By Rob Mahoney
When the Knicks cleared out their roster to acquire Carmelo Anthony, they voluntarily accepted the complications that come with integrating two high-usage, offense-first stars who operate from similar spaces on the floor.
Positional redundancy wasn't yet a concern as Anthony was deemed to be a nominal small forward, but the complexity of getting the most out of both Anthony and power forward Amar'e Stoudemire -- without the team's defense collapsing in the process -- presented a very real challenge for Mike D'Antoni and, later, Mike Woodson.
Various injuries to Stoudemire and Anthony tabled the most serious concerns regarding the cohesion of two players who were independently thought to be the Knicks' saviors, but Anthony's sensible, full-time move to power forward this season (along with New York's incredible success without Stoudemire in the lineup) puts the two at more direct odds.
The Knicks are well aware of the potential problems presented by Stoudemire's looming return from a knee injury, so much so that -- as noted by Howard Beck of The New York Times -- they tried their damnedest to unload their former centerpiece and his bloated contract over the last few months:
This past summer, the Knicks offered Stoudemire to nearly every team in the league -- “available for free,” as one rival executive put it. But they found no takers because of his diminished production, his health and his contract, which has three years and $65 million remaining (counting this season) and which is uninsured against a career-ending knee injury.
In February, the Knicks wanted to send Stoudemire to Toronto in a deal for Andrea Bargnani, a person briefed on the discussion said. But the proposal was vetoed by James L. Dolan, the Garden chairman, before it ever reached the Raptors (who would not have made the deal anyway, team officials there said).
Before that, the Knicks tried to package Stoudemire and [Tyson] Chandler in a bid to land Dwight Howard.
The implication is clear: for all his scoring prowess and star power, Stoudemire is no longer viewed as a critical piece. The reasons are obvious, too.
Trading Stoudemire would make all kinds of sense, but he remains in New York by the team's own doing. Not only are the Knicks responsible for the insanely priced and completely uninsured deal that now makes the 30-year-old Stoudemire so hard to trade, but they also created their current predicament by attempting to field a somewhat doomed combination of stars. Injuries have made it significantly more plausible for Stoudemire to come off the bench, but even that adjustment won't totally alleviate the tension created by inevitably using both players at once, not to mention the potential strain that comes with folding up Stoudemire's proud game and personality into a more compact role.
As much as this situation boils down to the overlapping games of Anthony and Stoudemire, the bigger issue here is New York's warped roster construction. The two most important pieces to the team's success, Anthony and center Tyson Chandler, will make $34 million combined this season and even more over the next two. Stoudemire is infinitely more dispensable but comes at too great a cost and risk for any team to take on the three years left on his deal. Some pruning can be done around the edges, but those three players will lock up the core of New York's cap room, even if the team finds some way to pare Stoudemire's role to fit a reconstructed offense. Regardless, Stoudemire's return -- in whatever form and whatever role he takes -- will give the Knicks a test unlike any they've seen this season, a challenge for which they have only their own inconsistent team building to blame.