LONDON - Amar'e Stoudemire helped jump-start the Knicks' rebuild five years ago, but he's not sure whether he wants to stick around for this one.
Stoudemire is in the final year of his five-year, $100-million contract. So it's up to the Knicks to decide whether to trade him by the Feb. 19 deadline, waive him or let him finish out the season. Stoudemire said his heart is with the Knicks, but he also wants to play for a contender.
"It's a very difficult situation at this point," Stoudemire said before the Knicks practiced at Imperial College Tuesday. "It's a hard decision for me to make because my loyalty has always been with New York and the New York Knicks. It would be tough right now to make the decision as far as going somewhere else at this point. It's something I got to think about. I'm sure over time, I'll think about the best scenario for myself.
"For now, I know I've been through injuries throughout my career, so I want to make sure I'm able to be strong enough and prepared to play for a team that's contending for a championship. With New York, we're trying to rebuild, so hopefully, that will be sooner than later."
Stoudemire, 32, wants to keep playing after this season. For a contending team to take a chance, though, he has to show he can stay healthy.
Stoudemire is averaging 13.1 points and 7.4 rebounds over 26.4 minutes, but soreness and swelling in his right knee have sidelined him the last nine games. He should return Thursday when the 5-35 Knicks face the Bucks at O2 Arena. But Stoudemire, who has missed 105 regular-season games as a Knick, will be on a minutes restriction again.
"We don't have the best record in the league at this point, so you don't want to go out there and hinder yourself for the future," he said. "So you want to be very cautious about things and make sure I'm healthy for the rest of this season and also the future."
Knicks president Phil Jackson already started rebuilding last week, trading veterans J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert and waiving Samuel Dalembert. Jackson promised more changes in the next month.
The Knicks would move anyone except Carmelo Anthony, who is questionable for Thursday's game with his left-knee issue.
If oft-injured Andrea Bargnani isn't traded, he could be waived. He's appeared in only two games and didn't accompany the Knicks to London. Veteran point guard Jose Calderon is a candidate to be moved, too. He has some value, but the two years and $15.1 million left on his deal could be a hindrance.
It could be difficult to move Stoudemire's contract. The Knicks could opt to waive him if Stoudemire ultimately requests that, but they like the idea of him mentoring the younger players.
"I can't speak for where his head may be," coach Derek Fisher said. "I think Amar'e plans to play past this season and I think it's important to him that he's able to show in whatever capacity or role that is that he can be helpful to a team. Our record isn't great, and we may not get a chance to achieve our goals so far this season, but I think you're still going to see him compete and play."
Fisher also couldn't speak about whether the Knicks would be open to re-signing Stoudemire at a much lower salary next season. But he applauded his professionalism and work ethic.
"I think Amar'e has been great to work with," Fisher said. "I think he's a professional in the surest sense of the word. I don't know of any guy in the league, not very many, Kobe [Bryant] comes to mind in terms of guys that I played with.
"You can see the history that Amar'e has, the issues with his knees, all the surgery, all the work that he's had to do just to play, to me that says a lot about who he is, and you want guys on your team like that."
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