You could make an argument that there was no better player in the NBA over the final two-plus months of the 2009-10 season than the Phoenix Suns’ Amare Stoudemire. He was a certifiable beast, averaging 25.3 points and 10.1 rebounds a game in February, 27.3 points and 9.9 rebounds a game in March and 26.4 points and 9.3 rebounds a game in April.
It is that Stoudemire the New York Knicks hope to see on a regular basis over the next five years, when the team will be lavishing nearly $100 million on their future center/power forward. It’s a pretty bold move by the Knicks, who were the first team to strike in the open market, luring Stoudemire away from the only team he has ever known. (He is the first big-namer to change teams. Joe Johnson agreed to re-up with Atlanta.)
There still undoubtedly are many more free agent shoes to drop and the Knicks clearly are banking on one of the Manolo Blahnik’s still out there joining Stoudemire. That had better happen, because while Stoudemire can be a dominant force, he needs more than the current NBADL roster that the Knicks now have.
Which makes you wonder... Was it the money? The attention? The Arizona immigration law? Or do the Knicks and Stoudemire know something we all don’t know?
The Suns reportedly offered him $96.6 million over the same five years, although not all of it was guaranteed. That didn’t seem especially harsh, given Stoudemire’s history of knee injuries. But as is his right, he went to the higher bidder and, well, we will know soon just how much better the team he joins is going to be than the one he left.
The Knicks’ intent is pretty clear... They are going to use Stoudemire as bait for another top free agent. For their sake, it had better be LeBron James. Otherwise, it could be a very lonely and cold winter for Stoudemire. He has chosen to leave a team which came within two games of making the NBA Finals to one which didn’t even pretend to being a competitor and blew up its roster in hopes of landing James this summer.
Stoudemire is a great acquisition, no question. He immediately vaults to the top rung of Eastern Conference centers, right behind Dwight Howard. But does he realize how much he’s going to miss Steve Nash on those pick-and-rolls? Or the locker-room sagacity of Grant Hill? Or being a part of one of the most exciting teams in the NBA? (My sense is he won’t miss not having to go against Pau Gasol, Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki, among others in the Western Conference.)
He has decided to give that all up for... Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Eddy Curry and Toney Douglas. There isn’t even close to a recognizable, legitimate NBA point guard in that group. There isn’t a serviceable big man in that group, even though Curry is an undeniably big man. And what happens if the Knicks don’t get James?
This was always going to be the case with New York, which made it hard to figure out why anyone of import would go there. They have no one on their roster to use as a drawing card. The Heat have the ace of spades in Dwyane Wade. But the Bulls have some nice young players (Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Luol Deng) and the Nets have Devin Harris and Brook Lopez, not to mention the draft rights to Derrick Favors. Even the perpetually hapless Clippers can trot out Chris Kaman, Blake Griffin and Baron Davis.
So, yes, it had to be about the money. It usually is, isn’t it? I don’t know why we expect these guys to take a few million less over five years to put themselves in a better situation. That’s what Pat Riley is trying to engineer in Miami and it may all come apart because the guys won’t take less than the absolute max.
Hey, Stoudemire has been in Phoenix his whole career; maybe he just wanted a change of scenery after eight years. And the Knicks had spent two years stockpiling cash and getting ready to spend, spend and spend. They had no other option, not in that market. If it was money you are looking for, the Knicks are happy to oblige. (I wouldn’t make all that much about his re-uniting with Mike D’Antoni. Crack Suns writer Paul Coro said the two had an icy parting when D’Antoni left.)
So this is a story with an ending still to be written. The Knicks are a better team now than they were on July 1. But they’re still a ways away. And if the other big free agents decide not to go to New York, then Stoudemire will be a very good player on a potentially very bad team.
But if LeBron decides to join Stoudemire, well, as someone once sang, ‘start spreadin’ the news.’