Looking back at the Amar'e Stoudemire era in New York

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Amar'e Stoudemire Headed to Dallas?


By PAT RALPH
College Contributor Network

I can remember the moment like it was yesterday. It was July 2010; I was a soon-to-be junior in high school and enjoying my summer days swimming, life-guarding, and playing ball with friends. At this time in the sports world, an NBA free agency like no other was about to cause an earthquake for the ages. More importantly, it was a golden opportunity for my beloved, but horrific, New York Knicks to finally make a splash in free agency.

As a Knicks fan my entire life, the last great moment I had seen of this team was in 2000 when New York advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals only to fall to the archrival Indiana Pacers. Since then, it had been an embarrassment to root for the blue and orange. From having to deal with the glory days of the cross-river rival New Jersey Nets to the disastrous decisions within the Isiah Thomas era, Knicks fans had put up with a lot since New York was last a title contender. Not to mention the terrible ownership under James Dolan, which unfortunately still exists today.

One of the marquee 2010 free agents the Knicks made a strong, quick push for, not named LeBron James, was athletic power forward Amar'e Stoudemire of the Phoenix Suns. The Suns were not a tad bit interested in paying Stoudemire the money he wanted after the All-Star opted out of his contract, so he was all in for the Knicks. New York signed him to a max contract worth $99.7 million over five years, solidifying "STAT" as the franchise player to build around for the future.

My excitement to have Stoudemire on the Knicks was through the roof. He was an important piece of the "Seven Seconds or Less" Suns from 2004-2008, which may be one of the most fun NBA teams I have ever watched play. His coach from those run-and-gun Suns teams, Mike D'Antoni, was now the head coach of the Knicks. I would be lying if I said I did not have visions of the Knicks running the same high-tempo offense Phoenix once ran like a work of art. As a wiser me would come to realize later, I learned quickly why my excitement over D'Antoni was so naive. The guy simply could not coach defense if his life depended upon it.

Having been given the keys to the franchise and New York City (literally and figuratively), Stoudemire and the Knicks started strong in their first season together. Stoudemire was named a starter in the All-Star game (the first Knick to do so since Hall of Fame center Patrick Ewing) and had one of the best seasons yet of his young career. It looked as if Stoudemire was on his way to becoming a great Knick.

Then came the move that, in my opinion, will always define the Amar'e Stoudemire era in New York. The Knicks had a big decision to make: look for more star power at the trade deadline to put alongside Stoudemire or keep the strong chemistry together?

Unsurprisingly, the Knicks chose to add more stars and acquired a disgruntled All-Star forward by the name of Carmelo Anthony from the Denver Nuggets for several of New York's key role players. One of the key players to go in the trade was point guard Raymond Felton, who had connected well with Stoudemire on the pick-and-roll just like Stoudemire had earlier in his career with future Hall of Famer Steve Nash in Phoenix. Just like that, one of Stoudemire's strongest facets on offense was gone and being replaced by a shoot-first player in Anthony.

Having wanted to play for the Knicks his whole life, Anthony was ready to come in and play alongside Stoudemire. While it was still Stoudemire's team, Anthony would slowly but surely grab the franchise-player reins away from Stoudemire. The Knicks made this move in order to eventually form a "big three" of their own (hopefully through adding point guard Chris Paul, but you can go ask David Stern what happened there) and compete with the likes of the Miami Heat, Boston Celtics, and Chicago Bulls in the Eastern Conference. Instead, the Knicks tried way too hard to bring together two score-first players when neither complimented the other at all.

After getting bounced in the first round of the 2011 playoffs by Boston, Stoudemire and the Knicks entered the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season with hopes of going further in the postseason. However, inconsistent play and injuries led to a down season for Stoudemire who missed his first All-Star game since 2006. In addition, D'Antoni was replaced midseason by the defensive-minded Mike Woodson at head coach and the Knicks had yet to find a suitable point guard to work together with Stoudemire on the pick-and-roll. The team was quickly becoming Melo's team and less Amar'e's.

The first truly embarrassing moment of Stoudemire's career in New York came after Game 2 in the first round of the 2012 playoffs against Miami. Stoudemire infamously suffered a cut on his hand after punching a fire extinguisher box in the visitors locker room following the loss. Stoudemire had to miss the next game at home because of this idiotic move, but it made no difference as New York was bounced in five games by the eventual champions.

The 2012-13 season was a lost one for Stoudemire, as he missed almost the entire season due to knee injuries. However, the Knicks had their best season in over a decade by winning the Atlantic Division title and a playoff series for the first time since 2000. It was the best Knicks team since 2000 and maybe even since 1994, when the Knicks came within a game of winning the NBA championship. As a result, many people began to believe the Knicks were actually better off without Stoudemire on the team and called for him to be traded.

I'm not sure what effect a healthy Stoudemire would have had on that 2013 team, which was disappointingly eliminated by Indiana in the conference semifinals. But what I can tell you was that Anthony clearly played better without Stoudemire on the court. It confirmed the belief for me that the two just could not play together. Maybe a healthy Stoudemire helps take that team to the Finals, maybe he ruins the chemistry. We will never know, add it to the wonderful list of "What-if's."

Finally healthy, Stoudemire played his way back into the starting lineup and put together a solid 2013-14 campaign. However, the Knicks could not do the same and missed the playoffs for the first time with Stoudemire. Entering the final season of his contract this year, it was clear the Knicks had plans to move him before the end of the season to get his toxic contract off the books. Stoudemire played well for New York this season predominantly off the bench, but it had been another lost season for the new-look Knicks under the jurisdiction of team president Phil Jackson and head coach Derek Fisher.

And here we stand in mid-February 2015, and Stoudemire no longer plays for the Knickerbockers. By waiving Stoudemire, the Knicks acknowledged the unfortunate disappointment of the past five seasons in which everyone had hoped for a championship led by a healthy and productive Stoudemire. Instead, New York is very much in the same spot it was five years ago before it signed Stoudemire. When you think about it, it is really sad to imagine what the Knicks could have been had Stoudemire not been belittled by injuries and inconsistent play.

To no one's surprise, a great many teams are interested in Stoudemire's services. He can be a nice offensive, score-first big man off the bench for a contender and, if with the right point guard, a solid pick-and-roll player. Signs point towards Stoudemire most likely joining the Dallas Mavericks, as he would be a perfect fit on that team. Stoudemire could fill the offensive void left by forward Brandan Wright when he was traded earlier this season for a point guard who excels on the pick-and-roll, All-Star Rajon Rondo.

But Stoudemire is a defensive liability and will probably not see huge minutes down the stretch in big games because of that weakness. It would also be pretty ironic if Stoudemire chose to join Dallas or the San Antonio Spurs, the two teams which prevented those great Phoenix teams from ever playing for an NBA championship.

Amar'e Stoudemire was a player who brought a great winning attitude every night to the Garden, he was committed to being the best teammate he could be. His work ethic and energy were second to none. He was willing to make any necessary sacrifices in order to better his team's chances of winning. Stoudemire is one of the true professionals in the league and I truly hope for nothing but the best for a guy who deserves a championship. It is impossible for me to ever root against him.

Pat Ralph is a junior at Villanova University. He has a passion for Philadelphia sports, especially the Phillies and Eagles, as well as Villanova Basketball and the New York Knicks. Follow him on Twitter @Pat_Ralph
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