By Ben Golliver
The Knicks announced Saturday that forward Amar'e Stoudemire will undergo a debridement on his right knee next week, a procedure that is expected to sideline him "approximately six weeks."
Stoudemire, 30, has played just 29 games this season after missing all of November and December after undergo a debridement on his left knee. A debridement is an arthroscopic procedure aimed at cleaning up the knee and is often used to treat arthritis, according to ABCNews.com.
The timeline effectively ends Stoudemire's 2012-13 regular season, as there is a little over five weeks remaining before New York's finale on April 17. It also puts into question his availability for the start of the 2013 postseason. New York is currently the Eastern Conference's No. 3 seed and if the playoffs began today the Knicks would face the Celtics in a first round match-up.
Will he be ready for the first round? The second round? Will the Knicks want to work him into the rotation during a do-or-die playoff series or stick with the rotations he settles on down the stretch of the regular season? All open questions.
In Stoudemire's absence earlier this year, coach Mike Woodson opted to use Carmelo Anthony as his starting power forward, surrounding his franchise player with shooter-heavy three-guard line-ups that capitalized on his ability to draw extra defensive attention. Once Stoudemire returned in January, Woodson elected to work him into the rotation from a bench role. The six-time All-Star power forward has averaged 14.2 points and 5.0 rebounds in 23.5 minutes per game and has been playing his best basketball as of late, averaging 16.8 points and 5.4 rebounds in March.
The Knicks proved earlier this season that they can win without Stoudemire. Indeed, their hot start had many wondering if the team was better off without him. This year, the Knicks are 21-9 (.700) without Stoudemire and 16-13 (.552) when he plays. New York's defensive rating falls from 102.4 when Stoudemire, whose reputation as a defender is poor, is not on the court to 105.1 when he does play. Their offense, which currently ranks No. 3 in the league, has been roughly the same with or without him.
It's worth noting, though, that injuries have made this a fairly fluid year for New York's roster: Iman Shumpert came back from a knee injury midseason, Rasheed Wallace and Marcus Camby have missed time with foot injuries and Raymond Felton was out of the lineup for a month with a finger injury. Ronnie Brewer was also traded to the Thunder at this year's deadline, leaving New York's rotation another man down. The Knicks did recently sign veteran forward Kenyon Martin to a pair of 10-day contracts, but he was meant to serve as a stand-in for Wallace, who isn't expected to return this season, rather than Stoudemire. Now he will be called upon to give real minutes.
New York's playoff hopes don't live and die on Stoudemire, but they would surely prefer to have him than not. He provided a true scoring and rebounding presence off the bench in a rotation that otherwise mostly includes aging stopgaps like Martin, Camby and Kurt Thomas. Stoudemire was shooting 57.7 percent this season and getting to the free-throw line 4.5 times per game, making him an efficient weapon on offense. The same formula that keyed New York's hot start will be their ticket to postseason success without Stoudemire: Anthony must deliver at an MVP-level and the Knicks' perimeter players -- Felton, Jason Kidd, Steve Novak -- must create and make open threes. With or without Stoudemire, New York's realistic ceiling this season is the Eastern Conference finals, given how well Miami is playing.
If the Knicks' hopes will survive this loss, Stoudemire's personal outlook is far bleaker. Two knees that require surgical attention are clearly worse than one and he's put enough miles on his tires -- more than 22,000 career minutes -- that nature is unlikely to reverse course. That he was able to work himself back into a productive player is a credit to his work ethic, but the fact that he lasted just two months before dealing with a similar setback is a troubling development. 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, and arthroscopic surgery on his right knee in April 2006. 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 $21.7 million in 2013-14 and $23.4 million in 2014-15. The Point Forward's Rob Mahoney recently listed Stoudemire's contract as one of the most problematic in the NBA and that problem only magnifies if he can't consistently stay on the court. The Knicks have already used their amnesty clause, virtually assuring that the remaining two years of Stoudemire's contract will wind up feeling like an eternity. That wait will be a costly one, too, as the Knicks are luxury tax payers this season and, most likely, the next two seasons as well. Anthony's arrival has gone a long way to blunting the impact of Stoudemire's decline, but it's exceedingly difficult to compete at a championship level with $44 million tied up over the next two years in a pair of troublesome knees. This eventuality was a known risk in 2010, and there's no turning back now.