In 2010, Amar’e Stoudemire left a Phoenix Suns team that nearly made the NBA Finals for the bright lights of New York City. The New York Knicks had been the laughingstock of the league for the better part of a decade. The Isiah Thomas era had been a disaster, and Donnie Walsh pulled out every trick in the book to clear up cap space. The goal was to find two superstar-level free agents that could turn the franchise around. But, much to the embarrassment of James Dolan, the Knicks struck out on LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, two players who could have made them instant contenders. The Amar’e Stoudemire signing was seen by many as a consolation prize of sorts.
Yet, Stoudemire said and did all the right things, taking ownership of the Knicks as “his” team, while maintaining a constant air of positivity and confidence. It didn’t take long for him to win the fans over. He led the team to long sought-after respectability behind a dominant, nearly MVP-level performance through the first half of his first season in orange and blue. What nobody knew at the time was that that would be the last time we would see STAT dominate.
Things changed after the arrival of Carmelo Anthony. The two score-first stars struggled to mesh, due partly to the departure of nearly all of the pieces that made Mike D’Antoni’s free-wheeling offense successful. Then came the knee problems. Stoudemire has hardly been healthy during his time as a Knick, and his massive contract (he’s due to receive more than $21 million this season) makes him borderline untradeable. He actually has an early termination option for next season, but he’s extremely unlikely to earn anywhere near that kind of money on the open market, so he’ll almost definitely not use it.
The Knicks are completely capped out, with few movable assets; their financial flexibility is so limited that they can only sign players for the veteran’s minimum. They’ve also made a habit of trading away draft picks (including the totally bonkers first-rounder they sent for Andrea Bargnani, who the Toronto Raptors were practically begging teams to take), leaving them with a roster low on young, affordable talent.
Stoudemire is still a useful player, and despite his declining explosiveness, can still score efficiently (21.8 points per 36 minutes on 57.7 percent shooting last year). However, he’s extremely limited as a passer, causing the Knicks’ movement-based offense to stall when he has the ball. He’s also been a notoriously inattentive defender and mediocre rebounder for his entire career, and those problems will only be heightened by his knee problems (he pulled in just 7.7 boards per 36 minutes last season).
His massive contract puts pressure on the Knicks to give him a major role, while he’s probably best off the bench as a guy who can come in and provide an offensive spark for 20 minutes a night. He also somewhat limits the Knicks’ lineup versatility, as, at this point in his career, he almost always has to be protected by a defensive big man, and playing him with Andrea Bargnani could be a defensive disaster.
Stoudemire can still be a useful piece for the Knicks this year, but he’s past his prime and won’t fetch much on the trade market because of his huge contract. The Knicks are still a step below championship contention, and the combination of their cap situation and their aging roster means they’ll remain a second-tier team for the foreseeable future.