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Lichtenstein: Stoudemire’s Return Will Boost The Knicks

Amar'e Stoudemire (credit: Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

Amar’e Stoudemire (credit: Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

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By Steve Lichtenstein
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I get the whole “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality of New York sports fans. I can also be very superstitious.

But it’s this irrational fear that’s creating the perception that the return of forward Amar’e Stoudemire will somehow upset the Knicks’ mojo that has spurred them to a 19-7 start.

Not every attempt at an improved formula yields New Coke. There is room on the Knicks for Stoudemire, who could return in the next week from the knee injury that has sidelined him all season.

I mean, have you been watching Ronnie Brewer play forward recently? It makes you wonder what sort of pictures Brewer has of Knicks coach Mike Woodson at his disposal.

In the Knicks’ 11 December games, all of which Brewer has started, he has shot 27% from the floor and made 18% of his 22 attempts from three-point range. And he’s an aggregate minus-22 in his nearly 20 minutes per game in this span on a team that has gone 8-3.

Stoudedmire’s presence would have certainly impacted the two games versus Chicago, including last night’s ejection-filled 110-106 Knicks’ loss at the Garden.

Like most opposing teams, the Bulls were practically begging Brewer to shoot, for it’s much easier to worry about just boxing out on the rebound than it is to corral the beastly Carmelo Anthony or the damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t pick-and-roll combo of Raymond Felton and Tyson Chandler. Forget Stoudemire, I can’t figure out why Brewer hasn’t been supplanted by rookie Chris Copeland by now.

With this limited exception, Woodson seems to understand the notion that you can never have too many weapons on the floor in today’s NBA. That’s why he prefers his three-guard lineup with Felton, Jason Kidd and J.R. Smith to close out games, even if it means having an undersized Anthony at power forward. Few defenses can rotate fast enough when the ball swings to the side opposite Anthony with Brewer on the bench. It’s also created a role for Steve Novak, who was rescued from obscurity last season to become one of the NBA’s leading three-point marksmen.

Stoudemire is not that kind of long-distance threat, but he is a career 53% shooter with excellent mid-range accuracy, the kind of shots Brewer has been missing.

Yes, Brewer is certainly a more diligent defender than Stoudemire will ever be, but I wouldn’t call him a stopper in the Bruce Bowen mold. At 6-foot-11, Stoudemire has four inches on Brewer, which should help the Knicks’ ugly rebounding numbers.

I do believe in chemistry. The New York media will attempt to coax Stoudemire into some kind of duel with Anthony, looking to blame Stoudemire for any slight reduction in Anthony’s MVP-contending production. I’m already seeing and hearing stuff about “whose team this is.”

Duh—it’s Anthony’s.

That should have been obvious following the Woodson hire/extension and the offseason decision to let Jeremy Lin walk to Houston.

At this point, with the Knicks playing their best ball in over a decade, it’s up to Woodson to figure out how much Stoudemire has in the tank and get him to buy into becoming the dessert on the menu of an Anthony-centric offense with a side dish of Felton/Chandler pick-and-rolls. It’s up to Stoudemire to understand that sometimes the offensive body is full and the dessert has to be saved for another day.

If that becomes a problem, if Stoudemire bogs down the offense holding the ball in one-on-one isolations, Woodson has other options. If the Yankees can bench A-Rod in the playoffs, Woodson will be covered if he feels Stoudemire cannot contribute as well as others, no matter how much money Stoudemire makes.

Because in New York, it’s all about winning.

Unlike their new neighbors to the east, the Knicks have so far spit in the face of anything that could potentially derail their path towards their ultimate goal. Credit goes to Anthony, who seems to have had an epiphany that he can still put up numbers in a ball-sharing attack, to team-first players like Kidd and Chandler, who have changed the team’s ethos on both sides of the court, and to Woodson, who has superbly managed the team’s pulse this season.

The addition of Stoudemire will be just one more weapon in Woodson’s arsenal. That shouldn’t be cause for alarm. Do you think the Bulls, the one team in the East that seems to be getting under the Knicks’ skin, is dreading the return sometime in the next few months of their signature star, point guard Derrick Rose, from his knee surgery even though they’re leading their division?

The fact that Stoudemire doesn’t monopolize the ball the way Rose does makes it easier for the Knicks to adjust. Woodson can assure Stoudemire he will get opportunities through ball movement and a few pick-and-rolls when Chandler gets a breather. The amount will be dependent upon Stoudemire’s effectiveness.

What’s wrong with making the Knicks even more multi-dimensional? Adding talent could actually bring the Knicks a step closer to that elusive championship.

How do you think the Knicks’ chemistry will handle the return of Stoudemire to the lineup? Let us know in the comment section below.