He was supposed to come here. He was supposed to be our guy. The money, the media, the Manhattan expectations as daunting as they are potentially deifying – they were all his for the taking. He would have been revered. He could’ve been a legend.
When it became clear early last July that LeBron James would not be taking his talents to Midtown, chances are many of us found ourselves parroting these and other wallowing cantos. After nine years of bad contracts, and two more of outright roster sabotage, Knick fans could be forgiven for hoping — or even expecting – Godot to hop game-ready off the Penn Station train, wearing #6.
On July 5th, four days before “The Decision” would confirm with cringe-worthy force what many already knew, the Knicks made their biggest signing since Allan Houston when they inked Amar’e Stoudemire to a 5-year, $100 million deal.
Sure, there were some concerns. Would Stoudemire’s knees – which Phoenix refused to insure – hold up? How would the sometimes rocky relationship between Stat and his once-and-future coach shake out? Would not having Steve Nash’s wizardic presence hinder his effectiveness? Would the big city expectations be too much for a guy used to year-round sunshine and a relatively laid-back fanbase?
On the court, whatever questions people had about his ability to adjust to new surroundings were quickly put to rest. Stoudemire finished as the league’s sixth leading scorer at 25.3 ppg – the most since his second year in the league. During one particularly incredible stretch, he scored 30 or more points in nine consecutive games, breaking the previous Knicks record of eight set by Willie Naulls in 1962.
In the months before Carmelo Anthony’s arrival, Stoudemire was the undisputed go-to-guy. Coupling his well-known explosiveness with an increasingly reliable mid-range game, Stat seemed to spare himself some of the wear and tear many feared inevitable in an offense where he he was often expected to be options one, two, and three. He also quickly became the team’s vocal, emotional and spiritual leader — a mantle that will rest on the 6’10″ center’s shoulders for the foreseeable future.
Still, despite making his sixth All-Star Game and earning 2nd Team All-NBA honors for the second time in his career, Stoudemire did see both his rebounds (8.2 per game) and TS% (56% — his lowest since the 2003-04 season) take a bit of a hit. He turned the ball over at the highest rate (3.2 per game) since his sophomore campaign, and didn’t do much to detract from his reputation as defensively suspect.
After storming out of the gate and into the early season MVP discussion, Stat’s numbers tailed off down the stretch, a fact that can be attributed at least partially to the arrival of Carmelo Anthony. He recorded his last double-double on March 21st, and failed to score above 30 in his final 17 starts, all the while struggling to find a consistent groove with Chauncey Billups.
The playoffs – the Knicks’ first in seven seasons – weren’t much kinder. A back injury sustained during Game 2′s warmups rendered Stoudemire useless for much of the series, a four game sweep at the hands of the Celtics. True, few expected the Knicks to do much damage this year, particularly after such a big roster shakeup. But a sweep is a sweep, and you can bet that Stoudemire won’t forget that easily going into next season.
Off the court, Stat has been every part the leader New York could have hoped for. Almost immediately, the statuesque Stoudemire synced to the city, its media, and its hungry fans with a Sinatra-like intuition. He explored his Judaic roots, courted cameras, microphones, and supermodels in equal measure, and embraced the Garden stage like few had during the team’s lost decade.
Whether Anthony and Stoudemire can truly co-exist in Mike D’Antoni’s or any other system remains to be seen. As it does whether Chauncey Billups can be the kind of point guard Stoudemire needs in order to get back to the efficiency that marked his time in Phoenix. In light of roster unknowns as gaping as those of the next CBA, even an affirmative answer to both these questions might not be enough to propel the Knicks into the NBA’s upper echelon. At least not yet.
Here’s what we do know: on the heels of their first winning season in a decade, and with two guys at the helm who – for all their faults – genuinely want to wear the orange and blue, the Knicks seem in capable hands going forward.
Cheers to Stat for lending his first.
Amar’e Stoudemire will never be LeBron James. And in the way that matters most to New Yorkers and Knick fans in particular, that’s a good thing. See, he wanted to come here. He wanted to be our guy. The money, the media, the Manhattan expectations – he grabbed them with aplomb. He’s been revered. And – if all goes according to plan – he very well could become a legend.
Report Card (5 point scale):
Final Grade: B+
|0.102||Joe Barry Carroll||1987||28||GSW||18.4||.521||.472||22.7||2.3||7.8||2.8||1.2||1.6||3.0|