Tuck: Knicks Future Tied To Amar’e Stoudemire

The Knicks won 54 games and the Atlantic division this season, something they haven’t done since 1994, yet this year can’t help but feel like a loss with an earlier-than-hoped playoff exit.  Maybe the worst part about it is knowing it will be hard to improve much this offseason for New York.

New York’s salary cap number will go up next year, over $80 million.  And that doesn’t take into account JR Smith, who will likely become a free agent looking to improve upon his $2.8 million salary, which he should be able to do coming off a 6th Man of the Year season.  So the Knicks will have to go further into the luxury tax.  They don’t have much of a choice, do they?

Pablo Prigioni and Chris Copeland have qualifying offers totaling less than $2 million, so they’ll be no-brainers to be brought back.  Felton, Shumpert, and Novak all have very reasonable deals and return.  Any of these players could be used as a trade chip, but will the return be an improvement?

Marcus Camby will be set to earn $4.3 million.  No, don’t adjust your dials, that is true.  Perhaps even more eye-opening is that Jason Kidd, the same guy who went scoreless his last 188 minutes of the season, still has 2 years and $6 million left on his deal.  So while we might think he should retire, he doesn’t have to retire.  That could be a problem.

The Knicks roster is almost completely locked in, so the only way I see they can take a step forward, barring a trade, is Amar’e Stoudemire stepping up.  New York will be paying STAT almost $21.7 million next season alone.  They can’t trade him.  He simply must find a way to stay healthy, and find a way to be productive.

This past season Amar’e saw the floor for 29 regular season games and averaged 14 points and 5 boards a game over just 23 minutes.  The year previous he put up 17-8 over 33 minutes.  Somehow the Knicks have to find a way to squeeze at least that out of him, while blending in his talents with Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler, and the rest of the roster.

In 2010, both Amar’e and Carmelo scored over 25 points per game.  The Knicks only won 42 games however.  Tyson Chandler has been added since then, perhaps improving the team, but squeezing down the minutes in the front court and hurting the chemistry.  That will be the task of Mike Woodson.  Finding a way to play all three players and having success with a bigger lineup, not a smaller one.

You can’t come back and play the same players and do the same things and expect different results next season.  Free agency will be very limited for the cap-strapped Knicks and trading next to impossible for NY if they are looking to improve.  The biggest area they can improve is internally, and Amar’e Stoudemire represents the biggest change they can make.  You’re paying him over $20 million.  You have to find a way to make it work.

If the Knicks don’t, or if Amar’e struggles again to stay healthy, then NY is looking at another solid season that ends with a thud.