Commentary

Fire Amare? You must be punchy

Be mad at Stoudemire for hurting himself, but remember: Melo, Knicks need him

Updated: May 2, 2012, 2:13 PM ET
By Johnette Howard | ESPNNewYork.com

There's no way to defend how Amare Stoudemire lacerated his left hand, by punching a fire extinguisher in frustration after the New York Knicks' playoff loss to the Miami Heat.

But the morning-after outrage that has taken hold since -- this idea that Stoudemire should be thrown on some scrap heap because he's never going to amount to anything as long as he has to play with the Knicks' latest flavor du jour, Carmelo Anthony -- is all wrong.

Stoudemire isn't going anywhere because of his contract. He can also make a big contribution to the Knicks when he's healthier. And Anthony should be trying to make it work, too, not just Mike Woodson or whomever the Knicks' next permanent coach is.

Because what's always the complaint about the Knicks, as presently constructed?

[+] EnlargeAmare Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony
Al Bello/Getty ImagesCarmelo Anthony needs help, and Amare Stoudemire can provide it ... once his hand heals.

Melo needs help.

And who's best equipped among the current Knicks to give Anthony reliable offensive help?

It's still Stoudemire, that's who.

So if you really care about the Knicks' immediate future at all, show some better emotional control than Stoudemire did. Then fall back in love with him as quickly as you fell out of love Monday night.

Remember, the Knicks were always going to lose this playoff series to Miami, even before they fell behind in the series 0-2 and Stoudemire hurt himself. Who's kidding whom?

Now, what Anthony and everyone else associated with the Knicks should really do is forget what or where Stoudemire is or isn't, and start taking notes on how LeBron James and Dwyane Wade navigated all that early talk that they, too, would never fit together, for many of the same reasons Anthony and Stoudemire supposedly can't. James and Wade heard they were supposedly too similar as players; they both needed the ball too much of time; they like to operate from the same places on the court.

How's that working out now?

Have Wade and James not pretty much figured it out?

Stoudemire and Anthony aren't as talented as those two Heat stars are. But Stoudemire can still be a serviceable player. And Anthony has to be invested in making Stoudemire's presence work if winning NBA titles, not just scoring titles, is really the goal.

There really is a lot to recommend standing by Stoudemire, even if he isn't the same All-NBA player he was at age 25 in Phoenix. And it's not just the fact that his $100 million contract and unreliable back and knees make him impossible to trade.

He's still the second-best offensive player the Knicks have, not Tyson Chandler or J.R. Smith or Steve Novak or Jeremy Lin (another teammate, by the way, who supposedly got in Anthony's way before Anthony helped show Mike D'Antoni the door).

Nobody really wants to hear this right now, after what Stoudemire just did to himself, but Stoudemire really is a good teammate, too, with a demonstrated willingness to put winning and the Knicks franchise first. And that's important.

Anthony and Stoudemire didn't work well together the way they were used under D'Antoni. But why can't Woodson or the next guy find a way, especially if both stars are willing? Why can't it be as simple as keeping Stoudemire and Anthony in the starting lineup for the first seven or eight minutes of a game, then alternating their playing time thereafter to keep one of them as the team's primary scorer when the other is off the floor? Why is that so hard to figure out, or implement?

It's not.

Or at least it's not when everyone "buys in" -- two words all the Knicks have used more than any others to explain why they suddenly took off the minute Woodson took over.

Stoudemire was dumb to punch a glass case containing a fire extinguisher on Monday night, it's true. But remember, Anthony didn't exactly cover himself in glory when he admitted everything in his game spiked up because he began "playing harder" -- his words -- once D'Antoni was run off.

The surest, fastest way for the Knicks to be a real contender in the near future, given their salary-cap constraints, is for Stoudemire to get back to some approximation of the player he used to be when healthy. And for Anthony to push himself to be more, too.

If Anthony's Knicks are ever going to win a title, what's going to be most determinative isn't whether Stoudemire, at this stage of his career, can score 20 points per game. It's how much Anthony, who has the far better upside, can close the gap between himself and LeBron or Kobe Bryant. Because right now Anthony isn't in either Kobe or LeBron's league when it comes to making players around him better, picking his spots and translating all the talent he has into wins.

Not just points.

Because you know what that proves: next to nothing. At least not until Anthony also wins the Knicks a few playoff series.

Of the two of them, Stoudemire actually has the better career playoff record than Anthony, though nobody would argue Stoudemire is the better player.

So how did that happen? By now you should know the answer -- it's the moral of this story. It's a little three-word slogan that Knicks' management should hang up in block letters on the Madison Square Garden marquee rather than sell this fiction that if everyone just gets the hell out of Anthony's way, milk and honey will flow through the streets of Manhattan and the titles will come because Anthony scores a lot.

Stoudemire and Steve Nash teamed up to make Phoenix a winner.

It takes help.

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