Stoudemire's return to the lineup has long been feared for the Eastern Conference-leading Knicks. Yet his sheer existence has been a source of conflict for much longer than most realize.
Even before his injury, New York was wary of perpetuating a pairing that just hasn't seemed to work in the past.
How much so, you ask?
It is to the point where the Knicks took the ultimate leap of faith in Anthony and offered Stoudemire up this past summer to any team that would listen.
But according to Howard Beck of The New York Times, no one was willing to listen:
This past summer, the Knicks offered Stoudemire to nearly every team in the league — “available for free,” as one rival executive put it. But they found no takers because of his diminished production, his health and his contract, which has three years and $65 million remaining (counting this season) and which is uninsured against a career-ending knee injury.
In February, the Knicks wanted to send Stoudemire to Toronto in a deal for Andrea Bargnani, a person briefed on the discussion said. But the proposal was vetoed by James L. Dolan, the Garden chairman, before it ever reached the Raptors (who would not have made the deal anyway, team officials there said).
Before that, the Knicks tried to package Stoudemire and Chandler in a bid to land Dwight Howard.
We could try to brush this off and attempt to downplay it—but we can't. Not when it confirms what we have suspected—and pretty much known—all along.
There has been little doubt that the Knicks have been committed to Anthony. Just ask Mike D'Antoni and Jeremy Lin, if you buy into such conjecture.
Degenerative knees or not, this was the athletic dignitary that began the superstar gold rush in the Big Apple. He was the one who went to New York at a time when no one else would. He was the one who restored hope to a franchise on life support. He was the one who publicly lobbied for and subsequently endorsed Anthony's arrival.
Now, Stoudemire is also the one who New York is content being without. He isn't just a strategic afterthought anymore. Rather, he has officially been deemed a burden.
Make no mistake, his diminishing status has been helped along by his cumbersome contract, questionable durability and the fact that the Knicks scored more points—while also allowing fewer points per 100 possessions—with him off the floor last year.
That said, New York's attempts to trade Stoudemire have less to do with his salary, health and performance than they have to do with Anthony.
This is not to say that Melo has demanded Stoudemire be traded. Making such a claim would only perpetuate the stigma that he is currently trying to shed. It is, however, an indication that the Knicks aren't willing to compromise the integrity of their commitment to Anthony in any way, shape or form.
Not even if one of those forms is a six-time All-Star who generated MVP chatter just two years ago.
Because this is Anthony's team.
He's now the one who is garnering MVP attention. He's the one who has led the Knicks to their best start in decades. He's the one who is No. 2 in the league in scoring, and he's the one who has become invaluable on both ends of the floor.
He is the one New York would now do anything for, at the expense of anyone—Stoudemire included.
Which is why, with Stoudemire's return imminent, we are asking the wrong questions.
Is the star forward going to be content with coming off the bench? Can he and Anthony operate in tactical harmony? Are the Knicks going to continue to contend with him in the rotation?
Those are inquiries that don't matter any more, because bringing Stoudemire off the bench puts him, Anthony and all of New York in a position to succeed.
Stoudemire himself has said he will embrace a sixth-man role, and do "whatever it takes to win."
Thus, the conflict at hand is no longer whether Stoudemire can come off the pine or coexist playing alongside Anthony.
Instead, it has become a query of whether he can operate both physically and emotionally knowing that his proclamation came true—knowing "the Knicks are back" because of Anthony, not him.
And knowing that the franchise is determined to keep it that way.
Note: All stats in this article are accurate as of December 21, 2012.
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