The New York Knicks’ main problem over the past two seasons has not been their defense, their rebounding or their coaching—it has been Amar’e Stoudemire.
Stoudemire has played just 76 games for the Knicks over the past two seasons while earning nearly $40 million.
His absence has been largely due to injuries which he has had no control over, but the fact of the matter is that the Knicks have a huge amount of money tied up in a 30-year-old power forward that is unlikely to ever be the player he once was.
According to Spotrac.com, this has caused the Knicks to exceed the league’s salary cap by $21 million while completely handcuffing the team in terms of its ability to bring in additional talent to support Carmelo Anthony.
The main reason why the Knicks are unlikely to advance to the NBA Finals over the next few seasons (aside from playing in the same conference as the Miami Heat)—during the prime of Anthony’s career—will be Stoudemire’s contract.
The Stoudemire situation in New York should serve as a cautionary tale for any team looking to sign Dwight Howard to a long-term mega salary—particularly the Los Angeles Lakers, who are already set to pay Kobe Bryant more than $30 million next season.
According to ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard, the Lakers are talking about offering Howard a five-year deal worth as much as $118 million. This works out to $23.6 million per year for a player that never liked playing with Bryant and never really fit into Mike D'Antoni’s offensive system.
In addition, Howard has already gone through a back surgery which forced him to miss a good portion of the 2011-2012 season. Then he spent much of this past season fighting through back and shoulder injuries.
So, Howard is essentially a 28-year-old (he will be 29 by the start of the 2013-2014 season) big man that has suffered multiple injuries over the past two seasons, has issues playing with Bryant and doesn’t fit into D'Antoni’s offensive system…yet the Lakers want to throw $118 million at him over the next five seasons?
A five-year, $118 million deal with Howard would have the Lakers allocating $53.6 million to just Howard and Bryant next season, which is just under the projected team salary cap of $58.5 million for the 2013-2014 season.
Bryant can be counted on to perform; he always has and likely has another two or three strong seasons left in him.
Howard, on the other hand, is a bit of a risk due to his past injuries as well as his attitude issues with Bryant and the Lakers’ offensive system.
$118 million over five years is a lot of eggs to throw into one basket. If the Lakers ink Howard to that deal and he doesn’t perform, suffers additional injuries or continues to have issues with Bryant and D’Antoni, the Lakers will be faced with a situation almost identical to the situation in New York—a huge amount of money tied up in one player that is not performing and essentially untradeable.
A situation like this would almost certainly mean that Bryant would finish off his career in LA with three tumultuous seasons and no additional NBA titles.
Now, this is not to say the Stoudemire and Howard situations are identical. The Lakers could very well sign Howard to a long-term deal and he could perform like he did in Orlando and help bring another title to LA.
But, as the Lakers’ front office contemplates signing Howard to a long-term deal worth around $23.6 million per year, it should tread cautiously and remember what happened to the last NBA team to sign a similar player to a similar mega deal.