The Knicks still do not know when Amar'e Stoudemire will return from a bulging disk in his back. Stoudemire will be back at some point and Mike Woodson believes it will be sooner rather than later. That is what he told Frank Isola of the New York Daily News on Tuesday before the Knicks loss to the Pacers. Stoudemire is traveling with the team now and will be in Orlando on Thursday for New York's game in Stoudemire's home town.
The Knicks, entering Wednesday's games, are 1.5 games clear of the hard-charging Bucks for the final playoff spot in the East. New York seems likely to go back to the Playoffs, but probably not the high seed they desired.
The roller coaster of a season for the Knicks has been extremely well chronicled. The latest stop came when New York and Mike D'Antoni parted ways leading to the Knicks 9-3 spurt since Mike Woodson took over. Woodson and the Knicks have done the last five games with Stoudemire out of the lineup. New York has gone 3-2 in those games.
New York has looked like a different team though and a lot of that has to do with the freedom Carmelo Anthony received. Anthony is averaging 29.4 points per game and looking like his old self. Yes, without Stoudemire, this may be a team similar to the ones Anthony left in Denver but that might just be how he is most effective.
And so it begs that age-old question: Is New York better off without its All-Star power forward? Do Stoudemire and Anthony, as many have suspected, require the ball too much individually to be effective together?
Both Stoudemire and Anthony have had their moments in the Big Apple. Stoudemire, notably, was on a tear before Anthony arrived in February last year. New York, despite getting swept, played some very close game against Boston in its first round series.
The overall results have not been great. There is no denying that.
According to BasketballValue.com, Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire are not in a single lineup with a positive 1-year adjusted plus/minus together. The starting lineup of Iman Shumpert, Landry Fields, Carmelo Anthony, Amar'e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler rates the best with a -5.44 1-year adjusted plus/minus. There are a few lineups that have not played enough minutes to have statistically significant data that are successful -- a lineup with Jeremy Lin and J.R. Smith joining Chandler, Anthony and Stoudemire is particularly strong, but Lin is done for the year.
What is clear from this fact though is that of the lineups New York uses most, the most successful lineups come with Anthony and Stoudemire on the floor at different times. Not together.
This bodes really poorly for the Knicks as they move forward.
You see, New York does not do so good with the long-term planning.
It is true that Anthony and Stoudemire have identical max contracts that are set to expire in 2015 with an early termination option for 2014. But New York will have more than $40 million committed to these two players for much of the next three seasons. That is going to give New York very little wiggle room to put the right players around them to make this duo work. Tyson Chandler is due $13-14 million per year through 2014 too. So really it is $53-54 million already committed for the next three seasons. According to ShamSports, the Knicks have $58 million committed in salary for the next two years if every player (and that would include Jeremy Lin) declines their options and becomes free agents.
The salary cap this year, for the record, was set at $57 million and it probably will not get much higher than $60 million in the coming years. The luxury tax line was set at around $70 million.
New York is going to be flirting with the lxury tax and its steeper financial penalties for a while. And certainly James Dolan and the Knicks want to do a lot better than the eighth seed in the East.
There is plenty of second-guessing to go around in how the Knicks built this roster. They sold off a ton of assets to bring in Anthony and the experiment has, to this point, been a failure -- unless you consider selling ink and getting eyeballs an important part of the New York Knick experience.
The question is could New York have gotten itself out of this situation? Is Stoudemire's injury serious enough to have taken some more drastic action this offseason?
New York continued its mode of questionable moves by amnestying Chauncey Billups this offseason. That move enabled New York to sign Tyson Chandler. It is hard to argue that Chandler has not helped transform the Knicks into one of the better defensive teams in the league -- they are fifth in the league with a 97.7 defensive rating after finishing 21st last year with a 106.9 defensive rating.
The Knicks though are still not where they want to be and continue to have limited options for improvement with all the salary tied up in Stoudemire, Anthony and Chandler. If those three do not mesh well together, then the Knicks will always be potentially dangerous but actually tame.
Now with Stoudemire fighting through this back injury and considering his history of injuries from his days in Phoenix, the Knicks might have to wonder whether they made the right moves in acquiring Carmelo Anthony and possibly letting go of free agent to be Chauncey Billups. It might have been bad press to abandon the Stoudemire/Anthony experiment after one year, but it is clear now that the Knicks intend to use Anthony as their centerpiece and not Stoudemire.
This certainly puts Stoudemire, once the toast of New York for making the team relevant again early in the 2010-11 season, in an awkward position. This does not seem to be what he signed up for (that is, unless the Knicks start winning).
Like most things with the Knicks at the moment, discovery is coming day-to-day.
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