Knicks' No. 1 issue: What to do with Amar'e Stoudemire?
Turns out Amar'e Stoudemire was right three summers ago when he famously promised, "The Knicks are back."
Three playoff appearances, one division championship, newfound relevance and even a rebuilt Madison Square Garden have followed.
As a bonus, Stoudemire has been a genial fellow and a compelling, inquisitive character, exploring everything from New York fashion to Judaism. (He wore a yarmulke Saturday morning in Indy and wished writers a peaceful Sabbath -- in Hebrew.)
All of that made it sad to watch him try and fail to help during the Eastern Conference semifinal loss to the Pacers, and even sadder to say he is perhaps the single greatest impediment to improvement by the Knicks in 2013-14 and beyond.
With two years and $45 million left on his contract, he is a salary-cap anvil in iffy health and likely is untradeable, at least in the short term. Come next midseason -- or, more likely, the summer of 2014 -- his expiring contract could be trade bait.
So the Knicks have little choice but to try to find a role for Stoudemire in Carmelo Anthony's orbit, even though there is not much evidence that they can.
Stoudemire was not among the Knicks who spoke to reporters after exit meetings Monday, but Anthony spoke eloquently about hoping a man he called "his guy" at least gets well enough to show what he can do again.
"Coming from more of a friend than a teammate, for Amar'e, I would love to see him get back 100 percent healthy," Anthony said.
"As a friend, it's hard for me to sit back and watch somebody I wanted to come in and play with go through some of the things, the ups and downs, the hurdles that he had to leap and the injuries that he had to go through and still not be as strong as he could be."
Anthony said Stoudemire did all he could to get back for the playoffs, eventually playing four games against the Pacers and totaling 15 points and nine personal fouls in 33 minutes.
(At least he did not hurt his back dunking in warm-ups or bust up a hand punching a fire extinguisher, as he did in the 2011 and '12 playoffs, respectively.)
"He put a lot of effort into it, things that you [reporters] probably didn't see," Anthony said. "We saw him in the gym every day, two, three times a day . . . At this point, I just want him to be completely healthy before he starts thinking about anything."
Stoudemire already was thinking ahead in the locker room late Saturday night when he was asked if he believes he and Anthony can coexist on the court.
He insisted they can and said he plans to sit down with coach Mike Woodson to figure it all out. One big hurdle: Anthony has been at his best playing power forward, which is Stoudemire's natural position.
"We never gave it a chance," Stoudemire said of the Melo/Stat combo.
There wasn't much opportunity for that. Injuries to both knees limited Stoudemire to 33 games, including the playoffs, and when he did play, he came off the bench. "I know what I can do," said Stoudemire, who has resisted complaining about his role so far. "I know my talents. I know what I've been doing my entire career."
But he will turn 31 early in his 12th NBA season and his knees are betraying him, just as the Suns feared when they declined to re-sign him in 2010.
The best-case scenario for the Knicks is to trade him and his contract and gain roster flexibility. The next-best is that he is reasonably healthy and the Knicks find a way to use him on a team desperate for frontcourt scoring help.
The worst case is he remains what he appeared to be against the Pacers. The Knicks need more than that, and Stoudemire deserves better than that.