NEW ORLEANS — It’s the $100 million question Mike Woodson will eventually have to answer: what happens when Amar’e Stoudemire returns?
“Again, I’ll address that when we get to that point,” Woodson said on Tuesday.
Woodson is well aware that he is sitting on a potential powder keg, especially with the Knicks winning as Stoudemire, who had knee surgery in October, recuperates. If the Knicks and Carmelo Anthony, who is playing like an MVP at power forward, continue at their current pace it will be difficult for Woodson to alter the starting lineup.
Prior to Tuesday’s game against the Hornets, Woodson wasn’t about to reveal his future plans and instead said just enough to keep everyone guessing. At one point, Woodson implied that Stoudemire's job was safe when he said there would be times in a game when Anthony, a natural small forward, would play power forward. Woodson then turned defiant when he was reminded that the Knicks have an overall losing record since Anthony and Stoudemire became teammates two seasons ago.
"Is it an overall losing record with me as the coach?” Woodson asked reporters. “I can’t think about what happened before I took over. As a coach I feel good about both of them playing on the floor at the same time and that’s not going to change.”
Howard Simmons/New York Daily News
Mike WoodsonIntentionally or unintentionally, Woodson took a subtle dig at his predecessor, Mike D’Antoni, who failed to make the Anthony/Stoudemire combination a winning one as Woodson did once he was promoted to head coach.
And if you want to get technical, Woodson never said anything about starting Anthony with Stoudemire only that he feels “good about both of them playing on the floor at the same time.” Ideally, Anthony and Stoudemire complement one other when Anthony plays power forward and Stoudemire center. But as long as Tyson Chandler stays healthy Chandler will remain the starting center.
Woodson can go with the smaller, quicker lineup featuring Stoudemire at center which would make the Knicks much tougher to match up against offensively. But the pairing of Stoudemire at center and Anthony at power forward also makes the Knicks vulnerable in two vital areas; defense and rebounding. In other words, don’t expect to see that too much.
Woodson has gotten his players, particularly Anthony and J.R. Smith, to buy into his philosophy. There has been no indication that Stoudemire won’t be amenable to any decision Woodson makes regarding the All Star’s role. Stoudemire was a good solider when Anthony was acquired by the Knicks and instantly became the face of the franchise just weeks after fans at Madison Square Garden where chanting “M-V-P” at Stoudemire.
Amar'e StoudemireAdditionally, Stoudemire knows that he slightly damaged his relationship with the fans the night in Miami when he smashed a glass fire extinguisher case and suffered a deep cut that prevented him from playing in Game 3 of their first round playoff series.
Stoudemire has told friends that he feels the media sensationalized the story which only fueled the fan’s frustration toward him. Regardless, it was the first time since signing a $100 million contract that Stoudemire was the object of criticism and he didn’t enjoy it. In the event that Woodson were to keep the lineup intact and use Stoudemire as a back-up, Stoudemire could potentially hurt his image among Knicks supporters if he were to raise a fuss.
Still, it is a tricky situation for Woodson, who understands that Stoudemire has a certain standing in the league and is one of the elite players at his position. The plan all along was to start Stoudemire and Anthony but that changed when Stoudemire developed a cyst on his left knee during the preseason. In fact, Iman Shumpert and not Jason Kidd would be the starting shooting guard if Shumpert hadn’t suffered a major knee injury last May.
Woodson adjusted accordingly and is winning in a way the Knicks haven’t won in nearly 20 years. He may have to adjust again and perhaps Woodson already knows his next move. But don’t bother asking because he’s about to share it publicly.
“I’ve been thrust into this arena because of the injuries that we’ve had and it started last season,” Woodson said. “I feel like as a coach with the surrounding players we have we can make an adjustment if we need to. If we need to go big I feel good about that. Eventually we’ll get back to playing Melo at some four if he starts at the (small forward). If Melo is out there he causes problems for any team if it is at the three or the four. “
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