Just when Amar'e Stoudemire was back to playing his best basketball in more than a year, the Knicks announced Saturday that he will undergo left knee surgery and miss the rest of the regular season.
Stoudemire will have an arthroscopic procedure known as a debridement performed this week and will miss at least six weeks. He had the same procedure performed on his right knee in the fall and missed the first two months of the regular season.
"It's a loss, it's a major loss to what we're trying to do," Knicks coach Mike Woodson said before Saturday night's 113-84 victory over the Utah Jazz. Woodson's Knicks are in a virtual tie with the Pacers for second place in the Eastern Conference, 2½ games ahead of the fourth-place Nets.
Stoudemire, who had two 22-point games in the past week, missed the team's shootaround after complaining of soreness in the knee. An MRI Saturday afternoon revealed the swelling.
Stoudemire has a history of knee surgeries that made the $100-million contract he signed in 2010 uninsurable. The team had had him on a 30-minute playing limit since he had the surgery in October, hoping it would prolong his career.
The Knicks just completed a grueling stretch of games, and Stoudemire logged major minutes in that stretch, exceeding the 30-minute limit twice. The Knicks have been without Carmelo Anthony, who has a lingering knee injury and missed his third straight game Saturday night.
Stoudemire attended the game but was not made available before the game to talk with reporters. The news had to be a crushing blow, considering the ups and downs he has gone through this season.
After missing the first 30 games, Stoudemire returned on New Year's Day and found himself having to adjust to coming off the bench for the first time in his 11-year career.
He adjusted so well -- he was averaging 14.2 points as a reserve -- that there was significant fan sentiment that he should be moved into a starting role.
"I really feel for the young man because he put so much time and hard work in," Woodson said. "But we've got to go on."
If he were to return in six weeks, Stoudemire would be back for the opening weekend of the playoffs. Given that it took him eight weeks to return from the same surgery before the season, there has to be a concern that he would miss the first round.
"I hope not," Woodson said when asked if he is concerned that it might take Stoudemire longer than six weeks to return. "Amar'e works. I give him a lot of credit for that. He wants to play and be on the basketball floor. I think he's going to put in a hard six weeks and we'll have to patiently wait and hope everything goes well with his rehab."
The Knicks were 21-9 without Stoudemire at the beginning of the season, but that was with a very healthy Anthony.
The news that they will be without Stoudemire for the rest of the regular season came as a shock to his teammates, who heard about it for the first time a little more than an hour before the game.
"I don't think it's really sunk in," Steve Novak said. "We just have to go out there and find ways to win."
Added the recently signed Kenyon Martin: "Injuries are a part of sports. We all know that, so we've got to come together as a team. That's why I'm here. I'm looking forward to the opportunity to get some more playing time. But it's a very, very unfortunate situation."