- Stephen A. Smith, ESPNNewYork.com columnist
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After months of telling us all that his back was fine, that his knees were fine, that the apparent lack of spring in his step was a product of our lying eyes, Amare Stoudemire was finally exposed Monday. The Knicks' season was officially placed in doubt when it was learned that their $100 million forward will be out indefinitely with a bulging disk in his back.
There are those who will be quick to point out that Stoudemire could, indeed, be back in a few weeks. There are others who say we should be happy this was discovered now as opposed to later. That, somehow, this is a good thing because Stoudemire could still return, with his 18 points per game on 57 percent field goal shooting over the past five games, just in time for the Knicks to make a postseason run.
Has anyone taken a look at the standings? Did anyone notice the Knicks (25-25) walked out of Monday night's win over the Milwaukee Bucks at Madison Square Garden having struggled to capture a .500 record? If Carmelo Anthony is averaging 20 points a night (low for him) on less than 40 percent shooting -- with Stoudemire on the floor -- and Josh Harrellson personifies the Knicks' alternative plans in Stoudemire's absence, what does this say about where this franchise is? Where it's going? And most importantly, what Stoudemire was thinking during all of these months?
It appears Stoudemire wasn't thinking at all.
"I'm fine, man," Stoudemire kept telling me for the past few months. "Why do you keep asking me that question? Don't have people thinking I'm hurt. I feel great. I'm healthy. I'm ready to roll, baby. Don't doubt me."
Now here we are, with the Knicks fighting for a playoff spot and for Mike Woodson's future as head coach, and one of their top two players -- financially anyway -- may be out for the duration for all we know. Why?
Stoudemire can't be absolved from blame when he kept pushing himself, even though he played five-on-five basketball just once during the five-month lockout due to the pulled muscle in his back he suffered while trying to dunk during warmups before Game 2 of last April's playoff series against the Boston Celtics. He's not blameless when his desire to prove his worth wouldn't allow him to concede this team to the likes of Anthony, propelling him to play on days he clearly should've been sitting down and resting.
But Stoudemire is not alone when you consider that former coach Mike D'Antoni's system didn't help him. That running up and down the court with 29-year-old legs will eventually give way to attrition.
"I don't get tired," Stoudemire's always been fond of telling me. "Too hungry. Love playing too much."
His body says otherwise. And how should you feel about this if you're the New York Knicks right now?
Stoudemire walked into this season owed $83 million over the next four years. Next season, it'll be three years at approximately $62 million. Except we don't know how he'll be over the next three years. That's because we don't know how he'll be over the next three months, or three weeks for that matter. Particularly since the team says he'll undergo non-surgical treatment on his back and that he's heading to Miami for a second opinion.
"Hopefully the second opinion is something," Anthony told reporters upon learning of Stoudemire's injury. "Since he was out all (last) summer rehabbing it and getting treatment on it, I'm hoping it's nothing serious at this point. My prayers go out to him ... "
Ditto! Everyone should express such sentiment. But what about prayers for Knicks fans?
You see, Stoudemire is out for now, but he isn't the only one who's down. Jeremy Lin missed Monday night's game with a sore right knee. Anthony refuses to sit down, despite an aggravated right knee. Jared Jeffries is out with inflammation in his right knee. And all we're left to pray that their ailments are not contagious when it comes to guys like Tyson Chandler (a top-3 candidate for Defensive Player of the Year) and rookie Iman Shumpert -- not when a playoff berth is officially on the line.
"We can't look back," Woodson proclaimed, knowing the Knicks ended Monday with just a 2½ game lead on the Bucks for the eighth and final playoff spot. "We've got to continue to play and try to win games."
That's the right thing to say right now purely because it's the only thing to say right now. Considering the names on this roster and the cash doled out to get them, particularly to Stoudemire, the fact that Woodson's words are the only source of optimism to lean on at this point is not just sad.
It's a damn shame!
1dAlok Pattani, ESPN Stats & Information
1dOhm Youngmisuk and Ian Begley
1dDan Le Batard