Amar'e Stoudemire already has been benched and is not happy about it. But the decision was made to protect the Knicks' $100-million investment in the all-star power forward.
The Knicks on Monday informed USA Basketball that Stoudemire was not permitted to participate in the World Championships in Turkey next month. Team president Donnie Walsh said there was concern about Stoudemire's uninsured left knee, which underwent microfracture surgery in 2005. The U.S. team, which includes Mike D'Antoni as an assistant coach on Mike Krzyzewski's staff, opened training camp Tuesday in Las Vegas.
"We were surprised," Stoudemire's agent, Happy Walters, told Newsday. "He knows it's not his call, but he's disappointed."
Walsh explained the Knicks' decision thusly: "We've got $100 million on there. It's not one year or something, it's the whole thing."
Stoudemire signed a five-year, $99.9-million deal with the Knicks July 8 and the first year of the deal is covered by an insurance policy that transferred over from his previous contract with the Phoenix Suns. Stoudemire opted out of that contract, but insurance still covers the 2010-11 season. But the policy has an exclusion that does not cover the surgically repaired knee. The NBA informed the Knicks Friday that, as a result of the insurance exclusion, it was within the team's right to deny him from playing.
The Knicks are working on securing coverage for the final four years of the deal through the NBA's insurance carrier. The team is also exploring the possibility of supplemental insurance to cover the left knee. The Suns wouldn't guarantee the final two years of their early offer to Stoudemire because of their fears regarding the stability of his knee.
It's not just the fear of a potential injury, but also the wear and tear on Stoudemire, who this past season played 98 games - 82 during the regular season and 16 in the playoffs. The Suns' season ended May 29 in Game 6 of the Western Conference finals and USA Basketball training camp opened Tuesday, and the commitment doesn't end until Sept. 13, which is the date of the gold-medal game. Stoudemire would then return to New York for Knicks training camp, which opens 11 days later. The team will fly to Europe Oct. 1 for exhibition games in Milan and Paris over a six-day period.
The bottom line is the Knicks need Stoudemire, the most significant piece in this season's rebuild, fresh and ready to play right from the start of the season.
Stoudemire was in consideration for a roster spot with the "Redeem Team" that won the gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, but withdrew his name because he wanted to rest his body after a strong comeback year in 2007-08. He had been looking forward to returning to USA Basketball for the Worlds this year - none of the members of the 2008 team opted to play this summer - and the 2012 Olympics in London. The latter is still an option.