Break it all down – the emotions, the analytics, the money, everything – and the building blocks of the NBA are minutes. Games, seasons, careers are constructed Doobie Brothers-style, minute by minute by minute by minute.
Add one more minute to that and you’d have what now is a typical shift for the New York Knicks by Amar’e Stoudemire, whose frustration with his mandated limit of playing time is growing. Hoping to preserve and protect the veteran forward’s notoriously balky knees, the Knicks have limited Stoudemire to 10 minutes nightly, broken into two turns on the floor. Five minutes here, five minutes there and, oop, time’s up. Sit down again.
This is no chicken-or-egg thing where Stoudemire’s meager production so far this season – 3.2 points per game, 1.8 rebounds and 38.1 percent shooting in six games, while sitting out back-to-back situations – is dictating his modest level of involvement. It’s strictly in the other direction. And it stinks for him, based on Stoudemire’s comments to ESPNNewYork.com’s Ian Begley before New York’s game Saturday:
“It’s making me look like my game is gone or that I don’t have game anymore because when you play five minutes, it’s just tough to really get in a rhythm,” Stoudemire said before Saturday night’s 110-90 loss to the Atlanta Hawks.
“It’s tough to play five minutes and expect to be great in five minutes. It’s almost impossible,” he said. “By the time you get up and down and get adjusted to the speed of the game, it’s already three minutes, and then in two minutes you’re out of there. And if you miss a shot, it feels [like] the world is collapsing on you because you’re expected to do so much and somewhat win the game in five minutes and it’s tough. It’s hard to deal with.”
Playing time for the freshly recovered, the oft-injured or even the gradually worn down of the NBA is a tricky thing. If Stoudemire can play two shifts of five minutes each, at what point does that bump up to six, then seven? Maybe he’d be more comfortable logging his 10 minutes in one fell swoop and calling it a night – at least that way, there wouldn’t be two warm-and-loosen-up periods of adjustment.
It’s an age-old debate in this league. Does a player get appreciably more worn down if he’s on the floor for 40 minutes rather than 35? Does sitting out a game help a weary or gimpy veteran more than shaving back his court time or – while using him each game – even cutting it in half for a week?
Doc Rivers and Kevin Garnett worked out what both considered the best possible compromise between usage and rest-age during their final couple seasons in Boston. Former Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro and his boss John Paxson got into a heated exchange back in 2009-10 when Del Negro kept a rehabbing Joakim Noah on the court too long.
Some players are resilient in how they spring up off the bench. Others need to be in the starting lineup as a way of staying lathered up from warm-ups, and stiffen up unduly once they cool down. Stoudemire, it sounds like, needs to be part of the action from the get-go, rather than trying to hop aboard a train that’s already moving.
It’s an individual call, or rather, a call hashed out between management, head coach and player. Stoudemire and Knicks coach Mike Woodson met on Saturday morning, Begley reported, to discuss the matter.
“I know it’s tough on him in terms of playing just 10 minutes because he’s just, hell, he’s barely breaking a sweat,” Woodson said.
“So I think we’ve got to get him more reps on the [practice] floor, just see how he feels.”
Here’s another factor possibly exacerbating the situation for Stoudemire: Everyone knows about the proverbial “New York minute” and how rapidly it flies by. Stack up five of those puppies and that still might be no longer than a blink in Milwaukee or Salt Lake City.