I watch Amare Stoudemire play these days - specifically against the Suns last week, and against Denver last night - and can't help but feel for him.
As a power forward who does not control the ball at the beginning of a possession, Amare is wholly dependent on the scheme and the players around him to get him the ball where he can score. Once Amare gets the ball in the post, or on the pick-and-roll, he scores it better than nearly any player in the league. There's a reason Amare is paid more than $16 million per year. He's worth it.
However, his presence becomes nothing more than a decoy when the guy holding the ball is Carmelo Anthony. Anthony took 18 shots to Amare's 2 in the last 22 game minutes - 4th quarter plus 2 overtimes. Oh, and the Knicks lost because Denver started triple-teaming Melo, who went 2 for 8 in the overtimes, while Amare's only shot came with 7 seconds left in a 6-point deficit.
To hear the Knicks' gamecallers on NBATV, this was no aberration. It's simply life with Carmelo. Anyone but Melo is now just a decoy. Sound familiar? Remember when the Nuggets were considered selfish and full of too much one-on-one heroism? That disappeared last February. Since Melo was traded, Denver has become a MUCH better team.
And now, Amare gets what he asked for. Well, not exactly I guess. He wanted to be the man in New York. He wanted to be Batman. And he wanted a few Robins around him. I doubt he envisioned the Robin that he actually got, in Carmelo Anthony.
In the fourth quarter and 2 overtimes of last night's nip-and-tuck game against Denver, Amare TOUCHED the ball no more than a handful of times. And he took 2 shots: one that drew free throws in the 4th, and then a meaningless 3-ptr with 7 seconds left in the second overtime with a 6 point deficit. That's 22 minutes of game time (12 fourth quarter + 2 five-minute overtimes), where one of the greatest scoring machines in the NBA barely touched the ball. He must have been double or triple teamed to deny him the ball, right? Uh, no. He was being defended in those 22 minutes by either Al Harrington or Nene.
It's just that once Carmelo Anthony got the ball, he was going to take the shot. And for some reason, he got the ball on nearly every Knick possession. If D'Antoni had visions of Anthony making smart choices with the ball, he was sorely mistaken. In the first three quarters (36 minutes of play), Carmelo Anthony went 1-12 on shots. ONE FOR TWELVE. So what does he do in the fourth quarter and 2 overtimes (22 minutes of play)? He takes 18 more, of course. Buoyed by three successful layups to start the run, he made half of those (9-18) and drew two additional shooting fouls. That's good right?
Not when Denver realized Anthony had tunnel vision and started triple-teaming him in the overtimes. They literally left two Knicks open on each possession, knowing Anthony wouldn't bother passing the ball. How could they know this? How could George Karl be so reckless with the game on the line? Oh yeah, Anthony played in Denver for 7 years. After going 7-10 in the 4th, Anthony shot only 2-8 in the two overtimes, and Denver won the game.
And before you blame D'Antoni for the 18 to 2 differential in shot attempts between his 2 stars, remember that Anthony did this same thing to George Karl for years. Once Anthony left, Karl now magically coaches a team that passes and shares like crazy. And before Anthony arrived on D'Antoni's doorstep, Mike's teams passed and shared like crazy. Who's the culprit again?
Which brings us back to the theme of this post. Two ex-Suns - Mike D'Antoni and Amare Stoudemire - thought they'd found their panacea. They thought they could step out from Steve Nash's (and Robert Sarver's) shadow and show that the Suns' success was really about them. And that if they could just get that meddling owner out of their hair, life would be grand.
But the problem with real life is that we humans make too many assumptions. We make decisions to fix or eradicate the "bad", assuming that what's "good" will always be there for us because we're the ones who brought the good.
It never crossed Amare's mind that maybe just maybe it could be worse in New York than it was in Phoenix with 3 WCFs in 7 years. He thought he could do better than being the #2 on a contender, living in a city that loved him and playing with a point guard who got him the ball every chance he got.
It never crossed Mike D'Antoni's mind that it could be worse in New York than it was in Phoenix with 2 WCFs in 4 years. He thought he could do better than a roster tailor-made to his coaching, than a PG who knew how to run Mike's offense better than anyone in history, than a front office who wanted to win despite a tight (yet, luxury-tax spending) budget.
Well guess what?
Mike D'Antoni might be out of a job real soon, and his inability to control strong personalities like Carmelo will severely hinder his future head-coaching possibilities. Maybe he actually DID have it pretty good in Phoenix.
Amare Stoudemire has already found himself mentioned in trades, because it's obvious to everyone that Amare + Melo will not bring a championship to New York. And since Amare is dependent on Melo to pass him the ball, Amare is the one who is quickly becoming the more tradeable piece. And with 4 years left on his guaranteed contract, Amare has NO say on where he might be headed.
Sometimes, you get what you asked for. Unfortunately, it's not always what you expected.