Free agency can produce a number of outcomes for the teams that depend on it each year. First, there’s the super-duper-fantastic result, awarding a team with everything it could have hoped for (see the 1996 Los Angeles Lakers). Then there are those teams who get completely shafted, either because of regrettable tactics or because there just isn’t enough to go around (see 2008 Philadelphia 76ers). Further, still, are the teams that fall somewhere in the middle — nothing to scoff about and nothing to pop the champagne for.
The New York Knicks have apparently come to an agreement with inside force Amar’e Stoudemire, and the’ll pay him $100 million over the next five seasons to sport the blue and orange. Don’t get me wrong: in light of the city’s deprivation of even halfway-decent basketball this decade, this move shouldn’t make the Knick faithful drown themselves in the tears they’ve accumulated over the last several years.
That said, given the risky contracts extended to players like Eddy Curry, Stephon Marbury, and Steve Francis in recent seasons, one might figure Donnie Walsh would be slightly more cautious in extending a maximum contract to a player who lacks the ability to transform a down-in-the-dumps franchise.
Stoudemire is a great NBA player. He’s ruthless (borderline unguardable) on the offensive end when he’s got his head right, and his supernatural athleticism puts asses in the seats. In that regard alone, he’s beneficial for the Knicks. Furthermore, inking STAT might slightly increase the odds that the Knicks can bring in a true superstar (e.g., LeBron James or Dwyane Wade) to really transform the team. But honestly, it would have been much wiser to have gone in reverse, as it’s hardly a guarantee either of those guys will join Stoudemire in MSG next season.
And if one of them doesn’t come? Then there are some problems. Considering Stoudemire’s size, strength, and athleticism, he’s really a mediocre rebounder, as he struggles to haul in eight a game. Moreover, he’s virtually absent on the defensive end, tending to avoid midair contests altogether and blocking fewer shots than he should. Hmm … Good offense and bad defense?
Sounds like a guy who played power forward for New York last season — a Mr. David Lee! While Lee might give up a few points to Stoudemire on a nightly basis, he’s just as much of a “defender,” and he’ll rebound the pants off of Amar’e any night out of the year. Wouldn’t it have been better to pursue re-signing Lee and his comparable production at a fraction of Stoudemire’s price?
And who knows? Stoudemire’s offensive production might not even be what it was in Phoenix. It’s quite clear his best moments came zooming off picks on the receiving end of incomprehensible passes from Steve Nash. But Nash isn’t around anymore, and Stoudemire is yet unproven away from the wizard’s side. Who’s going to make those passes in New York? Chris Duhon? I don’t think so. The Knicks better hope Stoudemire can create some more offense on his own, or he could end up being even worse than Lee on the offensive end.
Then there’s the largest problem of all — the injury concerns. Amar’e has possibly the most questionable health history of any of the major players in free agency this July. Two micro-fracture knees and a worrisome retina. An unfortunate poke, an awkward landing, or just too much tread on the tires could confine the $100 million player to an Armani suit sitting in the first row behind the bench.
Now, I started by saying that this deal put the Knicks in the middle ground of free-agency results, and despite my fierce protestation of the decision, I stick by that. First of all, a sidelining injury could happen to anyone. Just because the problems are more noteworthy for Stoudemire doesn’t mean he’s going to ride the pine the whole season.
More importantly, it’s just that the Knicks can’t do any worse. Signing Amar’e instantly propels them to a high-30-win team, and that’s before their subsequent adjustments this summer. With some careful additions from here on in, they might be in sniffing distance of the playoffs, and that’s enough to pique the city’s interest again.
Lastly, should this not work out, the team has a potential security blanket. Layered deep beneath the three-way deal that brought Tracy McGrady to the Knicks was a stipulation that the Rockets have the option to swap picks with the Knicks in the 2011 draft … so long as the pick isn’t No. 1. Highlighting next year’s draft class is UNC freshman phenom Harrison Barnes, who has already drawn comparisons to Kobe Bryant himself. So if the Knicks flop this year and end up with the top pick in the draft, that’ll be another major building block to lay for the years to come.