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Knicks' D'Antoni irons out past issues with Stoudemire

Phoenix Suns forward Amare Stoudemire spins a ball

Phoenix Suns forward Amare Stoudemire spins a ball on his finger before basketball practice at the Staples Center. (May 18, 2010) Credit: AP

The first order of business for the Knicks one minute after the NBA free-agency season opened at 12:01 a.m. EDT Thursday was a call to Amar'e Stoudemire. On the other end of the line was Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni, his former coach with the Phoenix Suns.

D'Antoni wanted to make it clear to the five-time All-Star that despite things that have been said and reported, he and the Knicks absolutely want Stoudemire and want him for the full maximum contract.

"I told him, what's out there about me not wanting you here, that's not true," D'Antoni said. "I told him we absolutely wanted him."

He told him that again yesterday during a morning brunch in Manhattan, just to make sure the message got through.

It did.

"It was great," Stoudemire told Newsday as he described the brunch meeting. "We had great conversation."

Stoudemire will meet with team officials Monday at the Garden to hear their free-agency pitch, but it might be merely a formality. He has been in New York since Saturday night, when he attended the musical Rock of Ages (produced by his agent, Happy Walters), and he made his first trip to Yankee Stadium for yesterday's matinee against the Blue Jays. According to a source close to Stoudemire, he also was invited to attend team owner James Dolan's annual Fourth of July party last night in Oyster Bay.

Stoudemire and D'Antoni have had their differences, both privately and publicly. Stoudemire was the lone Suns player to show no disappointment about D'Antoni's departure from Phoenix in 2008; he had bristled at D'Antoni's criticism of his defensive deficiencies, mainly on help defense, which led to troublesome breakdowns. Stoudemire often deflected the blame back on D'Antoni for not putting enough time into coaching defense, which touches a nerve for D'Antoni.

The conclusion was that D'Antoni wouldn't want to deal with Stoudemire again and Stoudemire probably didn't want to work with D'Antoni again. But what has become obvious as the free-agency process has begun is that both may very well need each other.

So they hashed it out at the Jean-Georges Restaurant in the Trump International Hotel and Tower. Stoudemire came away from the meeting satisfied and said it is "possible I'll be reunited with [D'Antoni]."

D'Antoni believed it was important for him and Stoudemire to reconnect face-to-face before today's official visit.

"It was just an opportunity to break the ice and get a feel for everything," D'Antoni said. "We just talked about how we could get it done here like we did in Phoenix."

Actually, D'Antoni said some of the issues he had with Stoudemire were a result of not getting it done in Phoenix. In four seasons together, Stoudemire and D'Antoni averaged 58 wins and twice reached the Western Conference finals. But falling short of an NBA title became a point of frustration that often boiled over.

"It was the end of an era that didn't culminate in a title," D'Antoni said. "When you lose, you get sore and you say things."With Kimberley A. Martin

 

The Dolan family owns

controlling interests in the Knicks, MSG and Cablevision.

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