Knick, but he traded away all of his assets to acquire Carmelo Anthony, who was slated to be a free agent in five months anyway. This led to awkward fits with Anthony and Stoudemire, and without an elite point guard like Chris Paul, the offense often struggled.
This could’ve been prevented if it weren’t for Dolan’s poor prudence.
Then again about two years later, the Knicks blew up their core to acquire Andrea Bargnani. They just had gone 54-28, but decided to change anyway, by trading for Bargnani who created just even more awkward fits with Anthony and Stoudemire.
What Stoudemire did for the Knicks is bring them back to relevancy. For the first time in well over a decade, the Knicks are a desirable spot again. Carmelo Anthony admitted that if it weren’t for Stoudemire, he might not have agreed to an extension with the Knicks back in 2011.
If it were not for Stoudemire, the Knicks wouldn’t have had their memorable 54-28 season, and they wouldn’t be in a position to land free agents this offseason. They would have no direction.
The unavoidable injuries and teams struggles were not his fault, at all. Throughout his tenure he constantly made sacrifices for the better of the team, and helped New York love basketball again, after seeing the Knicks falter for a decade.
Thank you Amar’e Stoudemire for your contributions to the team. Without you, the Knicks would be in the same position they were in in 2009.