By John Schmeelk
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When Amar’e Stoudemire arrived here as the consolation prize to LeBron James, he embraced New York and the challenge of winning with the Knicks. His “The Knicks Are Back!” mantra reverberated with the fan base and brought back a lot of the confidence that had been sucked away during the Isiah Thomas era.
He said all the right things and went about things the right way with the media during his time with the organization. He worked hard to return from a number of injuries and didn’t complain when those physical ailments sent him to the bench. He was a good teammate. If that’s why Knicks fans remember and think of him so fondly, so be it, because otherwise his Knicks tenure was an unmitigated disaster.
I find it difficult to celebrate Stoudemire for coming to New York and accepting the challenge of playing here when the Knicks were the only team foolish enough to offer him a maximum five-year, $100 million contract. How much credit does Stoudemire really deserve for going to the place that offered him more years and more money than any other team?
Everyone else was scared off — and in retrospect, rightfully so — by Stoudemire’s bad knees, but the Knicks rolled the dice that he could maintain his dominant form for a good portion of the contract. They rolled snake eyes.
After playing 78 games in his first season with the Knicks, he couldn’t even make it through the team’s first-round playoff series with the Celtics. After playing great in Game 1, he hurt his back in warmups of Game 2. He was a shell of himself in the final three games as the Celtics swept the Knicks. The following season in the playoffs, Stoudemire cut his hand on a fire extinguisher case, costing his team yet again.
The next three seasons he played 47, 29 and 65 games. And this year he suited up just 36 games due to injuries to his back and knees. When the Knicks signed him to that contract, even in the worst-case scenario, they envisioned getting two or three full seasons out of him. He couldn’t even make it through the playoffs of his first year.
The other worry when he initially signed was his lack of defense, and those fears turned out to be well-founded. The Knicks were worse with him on the floor defensively every season he played with the team — except this year, when it was roughly equal — and in only one season did the team have a defensive rating under 105 (points per 100 possession) when he played.
At one point, when questioned about his defense, he even had the gall to say he struggled on that side of the floor because no one ever taught him how to play defense. It was an obvious lie and an excuse for being an awful defender and not showing any improvement in that area. It was also a shot at his former coach, Mike D’Antoni.
As good as Stoudemire’s first season with the Knicks was statistically — nine straight 30-point games, 25.3 points, 8.2 rebounds — the team actually performed better when he was on the bench. According to Bryan Gibberman, New York outscored teams by about a point more when he was on the bench than when he played because his defense was so bad. The team was better by six points per 100 possessions defensively when he sat.
Some blame Carmelo Anthony’s arrival for ruining that season, but the team was just 28-26 when the Anthony trade happened.
Stoudemire didn’t have a net positive effect on the Knicks’ win-loss record, either. He started his Knicks career in 2010 by going 16-9, but after that it never seemed to work. In Stoudemire’s five years with the Knicks, the team went 110-147 when he played. When he missed games, the team went 67-41.
He never figured out a way to mesh or win with Anthony. In each of Stoudemire’s first four years with the Knicks, the team performed better in terms of +/- when he was on the bench compared to when he played.
When you invest a max contract and nearly a third of your cap space in a player who does more to hurt your team than help it, you aren’t going to win many basketball games. The Knicks sacrificed two seasons to get Stoudemire, and then wasted the next five seasons with him. His signing has set the Knicks back to where they were in 2010, clearing cap space and losing lots of games to rebuild the roster.
The best thing that can be said about Stoudemire is that there’s no guarantee that Anthony would have wanted to come here if Stoudemire hadn’t come first. And the jury is still out as to whether or not that is a good thing.
Allan Houston gets tons of heat and hate from Knicks fans because he signed a $100 million contract and then didn’t deliver due to bad knees and a lack of defense. Stoudemire should be regarded the exact same way. He ended up being exactly what many people thought he was when he was a free agent in 2010: a one-dimensional player who had long-term injury concerns. All the bad stuff ended up being true. It confuses my why the fan base thinks of him so positively.
I want to stress that none of that is Stoudemire’s fault. He didn’t want his knees to fall apart. Everyone knew he was a bad defender when he got here. Stoudemire shouldn’t be treated like some kind of bum who stole the Knicks money. That’s not fair, either. He was a good teammate. He did work extremely hard. He is not Eddy Curry or Jerome James. All of that should be appreciated and cheered.
But in the end, Stoudemire was right when he said “The Knicks Are Back.” Right back where they started, thanks in large part to Stoudemire.
You can follow me on Twitter @Schmeelk for everything Knicks, Giants and the world of sports.