Legitimate prime time player, Amar’e Stoudemire of the New York Knicks (above).
In the summer, we called Amar’e Stoudemire the “consolation prize” of the NBA dream team free agent class. And when the new Knick centerpiece tweeted in August that he was in Israel of all places because he just learned of his Hebrew ancestry, well, if that’s the prerogative of a $100M man, so be it, but our reaction to that was that not only was he a consolation prize, but that he also might be a clown. Our initial reaction was that the Knicks got themselves a “me” player with creaky knees who got rich, figuratively and literally off the exquisite, ball on a string, play making mastery of Steve Nash. Our reaction upon seeing the Israel tweet was more along the lines of “Oh Jesus.”
When the Knicks got out 3-8, not only was it expected by us, but we were giddy at all the D’antoni job security articles, and readying the bubbly for our own little D’antoni firing party. We had even marked the team through the first 34 games of their schedule, figuring they’d give D’antoni and his stupid offense at least 30 games with the new roster before Dolan gave the order to Donnie Wheelchair to pull the plug on the Italian with the affinity for matador defense. But then something very out of the ordinary began to happen. The Knicks started winning. In fact, they reeled off 13 out of 14 wins, elevating the team’s record to a wholly respectable 16-9. And we said, “Who kidnapped our awful Knicks?”
Stoudemire did–the consolation prize. He’s taken the other Knicks which include a 6’11 Italian 3 point specialist, a talented but unconventional g/f stuck out of position, a rookie 2nd round pick expected to guard an elite scorer every night, and a talented but inconsistent point guard, had them hop on his back while the man carried them all, posting clutch fourth quarter after clutch fourth quarter like Bernard King did once upon a time, before he injured his knee. Stoudemire has actually flourished in the marquis role and has Raymond Felton looking a lot more like Nash than um, Raymond Felton, along side Gerald Wallace in Charlotte. And so delighted have Knicks fans been with Felton that there is way more talk about extending Felton than there is of packing him off for Chris Paul.
Likely, Donnie Wheelchair makes some moves to solidify the…pause…most improved team in the league and gets some more reinforcements in here for Stoudemire, before the guy drops from over-use, as he gives 44+ minutes a night to the team. Then there’s Stoudemire’s sidelight as the Knicks’ assistant coach/heavy, which can not be understated. Stoudemire has been the most vocal guy in the organization–the only guy–to preach defense this year, and he has chided the team about the importance of striving for constant improvement, staying level, and always trying to get the “next one.”
And when I heard that Stoudemire had dogged his own teammate in the wake of Saturday’s horrific OT loss in Cleveland to the D-league’s new franchise called the Cavaliers–in a menacing way no less–I removed my own consolation prize tag and put in my vote, all but meaningless, for Stoudemire as league MVP.
“Yo Ray!” Stoudemire called to Felton in the locker room after the Cleveland debacle on Saturday. “How does a one play 23 minutes and get no dimes (assists)? No dimes, Ray?!” Stoudemire asked loudly about backup lead guard Toney Douglass, who dressed a few feet away. Hold on a sec…you mean to tell me that Stoudemire reads the stat sheet right after games and doesn’t just look for his own name? And that he is actually upset after a loss?
This guy was a bargain at $100M. After about 800 meaningless Knicks’ games, to watch a few that matter again has been priceless. Don’t be fooled. Pretty much, it’s Amar’e and only Amar’e we have to thank for it. We’re happy to be wrong about this guy. Couldn’t be happier. And from here forward, we give the Knicks’ captain permission to travel anywhere he wants in the off season. Clearly, he knows what he’s doing. He’ll even make an unselfish player yet out of Toney D., something D’antoni wasn’t able to do with one of our favorites, Nate Robinson, now a Celtic due to that failure.