Commentary

If Amare is healthy, look out, Miami!

Melo's in top form, but he needs help from the big man to take the Knicks deep

Updated: April 17, 2012, 8:13 AM ET
By Stephen A. Smith | ESPNNewYork.com

This is 2012, but these New York Knicks are eerily similar offensively to the team that teased us for an entire decade into believing it had championship mettle, only to succumb repeatedly to the greatness of Michael Jordan.

Carmelo Anthony is the Knicks right now, much as Patrick Ewing was the Knicks years ago, which is a good thing. The rest of the Knicks now are what they were back then, too, which isn't so good. But it can become a good thing if Amare Stoudemire returns, healthy and ready to put all the questions about his ability to coexist with Melo to bed once and for all.

If Stoudemire comes back and ends all that nonsense, there's no telling when the Knicks' season will end.

If he doesn't, the Knicks will be done by the first week of May.

[+] EnlargeAmare Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony
Al Bello/Getty ImagesThe whole idea was that there were supposed to be two superstars on the Knicks. (These two.)

Book it!

"I have no idea when [Stoudemire] is coming back, but I can't wait for it because we need him," Anthony said. "He's important to this team. To what we're trying to do."

Don't bother knocking Melo for failing to emphasize Stoudemire's importance to his own game. You can't blame Anthony for wanting to refrain from such conversation when he's averaging 31.7 points per game in April, playing like a man clearly in pursuit of Gotham City's unfiltered and uncompromised affection.

But if Sunday's 93-85 loss to the Miami Heat proved anything, it proved an army isn't made up of one man. That a dynamic duo -- or trio, if you want to include Chris Bosh -- in the form of Dwyane Wade and LeBron James is significantly more sustainable than a one-man wrecking crew.

"I'm loving what I'm seeing from Melo right now," Knicks interim coach Mike Woodson said on Sunday. "I'm proud of him, the way he's playing and the effort he's giving. But nobody's blind here. Everyone knows we'll need more than him to get to where we want to go. Nobody's saying his name that much, but I'll say it: Amare! We need him. He'll come back when he's healthy enough to play, but I'll be very happy when he does."

Relieved would be a more appropriate word.

All anyone had to do was watch the continuously gifted but erratic play of J.R. Smith, a surprisingly poor output from Iman Shumpert and the alarming, inexcusable regression of Landry Fields to know how desperately Woodson is aching for Stoudemire to come back.

In 43 games this season, Stoudemire averaged 17.6 points and eight rebounds on 47 percent shooting. He did it with a questionable back, questionable knees and -- no matter how much anyone tries to avoid it -- the simmering acrimony with a touch of chaos that, essentially, has served to damage his career and stature in New York.

People forget that Stoudemire was the Man before Melo arrived. That he was the one averaging 26 points, heading to All-Star weekend, with New York's affection as his motivation. All that changed once Melo arrived. When Mike D'Antoni decided to veer away from both and make Jeremy Lin a savior, Lin had the audacity to jack up more shots than Stoudemire, with the unwavering support of the now-departed coach.

Back a few months ago, Stoudemire acknowledged: "It's hard. The bottom line is about winning, and we all know this. But I'm not going to lie by standing here and saying it's easy to hear folks questioning whether or not you should be here any longer, or whether you fit, when you're just a year removed from being an All-Star and doing the things I was doing."

Stoudemire wasn't blaming anyone, but he would have certainly been within his rights to do so. Such is the case when you're the forgotten man, and politics are influencing things just as much as basketball.

But things are working out now. Not just because the Knicks are 13-5 since Woodson took over, or because of Melo's resurgence as an offensive force.

Things are working out now because in spite of all that, it's still evident the Knicks can't make much noise in the postseason without Stoudemire.

"They will need him," Chicago Bulls guard and reigning MVP Derrick Rose, told me a few days ago. "They're doing a lot of great things. Coach Woodson is doing a great job; I've got to give it to him. But no matter what, you always need someone like Amare Stoudemire. He's a big-time player. He's something we'd have to pay attention to."

That means all the attention couldn't be focused on Melo. Against Chicago or Miami, this is exactly what the Knicks will need.

When you hear Smith echo how Miami won't want to see the Knicks in the first round, or others bloviating about what a tough out the Knicks will be, it sounds good. It even seems plausible …

If Stoudemire comes back.

"Like I said," Woodson deadpanned, "we could use him."

Healthy, that is. Nothing less will do.

Stephen A. Smith | email

ESPNNewYork.com columnist
Stephen A. Smith is a featured columnist for ESPNNewYork.com, host of a weekday show for ESPN New York 98.7 and a regular on "SportsCenter" and "First Take."

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