NBA Sunday: The Amar’e Stoudemire Deception?
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The Amar’e Stoudemire Deception?
Every year about this time the Ingram family takes part in what is now a third-generation tradition, and thanks to the wonders of digital media it is no longer constrained by the network television schedule. When I was a kid, I had to wait for one of the channels to air, “It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown,” but my daughter has no such disadvantage. Any time she wants to watch Snoopy rise out of the pumpkin patch we just fire up the Apple TV and off he goes.
One of her favorite parts is the scene where Charlie Brown tries to kick the football, which Lucy is dutifully holding. The two have a long history together, in which Lucy always pulls the ball out at the last second and Charlie Brown goes flying through the air and lands flat on his back in disgrace. This time, however, Lucy swears, even produces a signed document stating that she will not pull the football. Charlie Brown gets his running start, gleeful that he is finally going to get to kick that football and, of course, Lucy pulls it at the last second, sending my daughter into fits of hysteria, like the ones I had as a kid.
More importantly, fans of the New York Knicks.
In this version of the Halloween classic, Lucy will be played by Stoudemire, while Charlie Brown will be played by a collective of every Knicks fan on the planet.
Yesterday afternoon, New York Post columnist Marc Berman tweeted out the following news:
“Reports from Tarrytown say Stoudemire was cleared and did halfcourt contact drills today. Book him for the opener. Just as he declared.”
Such an announcement might well be followed by a deafening chorus of cheers from the Big Apple, but instead there’s little more than a collective shrug coming from the Madison Square Garden faithful. You see, they’ve been here before, and they’re just not quite ready to land flat on their backs while letting out an agonizing scream when Stoudemire once again hits the sidelines with another in a long line of injuries.
Stoudemire missed the first 30 games of the 2012-13 NBA season after having surgery on his right knee. He joined the Knicks’ lineup as a reserve on New Year’s Day, but lasted just 29 games before the same knee required the same surgery again and he missed the rest of the season. The year before that he played in just 47 games, and when he was healthy he was a shell of the All-Star player he once was for the Phoenix Suns. He’s been so bad that Knicks fans regularly dream of trade scenarios that are impossible given the $21.7 million he is owed this season. They even try to forget that the team already used their one-time-only amnesty waiver on Chauncey Billups two seasons ago, preferring in retrospect to use it on Stoudemire.
Despite the disappointing history between Stoudemire and the New York fan base, the Knicks’ best hope of contending this season hinge upon Stoudemire’s ability to regain something of his All-Star form. That’s why Knicks fans are running head-first toward that football, praying the injury gods don’t yank it away at the last minute… again.
As things stand, the Knicks are little more than a curiosity in the Eastern Conference. Despite their $92 million payroll they won’t be picked by anyone – probably even by their own media corps – to finish higher than fourth in the conference. The Miami HEAT, Indiana Pacers and Chicago Bulls are all clearly better, and the Brooklyn Nets might be better, as well. Raymond Felton is a capable point guard, but not a star-caliber floor leader, sixth-man J.R. Smith really needs to be in a contract year to play his best basketball and newcomer Andrea Bargnani is looking to rejuvenate his reputation in New York, under the close scrutiny of some of the harshest fans in the league. There’s no question that Carmelo Anthony is one of the best scorers in the game, and Tyson Chandler is a top-five defensive player, but what about the rest of the team?
The supporting cast is suspect, to say the least.
If Amar’e Stoudemire can come back and play anywhere close to the level he achieved in his prime, the Knicks might just have the best front court rotation in the NBA. Chandler’s defense and rebounding, Stoudemire’s scoring and running game and Bargnani’s shooting touch could make the Knicks almost impossible to defend, and opposing teams would certainly have a hard time slowing down Anthony with that cast of talented bigs around him.
Unfortunately, that scenario is little more than the ghost of a hope, the same hope that Charlie Brown had as he charged that football.
More likely that not, it’s just one more deception… or, perhaps, a Halloween trick.
Brett Brown’s Biggest Challenge
When the Philadelphia 76ers finally named a head coach last summer, it surprised more than a few people when the choice was announced. Brett Brown is not exactly a household name, and has zero NBA head coaching experience. In fact, all of his head coaching experience is from the land down under: Australia.
Of course, he has spent the last 14 years as a member of the San Antonio Spurs organization. He spent five years as their director of player development and then joined head coach Gregg Popovich’s coaching staff on the bench in 2007. Brown may not have NBA head coaching experience, but he does know a little something about establishing a winning culture. It’s what the San Antonio Spurs are all about.
It will also be his biggest challenge as he looks to lay the foundation for the rebuilding Sixers.
Case in point: Lavoy Allen. He missed morning practice on Saturday, telling Brown that he was sick. The thing is, he told teammates he had overslept, which would seem to be consistent with the fact that, as Matt Breen of the Philadelphia Inquirer reports, Allen was out late partying the night before:
On Friday, Twitter posts reported that Allen was at Temple basketball’s Cherry and White night at The Liacouras Center. Wyatt, a former Owls guard, was also at The Liacouras Center.
A picture posted later on Instagram spotted Allen, a former Temple center, at Club Aura in Northern Liberties. The event, billed as a kickoff to Temple’s homecoming weekend, was supposed to be hosted by (Khalif) Wyatt and model Yaris Sanchez. Sanchez was in the picture with Allen and rapper Pooda Dappa. Wyatt said he did not go and was not with Allen on Friday.
Wherever Allen was, he has become a case in point for what’s wrong in Philadelphia. Winning teams have a culture of honesty and integrity, not to mention a strong sense of loyalty to the team which would preclude a player from missing practice without a good reason.
“It’s all part of the culture, the culture we’re trying to get right,” Brown told Breen. “We will deal with him, I will deal with him. What else can you say?”
“Practice went on,” added Wyatt. “Me and Lavoy are a big part of the team, big part of what we’re trying to do. Missed him a little bit today.”
The first step in establishing a winning team is establishing a winning culture, and whether or not Allen was out of bounds with his absence from the team on Saturday there is a long way to go with the Sixers. The team has suffered through tremendous turnover in recent years, with expectations going from contention this time last year to the draft lottery this year. That transition can be chaotic, but it’s important that the current front office team and the new coaching staff get in front of it quickly.
They can’t afford to for the old culture to contaminate the young players who will be so central to their long-term vision.
NBA Chat with Bill Ingram
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