The heat is on: The significance of Amar’e for the Knicks


Remember a few days ago, when ESPN and the rest of the national media was saying the Knicks would get shut out in free agency?

So much for that. But we’ll get to that in a minute.

As New York experiences its biggest heat wave since the Summer of 2001, it makes sense that the signing of Amar’e Stoudemire signals that maybe the Knicks are finally ready to hearken back to that summer – which followed the last year they actually mattered.

I’ve actually always liked Stoudemire. He’s explosive and powerful – and of course, by no means without flaws. In the brilliant chronicle of the Suns’ 2005-06 season, “Seven Seconds or Less,” Amar’e is described as a someone absorbed with the idea of fame, and in no way mature enough for the big time.

That year, Amar’e had a surgically repaired left knee and an injured right knee, and the rap on him was that he supposedly didn’t work as hard as he needed to in rehab, eschewing strengthening exercises in favor of on-court work, and that he was aloof, though incongruously jovial, during the process.

But you know what? Things change. People change.

Amar’e’s 27 now, not 22, and along with the apostrophe in his name, he’s said to have added some much-needed maturity. He’s still not exactly Kevin Garnett-esque defensively, but he’s at least said to care about that aspect of the game – even if his new coach kind of doesn’t.

And from all accounts, as he’s gotten older, he’s became fanatical about his diet and conditioning, and works hard to strengthen the muscles around his left knee to keep himself healthy.

Most importantly for my purposes, he actually seems to know enough to embrace New York and all it has to offer. In the days before he agreed to a deal with the Knicks, Amar’e hit up Rock of Ages on Broadway, went to James Dolan’s Fourth of July party in the Hamptons – say what you will about him as a team owner, he probably throws a sweet party – and used Joba’s tickets at the Yankees game.

You know those Mohegan Sun ads? Well, this is the life LeBron should be leading.

Instead, the King is attempting to get the Cavs to deplete their team in a sign-and-trade for Chris Bosh. I love Bosh, but he’s missed 45 games the past four years. Take out 2008-09, when he had a freak eye injury that he now wears Kareem-esque goggles to address, and the “injury-prone” Amar’e has missed three games in three years. He played all 82 last year.

People don’t get that as time goes on, medical advances make surgeries that altered careers in the past more routine. Tommy John surgery used to be a kiss of death for a pitcher, and now it’s widely acknowledged that after rehab, pitchers come back with stronger elbows than before. I don’t believe that to be true of microfracture – there’s no way Amar’e is as much a force of nature as he was in the early part of the past decade – but he’s still an All-Star player.

And he immediately makes you think differently about the Knicks’ roster. Add Amar’e to the mix with future star Danilo Gallinari, solid defender Toney Douglas, young swingman Wilson Chandler and a point guard to be named later – and you have the makings of a very solid team.

Does LeBron realize that if he signs on, they’re a 50-win team right away, with Eddy Curry’s cap-clogging contract being replaced by another impact player perhaps as soon as the trade deadline next season? He should; he and Curry have the same agent.

I do feel like the Knicks are probably at least somewhat still in the game for LeBron, though I expect him to do everything he can to keep his parasites and enablers – pardon me, his team – running the henhouse in Cleveland.

But even if LeBron doesn’t come, this was a great move for the Knicks, a move that changes the climate. They didn’t wait for Bosh’s egocentric flirtations; they went out and got a game-changer that actually wants to commit now. A player who feels he’s the first domino to fall, with more big-time players on the way.

I just can’t believe the media dismissed Knicks president Donnie Walsh. You know, the guy who once went with his gut and took Reggie Miller over Steve Alford when everyone thought it was a stupid move. The guy who took all that heat for gutting the Knicks to clear room for players like, well, Amar’e. Who drew criticism for abandoning their opportunity to compete for the No. 8 seed in the playoffs the past two years.

I think the media didn’t want Walsh to succeed because of some old grudges left over from the Isiah years, and because they like having the Knicks as punching bags.

But I don’t think that’s the full extent of it; I believe they were intimidated by his confidence. The easy way to play it would have been to remain mediocre, keep Jamal Crawford and Zach Randolph and take aim at the eighth seed. Instead, Walsh shot for the moon.

Anyone unwilling to take a shot at greatness in their own lives will of course be put off by that. And that’s not Walsh’s problem – he has a team to build.

I’ve been behind Walsh’s plan from the beginning, because I think to be great at what you do, you have to take some chances. Maybe his maneuvers won’t get him LeBron or Dwyane Wade, or even Carmelo next year, but it got him Amar’e. Tony Parker likes Amar’e. So does Carmelo. And maybe Chris Paul decides he wants to run that pick and roll with him.

I guess the reason I feel so strongly about this is that the Knicks have been irrelevant for so long, that I feel people forget how things used to be. They forget about Walt Frazier and Patrick Ewing, my uncle’s favorite players.

They don’t remember what the Garden sounded like when L.J. hit that four-point shot, when Sprewell ran a victory lap after the Knicks made the Finals in 1999.

When Starks dunked over Jordan.

The Knicks used to matter. And I think they can matter again. I think they should matter again.

If Amar’e Stoudemire is the first step toward having that happen, and again making me proud to be a Knicks fan? Then I welcome him with open arms. I realize he has his own reasons for coming here, but for my own purposes, I imagine I’ll be a big fan.

And if LeBron is next? I mean, that’d be fantastic, and in his best interests.

But either way, regardless of what the media would admit to you, I think Walsh has them on the right path to being relevant again. And believe me when I tell you, that’s a very good thing in all regards.


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