By Ben Golliver
A key member of the New York Knicks is expected to miss the team's long-anticipated, season-opening battle for the Big Apple against the Brooklyn Nets.
Newsday reported Sunday that an MRI of starting power forward Amar'e Stoudemire's left knee revealed a "ruptured popliteal cyst." The injury will not require surgery but it will sideline Stoudemire for "approximately 2-to-3 weeks."
The New York Times reported that Knicks coach Mike Woodson said Stoudemire was "frustrated" by the news.
According to the Mayo Clinic, popliteal cysts, also known as Baker's cysts, are marked by an excess of fluid build-up in the back of the knee which can cause pain, swelling or tightness. They can be caused by arthritis or cartilage damage, among other knee joint problems.
Stoudemire has played in just one preseason game, scoring 18 points and grabbing five rebounds in 27 minutes against the Toronto Raptors on Friday. The Knicks have cited his left knee in explaining his preseason absences.
The Knicks have two preseason games remaining before facing the Nets at the new Barclays Center in Brooklyn on Nov. 1, 10 days from Sunday. Should Stoudemire return in two weeks, it's possible he could miss only New York's first two regular-season games. If he's out three weeks, Stoudemire would miss his team's first five games.
Stoudemire underwent microfracture surgery on his left knee in October 2005, a procedure that forced him to miss virtually all of the 2005-06 season. Nevertheless, he came back to play all 82 games in 2006-07 and eventually played well enough for the Phoenix Suns that the Knicks gave him a five-year, $100 million contract during the summer of 2010. Stoudemire is on the books this season for $19.9 million and will be paid $22.4 million in 2013-14 and $24.4 million in 2014-15.
This latest injury news comes after an embarrassing episode during the 2012 Eastern Conference playoffs against the Miami Heat, when Stoudemire punched a fire extinguisher case in American Airlines Arena, damaging his hand so badly that it required numerous stitches. He returned to the series but the Heat eliminated the Knicks in five games.
Despite Stoudemire's huge contract and star power, there will be some who question how big of a loss this will be. Last season, the Knicks were 22-25 (.468) with Stoudemire and 14-5 (.737) without him. His playing time decreased from 36.8 minutes in 2010-11 to 32.8 minutes last season and, when he did play, his Player Efficiency Rating of 17.73 ranked just 23rd among power forwards.
In recent weeks (months?), media members and fans have suggested that the Knicks would be better off shifting small forward Carmelo Anthony to power forward. There's an overlap of skill sets between Anthony and Stoudemire -- talented scorers who need the ball and don't kill themselves on the defensive end -- that is difficult to resolve when both are on the court. Using Anthony at the 4 would create larger roles for the likes of Steve Novak and J.R. Smith. Kurt Thomas, the top reserve option at power forward, isn't capable of filling big minutes effectively at 40 years old. With the reliable, shot-blocking Tyson Chandler in the middle, the Knicks are better suited than many teams to shift the rest of their front line to a small-ball look, and Anthony is physically capable of handling the power forward position, even if it might not be his personal preference.
Given the relative strengths of the pieces available to Woodson, Stoudemire's absence could force the coach's hand a bit, creating the potential for rotation and lineup shifts, especially if Stoudemire is sidelined longer than expected. Stoudemire, 29, averaged 17.5 points, 7.8 rebounds and 1.1 assists last season.