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No Slam Dunk

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There are a lot of very giddy Knicks fans out there today and rightfully so. Amar’e Stoudemire is the best player to be on the Knicks roster since Patrick Ewing. Since getting drafted in 2002, he has been an All-NBA first team selection once (2007), an All-NBA second team selection three times, and has made 5 All-Star games. He’s played in 79 games or more in 5 of his 8 seasons. He will be only 28 in November. When his contract expires he will be 32 years old, still a prime year for a NBA player. He might also help bring another star or two to the Knicks via free agency or trade.

But it isn’t all great news. Stoudemire had microfracture knee surgery in 2005 and missed all but three games. It’s a surgery that can lead to chronic problems, and sometimes has to be repeated. The good news is that he has shown few signs of knee problems since, and has had two of his three best years since the undergoing the surgery. It’s still a red flag and made the Suns (and presumably other teams) hesitate guaranteeing him five years without some sort of stipulations.

Red flag number two is his detached retina. In 2008-2009, Stoudemire suffered a partially torn iris and then a detached retina. It required surgery and will force him to wear protective goggles for the remainder of his career. A detached retina is a long-term problem that could come back to haunt him if he takes another blow to the eye. Another injury like that could end his career.

Odds are that Stoudemire won’t get through the next five seasons without having some kind of additional problem with his knee or eye. Five years is a long time and there are no guarantees either way. In years four and five of this deal, this could end up being one of the worst contracts in the league. That’s a HUGE risk.

Even without that risk, Stoudemire could still be considered overpaid. He doesn’t rebound particularly well (8.9 per game for his career) and is a below average defender. On the bright side, to quote ESPN’s John Hollinger, David Lee’s defense makes Stoudemire look like Bill Russell. The Knicks won’t win a NBA title with Stoudemire as their best player. He needs help, and many would argue only guys that can be that number one guy deserves a max contract.

Last week I wrote that I wouldn’t give Amar’e Stoudemire a full max contract, and I stand by that opinion. However, he’s the 5th best player on the market (after LeBron, Wade, Dirk, and Bosh) and is an upgrade over Lee. However, depending on what type of contract Lee gets, he could have been a better bargain. Seeing some of the other deals given out, I think Lee will get a five year 65-75 million dollar contract from the Nets, Heat, or another team with cap space that didn’t get any A-listers. If that’s the case, I think I’d prefer Stoudemire at the max, but it’s a close call.

I also have to trust Mike D’Antoni that he knows how much Stoudemire is worth vs. Lee. He has coached both guys fairly extensively, and is in a better position than anyone to determine how much better Stoudemire is than Lee.

The wild card in all this is whether or not Stoudemire can bring another player into the fold: namely LeBron James or Wade. It certainly puts the Knicks in a better position, guaranteeing either guy they’ll play with a perennial All-Star power forward if they come to the Knicks. Right now, no other team can guarantee that. It could be a true difference maker if Bosh heads to a team like the Rockets in a sign and trade. I’ll detail scenarios tomorrow that might land LeBron or Wade in NY, but I hate to say that right now it looks like a long shot.

The other upper-echelon free agents are all PF’s and big men. The Knicks can’t spend the 16.5 million or so of remaining cap space on Lee, Carlos Boozer, or ever Bosh. The Knicks biggest need is at guard, where they need a playmaker to run the screen-roll with Stoudemire. The problem is that there aren’t many of those guys on the market not named LeBron or Wade. Luke Ridnour and Raymond Felton are the only legit free agent point guards and Mike Miller is the best shooting guard out there. Combining them with Stoudemire doesn’t even guarantee a playoff spot.

Trades are possible, but right now deals for the likes of Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul or even Tony Parker are pipe dreams. Sign and trades involving Lee is probably the only way something like that can happen and that’s unlikely at best. A trade for Monta Ellis is a more legit possibility, but taking on the 4 years and 44 million left on his contract has its own concerns. Donnie Walsh is going to have to get creative spending the rest of the Knicks money, and using Eddy Curry’s expiring contract.

This isn’t a no-brainer signing. It also isn’t a disaster. I’m not going to tell Knicks fans not to enjoy this, but the enthusiasm should be tempered. This signing is no slam-dunk, but it is a wide-open mid-range jumper.