NEW YORK – When the New York Knicks signed Amar’e Stoudemire to a five-year, $100 million contract in July of 2010, it was clear that the deal would eventually become burdensome. Stoudemire had a history of knee injuries and also suffered a detached retina in 2009. So not only was his contract lucrative, but it was also uninsured.
That was the price the Knicks were willing to pay for a return to relevance. But is it already time for buyer’s remorse to kick in?
The Knicks announced Monday evening that Stoudemire is out indefinitely with a bulging disc in his back. The team picked up a big win over the Bucks at Madison Square Garden Monday night, giving themselves a 2 1/2 game lead for eighth place in the Eastern Conference. But Milwaukee will have an easier schedule from here on out, and Stoudemire’s absence will hurt New York over its final 16 games.
Stoudemire has always been a defensive liability, but also struggled offensively through the first two months of the season, with his recovery from last April’s back injury seemingly limiting his mobility. And just has he started to look more agile and productive (he was shooting 55 percent since the All-Star break), he goes down with his second back injury in less than a year.
Without him, the Knicks will have to win more with defense, as they did on Monday, when the two teams combined for 43 turnovers and 36 percent shooting. If Jared Jeffries, who has missed seven of the last 12 games with a knee injury, can return soon, he would help on that end. New York will also have to hope that Carmelo Anthony is able to play through the groin injury that he “tweaked” on Monday.
“Offensively, I’m not really worried about it,” Knicks coach Mike Woodson said Monday. “I think the system’s in place. If we can continue to be unselfish offensively, we’ll continue to make shots. Defensively, we’ve got to be there every night the rest of the way out.”
Beyond this season, the facts are this: Stoudemire is owed $65 million over three years. His contract is uninsured. And he’s suffered two back injuries in the last 11 months. The Magic 8 Ball says “Outlook not so good.”
Before you ask… No, the Knicks can’t use the amnesty clause to waive Stoudemire this summer, because they used it on Chauncey Billups in December. And no, there isn’t a team out there willing to trade for that contract.
In addition to Stoudemire, the Knicks have Anthony and Tyson Chandler under contract for the next three seasons. So they’ll have little financial flexibility in trying to build a supporting cast for their stars. And in the last two seasons of Stoudemire’s deal, they’ll be subject to a much more punitive luxury tax.
Right now, we don’t know how bad Stoudemire’s injury is. He reportedly traveled to Miami on Monday to get a second opinion. But it’s hard to imagine him returning before the end of the season, which is just a month away.
It’s just another plot twist in what has been a crazy year in New York. The Knicks are currently a playoff team, but there’s no telling how they’ll finish the season, dealing with another major change to their rotation.
“I’m just anxious,” Woodson said, “to see how guys are going to step in and play.”