For the Knicks, Stoudemire is worth the risk
AP Basketball Writer
NEW YORK (AP) – The New York Knicks and Phoenix Suns agree: Amare Stoudemire is one of the NBA’s dominant offensive players.
“Maybe the best finisher in traffic in the game,” former Suns general manager Steve Kerr said.
The disagreement comes in how much longer that will last.
The Suns were unwilling to give a maximum-length contract to player who has had major knee surgery and already has plenty of mileage on his wheels after coming into the NBA from high school eight years ago.
But for a Knicks team that had to get something in free agency, Stoudemire is worth the risk – especially if other players can be convinced to join the 6-foot-10 power forward in New York.
Stoudemire agreed Monday to sign with the Knicks, who will play him about $100 million over the next five years, even though his past injury history meant they weren’t even sure if his contract could be insured.
“We don’t know, so we’re willing to take that risk,” Knicks president Donnie Walsh said.
Without the same financial resources, the Suns weren’t.
“Obviously they have to add more pieces, but he upgrades their talent significantly,” said Kerr, who resigned last month and is returning to TNT as a game analyst. “Our main concern in Phoenix and I know this is reflected in (owner Robert Sarver’s) final contract offer to Amare, our main concern was the health issue.”
Stoudemire had two knee surgeries – one on each knee – during the 2005-06 season, including the major microfracture procedure, and was sidelined with a partially detached retina for the final two months in 2008-09.
None of that has slowed him down yet, but the Suns believe it will eventually, which is why they refused to offer the maximum six years allowed and instead sought a deal that included partial and conditional guarantees.
“We were fairly confident that Amare had several good seasons left in him, but we were definitely concerned about years 4 and 5 in a contract,” Kerr said. “And that’s based on him having the microfracture surgery and three other knee surgeries, based on our medical team and their projections, and a little bit based on precedent as well with some of the high school players who came out at 18 and put tons of mileage on their legs.”
The Knicks looked at Stoudemire’s MRI results that were sent from Phoenix before committing to the deal, so they were able to review his history. Still, they can’t predict the future.
Stoudemire was only 19 when the Suns drafted him in 2002 – two picks after the Knicks passed on him. He’s already played more than 500 games and 17,000 minutes in the NBA, and the Suns believe that will catch up with him, as it has lately with some other prep-to-pros stars.
“You look at this past year or two at guys like Tracy McGrady or Jermaine O’Neal and you can see it with (Kevin) Garnett now, he’s slowing down,” Kerr said. “The clock moves a little faster for those guys because rather than being in college playing 30 games a year between the ages and 18 and 21 when their bodies are maturing, they’re already playing 82 games and historically those type of players have worn out faster.
“I think that was the biggest risk that obviously the Knicks were willing to take and it was one that the Suns were reluctant to take.”
New York will owe Stoudemire $22.7 million in the final year of the deal. It can afford to take the chance and needed to.
The Knicks had to sign someone after making this summer the entire focus of their last two seasons. They landed a five-time All-Star who wanted to be in New York and who planned to make recruiting calls to other top free agents, starting with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.
Even if the Knicks can’t haul in another top target, they are confident having Stoudemire will pay off for them. Mike D’Antoni was the coach in Phoenix and watched Stoudemire bounce back to become an elite player after managing just three games in that 2005-06 season.
“There’s a lot of good things, I think the best thing about him is that he will accept the challenge and he will not shy away from it,” D’Antoni said. “You put an obstacle in front of him and whether it’s his knees, his eyes, whether coming into the league as a rookie, New York City, he will find a way with hard work and with just bravado find a way to overcome it.”