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Bench role looms as only real option when Stoudemire returns to Knicks

Amar'e Stoudemire has yet to play this season because of a knee injury. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

By Ben Golliver

Decisions really don't get much easier or clear-cut than the situation facing Amar'e Stoudemire.

One option: He could allow gallons of ink to be spilled over the next month arguing that his return from a knee injury will disrupt the Knicks' positive start. Door No. 2: He could get out in front of the talk by presenting himself as a team-first player willing to accept any role. Stoudemire has reportedly chosen the latter route, opting to swallow his pride rather than make demands of a team that has done just fine without him.

ESPNNY.com reports that Stoudemire, who has started all 125 games that he's played for the Knicks since signing a five-year, $100 million contract in 2010, wouldn't oppose a bench role once he is cleared to play.

Amar'e Stoudemire would accept a role as the New York Knicks' sixth man if asked, two sources with knowledge of Stoudemire's thinking told ESPNNewYork.com.

"All he cares about right now is helping the team and winning," said one source, who has been around Stoudemire regularly in recent weeks. "He'd be fine with coming off the bench if that's what they want."

Stoudemire missed time during training camp and played just one preseason game. He was ruled out for six-to-eight weeks in late October after undergoing a left-knee surgery, putting his return date in the second half of December.  The Knicks have been rolling without him, tied for the Atlantic Division lead with Brooklyn at 10-4.

Most concerning for Stoudemire is how the Knicks have been winning. According to Basketball-Reference, New York ranks third in the NBA in offensive efficiency (points scored per possession), thanks in large part to the use of Carmelo Anthony at the power forward position, where he's thrived, and excellent outside shooting from a number of perimeter players. New York's defense, meanwhile, is just average, ranking 16th in points allowed per possession.

This formula is a bit of a reversal from last season, when the Knicks finished No. 17 in offense and No. 5 in defense. That switch doesn't bode well for the all-offense, no-defense Stoudemire. The Knicks have found a better method for scoring efficiently in his absence and he doesn't do much to address their defensive weakness. A few weeks ago, The Point Forward discussed how and why the Knicks have been better off without Stoudemire. The easiest way to put it is that the Knicks are now, totally and fully, Anthony's team. He's third in the league in scoring with 26.5 points, the catalyst of a potent Knicks attack. This is no longer a question of how the two stars can co-exist, but how Stoudemire's effectiveness can be maximized without compromising Anthony's impact.

Stoudemire, 30, saw his playing time cut from 36.8 minutes in 2010-11 to 32.8 minutes in 2011-12, when he averaged 17.5 points and a career-low 7.8 rebounds in 47 games. Although he's an upgrade over the likes of Rasheed Wallace, Kurt Thomas and Marcus Camby, the super-veterans who have provided frontcourt depth for coach Mike Woodson, none of those guys is playing the type of minutes Stoudemire is accustomed to. In other words, if the Knicks stay hot with their current lineups and rotations, Stoudemire should not only expect to come off the bench but also anticipate a huge cut in playing time.

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