Amare Stoudemire and the Knicks: Risk vs. reward


In typical Amare Stoudemire fashion Monday, the five-time All-Star announced that “the Knicks are back.” I’ll believe that when I see it.

Stoudemire clearly believes he can carry the storied organization back to greatness on his shoulders alone. But the bigger question is whether or not his knees can handle that load.

In what seemed to be a move inspired at least on some level by fear of coming away with nothing from the best free agent class in NBA history, the New York Knicks locked up Stoudemire for five years and around $100 million.

It seems like  a no-brainer that signing a 6-foot-10 forward who started the All-Star Game last season was a good idea, but this move isn’t that simple.

The Knicks’ acquisition of Stoudemire is a high-risk, high-reward situation, and how smart of a move it was isn’t clear yet. The deal could pay great dividends on a short-term and long-term basis, or it could be a bust, falling into a sad category with countless other New York Knicks personnel decisions. Let’s take a look at both sides.

The Risk

If there weren’t such great risk involved in signing Stoudemire to a long-term, big-money deal, he might still be a member of the Phoenix Suns. But the fact of the matter is that there really is a great deal of risk and the Suns weren’t ready to take it.

Stoudemire’s history of injury (knees and eyes) led the Suns to only offer him three years of guaranteed money in their last negotiations along with two years based on minutes played requirements. Those stipulations were too much for Stoudemire and he turned the deal down. Does that mean Stoudemire is worried he couldn’t meet those requirements? Maybe, but if his minutes remained relatively the same for the next four seasons, he would have no trouble getting the needed minutes.

It’s understandable that any player wants to protect himself and secure his financial future, but with Stoudemire, the possibility of further injury seems more likely than most. Stoudemire’s knees did get a clean bill of health last month from a doctor in Miami, but required second knee surgeries are not uncommon for NBA players.

One giant thing to note about Stoudemire’s move to the Big Apple: his contract can’t and won’t be insured. The burden of risk is now on the Knicks. ESPN’s Sports Guy Bill Simmons may have put it best Monday in the following tweet:

"What’s protocol if you’re friends with a Knick fan whose team got Amare uninsured for 100 mill? Congratulate or console them?"

Stoudemire might stay healthy throughout the course of the contract and continue a very productive, successful career there, but he could also miss significant time if his old ailments return.

The other risk in this move (besides complacency and questionable motivation) is that Stoudemire ends up being the only marquee name to land in New York , a scenario that would be widely be viewed as a free agency failure. The Knicks may have been wiser to hang onto their money and wait out the LeBron James sweepstakes with a shot to land the King and Chris Bosh.

The Reward

For all the negative scenarios laid out above, there are just as many situations that could make the Knicks’ brass look like geniuses.

Bringing in Stoudemire could be what it takes to lure James or Dwyane Wade to New York. If that happened, the Knicks are suddenly title contenders and the Stoudemire signing looks likes a brilliant strategy for something bigger.

On top of that, the Knicks would have an All-Star combo providing threats on the inside and outside (not that LBJ is a three-point specialist) as part of a dynamic offense. Most talks have been about LeBron/Bosh, Wade/Bosh, Wade/LeBron or Wade/LeBron/Bosh, but a LeBron/Stoudemire or Wade/Stoudemire combo is an intriguing possibility.

If Stoudemire doesn’t attract a marquee player this summer, he still might next summer, and he’s already openly recruiting potential 2011 free agents Carmelo Anthony and Tony Parker.

Picture a team featuring a Stoudemire/Parker/Danilo Gallinari trio under Mike D. With a couple role-playing pieces, that team is a top three squad in the East.

But the simplest reward may come in Stoudemire’s basic fulfillment of expectations. Under his old coach, for whom he averaged for than 20 points each season, Stoudemire could develop in ways his past immaturity prevented.

If Amare at least maintains the numbers he posted in Phoenix and remains healthy, the deal will have paid out its most basic rewards. However, the New York media and fan base might have greater expectations for where Stoudemire takes the Knicks.

The Verdict

The jury is out on this one for the time being. Once the dominoes begin to fall, things might become a bit clearer. The wisdom behind the Knicks’ investment in Stoudemire is as much a mystery right now as Stoudemire’s alpha dog complex has been the past eight seasons. Only time will tell if Stoudemire will make the difference for what’s been a mostly pitiful franchise for the past decade.