Amar’e Stoudemire pulled on a blue Knicks hat and said, “Yeah, the Knicks are back.”
Now to see if LeBron James will agree with that statement.
Stoudemire, one of the top free agents available this summer, on Monday turned his three-day recruiting visit to New York into an informal news conference to announce he has chosen to sign with the Knicks. He accepted a five year contract worth $99.7 million. The deal can not be officially announced until Thursday, when the NBA’s moratorium on signings and trades is lifted.
So there will be another news conference then. The question that remains is if Stoudemire will be joined by another star -- preferably James -- on that day to complete the package.
“You can’t tell what’s in other people’s minds,” Mike D’Antoni said, “but we know if you’re serious about winning, then we’ve got a piece that will help you do that.”
Stoudemire is the second of the star-quality free agents of the heralded 2010 class –Joe Johnson on Sunday accepted a six year, $119 million deal to re-sign with Atlanta – to come to terms and the first to leave his current team. The Knicks hope he is exactly the lure they needed to attract James, who isn’t expected to announce his decision until the end of the week. Stoudemire said he has already talked to people from James’ inner-circle and planned to call James directly “to see if we can get him to come if he wants.”
If not James, perhaps Wade could still be an option for the Knicks. But even if neither wind up in a Knicks uniform, there was a sense of relief at the Garden last night, where the deal was completed.
“I would say we’re in a better position as far as the idea that if you come to New York you wouldn’t want to come alone, that sort of thing,” team president Donnie Walsh said, in a direct reference to James and Wade.
Among the several Garden officials in attendance was the Knicks’ most famous fan, Spike Lee, who offered, “Two thumbs up.” Outside the Garden, Stoudemire was welcomed on the famous marquee with a photo of him already in a Knicks uniform. On a wall was another action photo of him in orange-and-blue with the motto: “STAT CITY”. Stoudemire refers to himself with the acronym, “S.T.A.T.” which stands for “Standing Tall And Talented.”
The Knicks went with Stoudemire over Bosh, who remains unsigned, because, Walsh said, “I think, to a degree, the fact that Amar’e really wanted to come here, stepped up to the front and it got to the point where we had to acknowledge that.” Bosh is believed to have been less inclined with playing in New York compared to Chicago, Miami or, perhaps, Houston in a sign-and-trade.
The Knicks reached out to Stoudemire just after the NBA free agency period opened last Wednesday night. Mike D’Antoni was in Los Angeles to meet with Joe Johnson and Mike Miller, but reached out to Stoudemire by phone to let him know the Knicks had strong interest. Stoudemire met with the Heat that night, but agreed to come to New York for a visit. That visit started Saturday morning at a Broadway show and continued with a Yankees game and then the annual Fourth of July bash at team owner James Dolan’s house in Cove Neck, which Stoudemire mistook for the Hamptons. On Sunday morning, he also met D’Antoni for brunch in Manhattan and the two worked out their differences from four years together with the Phoenix Suns.
All along, he said, he wanted to come to the Knicks.
“I’ve been thinking about New York since the 2002 draft,” he said of his draft year, when the Suns selected him ninth overall. The Knicks passed on him that year to select Nene, who was immediately traded to the Denver Nuggets for Antonio McDyess. It was the first of several ill-fated attempts by the Knicks to improve the team, which hasn’t had a winning record since 2001.
Stoudemire, a five-time all-star who was All-NBA second team this past season for the third time in his career, doesn’t come without some risk. He underwent microfracture surgery on his left knee in 2005 and, despite showing great durability since then – and being one of the most fit athletes in the league – there are concerns about the knee’s stability as he gets older. The Knicks requested copies of MRI results of the knee taken recently by the Phoenix Suns, who, because of their concerns wouldn’t guarantee the final two years of their five-year, $96 million extension offer to Stoudemire before the free agency period began. Walsh admitted that there is a risk in this contract with Stoudemire because there is a chance the NBA’s insurance underwriter could decide not to cover the contract. That would leave the Knicks to pay the full amount even if Stoudemire suffered a career-ending – or even a career-altering – injury.
But those concerns aside, the Knicks will add a significant piece to their roster with still enough room to sign another max-level player or use the money to add several pieces. If James or Wade are not options, it is expected the Knicks will immediately turn to Mike Miller and either settle on a point guard through free agency such as Raymond Felton or Luke Ridnour or make an effort to pursue trades for Chris Paul and Tony Parker.
Meanwhile, the agreement with Stoudemire all but signals the end of David Lee’s career as a Knick. Lee has received a great deal of attention as a free agent – with Stoudemire off the market, his value increases as a fallback option – and Walsh and D’Antoni actually wouldn’t dismiss the idea of re-signing Lee to play with Stoudemire. But that’s an unlikely result. The Knicks have maintained communication with Lee’s agent, Mark Bartlestein, to see what teams would be interested in a sign-and-trade for the all-star power forward.