The Disappointing Decline of Amare Stoudemire

Apr 28, 2012; Miami, FL, USA; New York Knicks power forward Amare Stoudemire (1) during the second half of game one in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals against the Miami Heat of the 2012 NBA Playoffs at the American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE

Amare Stoudemire's hand injury won't derail his career but it's symbolic of the frustrating season he has endured on and off the court. More importantly, the question has to be asked will he produce at an All-Star level ever again?

Amare Stoudemire has encountered a ton of adversity this season. Anytime, ex-Mavs/Lakers malcontent Lamar Odom decides to whine about the adversity he's endured this season, he should look to Stoudemire's season for perspective.

On the court, Stoudemire averaged his fewest points per game since his rookie year, a career low in rebounds and his lowest field goal percentage since his second season.

In February, Stoudemire lost his brother and throughout the season he's had to confront the growing shadow of his basketball mortality. Every now and then, he flashes the athleticism that earned him Slam Dunk contest invites and highlight reels. But for the most part, he's been a shell of his former self and his decline was unexpected.

After Game 2 of the Knicks loss to the Miami Heat, Stoudemire completed his meltdown in ironic fashion by punching the glass enclosure surrounding a fire extinguisher. Of all the adversity that Stoudemire faced this season, did anybody expect an inanimate fire extinguisher to be the tombstone on his tragic season? Watching him slink back to the team bus in a black hoodie and a sling around his bloodied arm, you couldn't help but it feels like this was the defining image of the next phase of Stoudemire's career. Ironically, Stoudemire has been injured so often throughout his career it's surprising he hasn't already earned the nickname Mr. Glass because of his fragility.

Monday night was another bizarre chapter (and possibly the epilogue) to an odd season for Stoudemire and the Knicks.

In Phoenix, Stoudemire took a backseat to Shawn Marion and Steve Nash but his signing with New York signified the Knicks return to relevance and made Stoudemire the leader of a franchise.

Prior to Carmelo Anthony's arrival in New York last February, Stoudemire was the midseason NBA MVP through the All-Star break. Soon after the All-Star break, the Knicks exchanged Raymond Felton, Danilo Gallinari and an assortment of role players for Carmelo Anthony. Anthony's arrival unknowingly spelled the end of Stoudemire's short reign as the toast of the town.

Anthony's arrival may have marked the beginning of Stoudemire's decline from All-Star to average. The Knicks performance over the remainder of this series may determine Stoudemire's fate for next season and beyond. His back may put the finishing touches on his career as an elite player just as it did to Larry Bird.

If the Knicks excel with Stoudemire out of the lineup and tie the series with Miami in New York, it will be more of an indictment of Stoudemire's negative impact on the Knicks than it will speak to the Heat's road woes or the benefit of Madison Square Garden.

Stoudemire isn't new to injuries. At the age of 22, Stoudemire underwent microfracture surgery and experienced chronic knee issues. He was truly the first microfracture surgery success story. He also underwent eye surgery after suffering a partially torn iris that still requires him to wear protective glasses today.

He's also familiar with trade discussions. Throughout his Phoenix Suns career, Stoudemire was the subject of trade scenarios and last summer he was involved in trade talks with New Orleans' Chris Paul. This summer the trade talks will escalate, however, his downward spiral will certainly lower his market value and the talent, the Knicks can expect in return.

However, there is a way back for Stoudemire. In combination with his $100 million contract, the Knicks are probably stuck with their vastly underachieving power forward.

Like Stoudemire, the aforementioned Lamar Odom had a difficult season emotionally and flamed out with the Dallas Mavericks. However, Stoudemire continued to play on.

Stoudemire's injury was only the latest in a string of odd injuries inflicted upon New York professional athletes. In 2009, Plaxico Burress was sentenced to two years in prison after accidentally shooting himself in the leg with an unlicensed firearm and earlier this season, Joba Chamberlain suffered career threatening ankle injury on a trampoline. Ironically, Yankees pitcher Joba Chamberlain is one of Stoudemire's off-court friends.

Stoudemire's season is likely done but he can revive his career as a Knick. An emotionally draining season may have taken its toll on him physically and psychologically but an offseason could be the cure for an awful season. Stoudemire was unable to play basketball during the lockout after undergoing back surgery over the summer. Losing the additional bulk, Stoudemire added in the offseason may also return the extra bounce and quickness he appeared to lose this season.

However, if Stoudemire doesn't return to form next season, the Knicks will look back at the Stoudemire-Anthony era with the same apathy as they did the Spencer Haywood-Bob McAdoo experiment.

Like Stoudemire and Anthony, Haywood and McAdoo repeatedly got in each other's ways. What most forgot about that era is that Haywood, who was around the same age as Stoudemire, was traded after one season and his career immediately took a turn for the worse. He never averaged 20 points per game again.

With any luck, he'll undergo the same innovative German procedure that revived the spring in Kobe Bryant's knees, and legs. In the meantime, Anthony will set out to even the series with Miami minus Stoudemire and Shumpert. The odds say this series will not end well for the Knicks. Knicks fans must hope that either Stoudemire can return to an All-Star level or end the Stoudemire era before his career hits rock bottom and he drags the franchise's championship hopes with him.

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