The jury is still out on Amare Stoudemire, New York Knick. Put simply, it’s impossible to predict future performance based on this season, or draw conclusions about his character because of an isolated, stupid mistake.
The chorus on New York talk radio yesterday and today boiled down to trade the bum**, preferably before Game 3. This after Amare was the Knicks’ most efficient offensive player on the court in Monday’s Game 2 loss to the Heat, a loss that put the Knicks in an 0-2 series hole and their playoff hopes on life support (As far-fetched as an upset sounds at this point, I’m not willing to concede the series until the Knicks lose one at MSG). This after nearly two years of class on and off the court, despite the fact that Amare was effectively moved from first to second violin when Carmelo Anthony showed up. Remember, Amare put up MVP-like numbers in the first half of 2010, averaging a 26-9 on 50.7% shooting in 53 games before the All-Star Break. The Garden faithful was chanting “M-V-P!” when Amare, not Melo, was at the foul line.
**Can we all agree to stop talking about trading Amare like it has a better than 0.00001% chance of happening? There’s no general manager alive that would even ponder dealing for a 29-year-old big man with two bad knees, a bad back and three years and $60 million remaining on his contract. As Stephen A. Smith said: “They couldn’t trade Stoudemire for a couple of folding chairs.”
Since then, it’s been a downward spiral for the proud but beleaguered Stoudemire, who has been brought low by one injury after another over the insanely crowded NBA regular season (more on this in a minute). The worst humiliation had to be Saturday’s Game 1, when the Heat embarrassed the Knicks, 100-67. Any Knicks with even a hint of pride or self-respect had to be stewing as Miami treated them like an over-40 rec league team. When the Knicks played a very solid Game 2 and still were kept at arm’s length (ie 8-12 points down) throughout the fourth quarter, Stat had to have been apoplectic.
I’m not saying he should have punched the fire extinguisher, or that his childlike lashing out wasn’t stupid. Of course it was stupid. It was monumentally stupid. But guess what, guys: Everyone does stupid things that open the door for unintentional injury. Everyone, at some point, punches a wall in anger or slams down a glass in frustration (or backflips off the high dive to impress a girl). From where I sit, the incident was aberrant behavior in both senses of the word. It was “departing from an acceptable standard of activity” AND it was “diverging from the normal type”, as in Amare’s general character. In his two years as a Knick, Stat has stayed out of trouble, been a positive influence on the local community through charity work and represented the franchise with class. To throw all that away, just because he made a mistake that all us good-and-sensible fans might have made were we in his shoes? Ludicrous.
If Amare were averaging a 25-10 this season, the irate fan reaction would have been much more muted. But Stat is struggling, and he has struggled all year. The problem is that this season is uniquely treacherous for Amare because of the compressed training camp and preseason (three weeks instead of six or seven), and brutally compressed schedule. Four times between Jan. 24 and March 24, the Knicks and Stat played four games in five days — once, Stat played at least 25 minutes on three consecutive nights.
Because big men are more prone to knee and back injuries, absorb more contact in the low post and run more miles per game than guards, they were hit the hardest by the grueling schedule. Orlando center Dwight Howard, the preeminent big man in the game, herniated a disk in his back and was lost for the season in April. Then-Milwaukee center Andrew Bogut fractured his ankle in January and was lost for the season.
Stat was no different, missing 19 of 66 games with various ailments. When he did play, he was tentative and sluggish on the court, fighting knees and back muscles unable to get healthy at the same time. Stat was also undoubtedly afraid of an ACL tear or herniated disk and did not exhibit the attacking, physical style of play that endeared him to Knicks fans in 2010. Perhaps worst of all, he was robbed of his quickness, the basis for his entire off-the-dribble offensive game, which relegated him to jacking up low-percentage 18-footers.
Excluding his first two NBA seasons, Stat is posting career-low averages in points (17.5), rebounds (7.8) and field goal percentage (48.3). Chalk some of his decline up to age if you must. But the jury on Amare the player — and Amare the person — will not be back until April 2013. No matter how angry the New York fans get.