By John Schmeelk
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In terms of the 2012 playoffs, the news on Amar’e Stoudemire today is about the best news the Knicks could have expected. A time frame of 2-4 weeks with a potential return before the playoffs means that the hope of winning a playoff round is still there. This team should be able to stay reasonably afloat for the next four weeks without Stoudemire in the lineup. Moving out of the seventh or eighth seed might now be nothing more than a pipe dream, but not impossible if a couple of teams fall apart.

As important as all that is, (especially to Mike Woodson, who is trying to earn a job) the Knicks need to see the forest from the trees here. As much talent as the team has, they are still very unlikely to win a championship this year, or even get to the finals. Asking this group, with all the youth and injuries, to beat the Bulls and Heat in the same playoff run is unrealistic. As important as Stoudemire is to achieving all those goals this season, he is exponentially more important to the long-term future of the franchise.

Amar’e Stoudemire has three years and $65 million left on his contract after this season. The team is over the salary cap for the next three seasons, with little flexibility, except to re-sign their own players and add players through the draft. The Knicks’ core for the next three years will be Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler, Jeremy Lin, Iman Shumpert, Josh Harrellson and perhaps Landry Fields. if the Knicks can re-sign him. If you take Stoudemire out of that mix with no replacement, the team goes from one with championship potential to one that is a fringe to middle/low-end playoff team.

This is why the Knicks need to take every possible precaution and be as conservative as possible in bringing their franchise power forward back. Even if they are unrelated, this is Stoudemire’s second back injury in as many years. He has two knees that the Suns considered serious long-term risks. Those bad knees prevented the Knicks from getting insurance on Stoudemire’s contract, which means they won’t be able to recoup any significant cap space if his career ends prematurely due to injury. Stoudemire is the future of the franchise, for better or worse.

A lot of people have been running around playing doctor the last couple of days, talking apocalypse and how the Stoudemire injury is career threatening. From all informed reports and opinions I’ve read, that is far from the truth. Bulging disks happen often, and with or without surgery they can be gotten under control. Players can return to their top form and be their normal selves. Danilo Gallinari is a perfect example. But backs are tricky, and with older players (Stoudemire is only 29) they can be chronic. To avoid that the Knicks and Amar’e Stoudemire need to be honest and shut him down if the back doesn’t respond. If he has to have surgery and lose the season to be 100 percent moving forward, so be it.

The absolutely worst thing that the Knicks can do is rush Stoudemire back, and have his bulging disk turn into a badly herniated disk that will hinder him in future seasons. As much as Knicks fans don’t want to hear “wait until next year”, that needs to be the focus of Stoudemire’s rehabilitation. If the treatment goes well and the doctors give him a legitimate green light, then that’s great. But he cannot, under any circumstance, be rushed back. For the Knicks franchise, sacrificing 2012 for the next three years is an easy decision.

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If you were Mike Woodson, would you play Amar’e even if he’s not 100 percent, or would you shut him down for the season to be cautious? Let us know…

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