- Stephen A. Smith, ESPNNewYork.com columnist
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He arrived in Gotham City as a savior. He garnered the love and affection of fans all over. And yet here we are a year later, with a supporting cast to help Amare Stoudemire fulfill promises unmet by so many others for far too long, and the only reason his name is mentioned is as an afterthought.
And that's on a good day!
On a bad day -- which qualifies as most days -- in the life of Amare Stoudemire, there are enough questions about him to rival that of a politician on the campaign trail.
Can Stoudemire really excel and jell with the phenomenon known as Jeremy Lin? Can he coexist with Carmelo Anthony, or Tyson Chandler for that matter? Is he healthy or is there something wrong with his knees? His back? Does he need to be traded? Is he worth the five-year, $100 million the Knicks decided to pay him in the summer of 2010.
"I've heard it all," Stoudemire said last week, following the Knicks' loss in Miami right before the All-Star break. "I love playing for this franchise, in this city, on this team. But I'm not going to lie and say things haven't been hard. They have been.
"Compared to last season, there's not a lot to brag about. My numbers have dropped, and folks are questioning whether I'm hurt or whether or not I still have it anymore. It's all good because we have the talent, we're a together unit and I really believe we'll only get better and contend. I'm not going anywhere, so all I can do is believe that things will be better. I'm definitely going to strive to make that happen."
To be candid, that's not enough.
Stoudemire needs to have a talk with Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni. He needs to remind the coach that he was the one willing to come here when no other star was willing. Then he needs to demand the ball a bit more, no matter who it ticks off.
Let's be clear here: There was nothing tragic about the Knicks losing to a superior Miami Heat team on Thursday to end the first half of the season. But Jeremy Lin, shooting 1-for-11 from the field in his most anemic performance to date, certainly was -- especially after considering he shot four more times than Stoudemire while helping to limit the Knicks' nine-figure man to just one shot in the entire second half.
That should never happen. Despite Stoudemire's vehement refusal to utter a critical word about his point guard, the coach who helped him get $100 million, or a system that evidently allows anyone the green light to shoot just as much as the stars, all it takes is half a brain to contemplate what Stoudemire must be going through right now.
Stoudemire's points per game have dipped. So have the shot attempts. More importantly, his presence has drastically diminished.
It would be one thing if Stoudemire were simply playing second fiddle to Carmelo Anthony.
"But that's not it," Heat star Dwyane Wade explained, after his Heat beat the Knicks. "New York has a system, basically, where everyone gets to shoot. They don't necessarily focus on their two stars. That's great when everyone's making shots, because you have to watch out for everybody. But when you're missing, when you're looking for an identity "
Wade didn't need to say anything else. The Heat say it for themselves every single game they play.
Even with All-Star forward Chris Bosh on their squad, along with Shane Battier, Mario Chalmers and other capable scorers, Miami's gospel is to run things through Wade and LeBron James. They are the fuel that makes the Heat's engine roar, and everyone knows their place.
That's not the case in New York. Even with Stoudemire and Anthony on his frontline this season, that's just not how D'Antoni does things.
It wasn't a problem when the Knicks were averaging nearly 106 points per game during most of last season, with things going through Stoudemire, surrounded by solid talent such as Raymond Felton and Danilo Gallinari instead of a star such as Anthony before the trade with Denver.
Clearly, however, it's a problem now.
"We've all had adjustments to make," Anthony said a few days ago at All-Star Weekend. "Somedays have been better than others, but I know I believe in this team and the talent we have. We're all together and we're going to strive to get it done. That means me, Amare, Coach D'Antoni, all of us."
It's good that Anthony and his teammates believe in each other. But pardon the rest of us if we elect to use our eyes to tell us what's really going on.
We can watch how many shots Stoudemire gets. How many he makes. How he moves. Elevates. And how the team plays with and without him on the floor.
Ultimately, it comes down to what we see from Stoudemire. That will help us decide whether he's the issue or whether it's someone else.
Then again, we're asking these questions about a man owed $83 million over the next four years.
Whether that applies to him or someone else remains to be seen.