The New York Knicks brought in Phil Jackson and as a fan base – so easily hypnotized by big names, we instantly thought that he could change things. And while it remains to be seen whether he will be able to make a change, that change however significant, will only happen in two years. Why is that? Well it’s because the team is being held hostage by Amar’e Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani.
If you trace the Knicks’ ups and downs since the beginning of the Carmelo days, it’s clear that their failures all originate from Carmelo’s initial selfishness. After 8 years of playoff short fallings Carmelo had his mind clearly set on New York. With the leverage he held over Denver as a superstar in the league, he forced his way out mid-season. That got him to New York, but instead of waiting till the off-season to join a team of Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari, Amar’e Stoudemire, Raymond Felton, Iman Shumpert and a strong Landry Fields, he insisted on coming in mid-season. For some reason joining a diluted team in terms of talent – a team with only Amar’e Stoudemire, made more sense to Carmelo then being patient and waiting to sign the same contract but with a stronger core. Looking back there was no reason to go mid-season. The Knicks were not a playoff contender, and without their core of Chandler, Gallo and Felton they certainly were not ready to compete for a championship. It made sense to come through free agency but it’s that selfish choice that put the Knicks at their first disadvantage.
Now, this summer, it’s a selfish choice once again that could hold them back. Amar’e Stoudemire has an early termination option in his contract, enabling him to opt-out of his current contract and either test free agency or re-sign with the Knicks for a lesser contract. Amar’e Stoudemire signed a 6 year 100 million dollar deal in the summer of 2010 and was an MVP caliber player before Carmelo and his injuries came around. Amar’e is the 3rd highest paid player in the NBA, behind only Kobe Bryant and Dirk Nowitzki. He is due 21 million this season and even more next year and for a guy averaging 14 points and 6 rebounds a game, he is most definitely the most overpaid player in the league. Granted numerous knee injuries have held him back, he is still not worth what they’re paying him. However, he has the opportunity to make things right. In an ideal world he will, but in reality, why would he? We can all sit here naively and say players play for the love of the game, which is true to a certain extent, but they are also in a business – one of the most profitable in the world.
The thing is, Amar’e Stoudemire is not a bad basketball player. He is a solid back up forward in the league. Amar’e has actually been excelling as of late. In the last month he has averaged 17.4 points and 6.5 rebounds a game. When his knees are healthy he is a solid player, able to get to the basket and score down low. I think that if Amar’e opted out and re-signed for a much smaller contract maybe something like a 3 yr 10 million dollar deal like the one Raymond Felton has at the moment, the Knicks could benefit. If he’s playing basketball for money then there is no reason for him to opt-out. However, if he’s playing basketball with aspirations of winning a championship he has to understand that although it’s not completely his fault, and injuries caused his production to decline, he is still a big part of why the Knicks can’t move forward for a while. The question may arise to why the Knicks would want to re-sign him at all if he opted out, thus breaking all ties he has to the team, but if he commits this selfless act, the Knicks would not only appreciate his willingness to better the team but also would feel an inclination to honor him with a smaller contract as he was the one who sparked the new look Knicks in 2010, with the famous quote, “The Knicks are back baby!” Without Amar’e, Carmelo wouldn’t be here. If Amar’e opted out and resigned for a smaller contract he’d help the Knicks as an organization by cutting their cap space down significantly and put himself and the team in a better position to win a championship. By keeping his money and waiting for 2015 free agency he does two things: First, he holds the Knicks hostage for another season, preventing them from doing anything this summer and second, almost assures he gets a much smaller contract if any at all in the summer of 2015.
Now if Amar’e does the admirable thing and opts-out and works a much cheaper deal with New York, they would still be held hostage by one other guy… Andrea Bargnani. Andrea, the 45th highest paid player in the league is averaging 13 points and 5 rebounds on 44% shooting and 28% shooting from the 3 point arch. So, he’s definitely competing with Amar’e for most overpaid. If anything Knicks fans, you can hang your hat on that, you have what most teams don’t dream of having or wanting, two of the most overpaid players in the NBA. Andrea will not opt-out next year because on a good day he doesn’t bring enough to the team that is valued, especially by Phil Jackson. He knows the Knicks won’t bring him back, and there is no way that he leaves 11 million dollars on the table. If Amar’e and the Knicks work out a diluted contract and Bargnani doesn’t opt-out they can use his expiring contract in trade talks so keeping one of the two isn’t a terrible thing for them financially. They have no draft picks so the most they could get by one of these guys opting out is some extra cap space for this summer. And let’s not forget how important this summer is. Bringing in a core that can surround Carmelo is pivotal for him to stay this summer. He can potentially go to Chicago and Houston, two playoff teams with championship potential. The Knicks have more money to offer, but if their roster doesn’t change then he won’t resign. Why would he? He’s 30, his 2003 draft friends have all won championships in Miami, he feels the pressure. The one guy that holds more power than he thinks is Amar’e Stoudemire. By opting out and shedding salary, the Knicks have flexibility – something they so desperately need if they want to reconstruct the team and elevate them to championship contention. This summer could be the most important summer for the Knicks in the next decade, Amar’e can either keep his money and play another season for a bad team with the risk of losing Carmelo, or cut a deal with New York, sign a smaller contract and play for a much better team in the future with a more likely chance of keeping Carmelo. This is more likely to work now then in 2015 for Amar’e because he’s ending this season on a strong note and can point to his recent performances as a way to help convince Jackson to keep him. Injuries will always linger and are a risk the team will have to pay but if the last two months is any indication, (3 DNP’S) he is slowly recovering from his numerous knee injuries.
The Knicks owe him, he has been excelling lately, and for Amar’e it makes sense to help improve the team by taking less money. Look at Miami for example, Dwyane Wade, LeBron and Chris Bosh all took less money and it has made all the difference. It may seem like a big sacrifice but he has made 80 million over the course of these 5 seasons, he has endorsements and he’s in a huge market. The right and sensible thing to do would be to opt-out with reassurance of a smaller contract extension with the Knicks and help them attain flexibility and an improved roster in years to come. It creates a more appealing scenario for Carmelo and a brighter future for New York in general.