After falling short of some very prevalent expectations following a second-round playoff loss to the Indiana Pacers, there’s no doubt the Knicks have room for improvement.
There are plenty of positions and/or players New York can stand to upgrade, with a handful of voids to be filled. The first order of business will be exploring such improvements via this month’s NBA Draft, but from there, further examining other avenues through free agency will become a priority as well.
But with little wiggle room financially with regard to their cap situation, it’s unlikely the Knicks will be able to reel in that noteworthy of a player.
General Manager Glen Grunwald is undeniably a brilliant executive, one who has been known to get creative and rather savvy with his acquisitions in the past. That said, one player already present on New York’s roster who was rather absent this past year could stand to inject his team with some life come next season.
If he could remain healthy, that is. The only reason anyone who watched the Knicks closely would say Amar’e Stoudemire shouldn’t be considered “absent” from the team this past season is due to all of the headlines his potential return from injury made over the course of the year.
STAT’s name was tossed around a lot, and there was ongoing speculation as to when he would return to give the Knicks a boost. It was surprising and ever so refreshing that the big man did return in an even bigger way. Averaging 14.2 points per game, Stoudemire emerged as an efficient scorer on New York’s second unit.
Unfortunately, that fun run only lasted 29 contests before the $100 million man had to go under the knife yet again for knee surgery. It’s safe to say his postseason return in a more limited capacity was even more underwhelming.
There are plenty of people around the Knicks’ organization (and perhaps even more fans in the Big Apple) who root and desire for Stoudemire to rise up to help lead his team back to the promise land.
How can he go about doing this, is the question. Last offseason, in an effort to better acclimate himself to Coach Mike Woodson’s offensive sets, STAT spent the summer weeks working out with Hakeem Olajuwon on his post game. He’ll reportedly do that again this year as well.
In his limited time on the court this past season, Stoudemire excelled as his work appeared to have paid off. There’s no denying that any traditional big man is looked upon to be more of a post presence, but perhaps the physical grind doesn’t suit STAT with all that’s going on right now.
With that in mind, perhaps someone else the Knicks’ big man should be taking tips from is Larry Johnson. Also once an intimidating and physical player around the basket, Johnson had to adjust his game by the time he came to New York due to injuries. No longer able to grind things out, the former Knickerbocker captain refined his game in order to emerge as a long-range shooting threat.
Perhaps that’s the route Stoudemire should take. Improving his skills from behind the three-point line would not only make STAT more versatile, it would also help the Knicks spread the floor and maybe even keep him healthier in the process.
Unfortunately, there don’t appear to be immediate plans for that to happen. Johnson, now a business and basketball operations assistant for New York, told KnicksJournal.com, “Not really. I just like to make sure I’m around for all the young guys, in case they have any questions for me.”
What’s more, though anything is possible, Johnson appears to believe his role is more that of a players’ whisperer than a trainer. “Me and STAT have really bonded. He’s a great guy,” Johnson added. “When I talk to STAT, I just like to make sure he’s doing okay with everything, his family’s okay. He’s already got so many people in his ear talking about basketball.”
Having a guy like Johnson around the team to better motivate guys, all the while relating to the types of things they go through on a daily basis is a nice thing to have. They all seem to appreciate it, and does he. But there’s no doubt that if he were able to get in the gym with Stoudemire this offseason, he could potentially have an even more lasting effect on not only the Knicks’ future, but the big man’s career longevity as well.