Amar'e Stoudemire has seemingly been the heart and soul of the New York Knicks organization from the moment he proclaimed "The Knicks are back."
All season long, although the cast of characters around him has changed, it has been Stoudemire who has led the charge in the resurgence of the Knicks.
While it was clear prior to the season that the Knicks would have to heavily depend on Stoudemire, the players around him have come up big time and time again.
Nevertheless, Stoudemire has been the MVP candidate whose success the Knicks have ridden through their quest for a spot in the playoffs.
Though the Knicks erupted for a big overtime victory against the Magic Monday night, they have struggled mightily since the trade that brought Carmelo Anthony to New York.
Those same struggles have had the Knicks gasping for air as they look towards the playoffs, but perhaps the last win can be a momentum builder.
That being said, such struggles need to be highlighted (and improved upon) as the Knicks look to better themselves as they prepare to pose as a contender. Some people will cite the lack of chemistry amongst the team's new players for the ongoing struggles, as Chauncey Billups and company have failed to get into a groove with their teammates just yet. Others will blame Coach D'Antoni and his sometimes random rotations and starting lineups, with two starting positions (the shooting guard and center positions) in flux as of late. While there may be validity to the suggestions that the mentioned above factors have contributed to the Knicks' most recent slump, there's one more thing people may overlook.
Just as crucial as Amar'e Stoudemire has been to the team's success thus far, that's how pivotal he will continue to be. Whether it's still being the center of attention on the offensive end, or being the leader in the locker room that gets his teammates on the same page, Stoudemire will need to continue to assume his role as savior.
The problem is, Stoudemire just may be getting exhausted down the stretch. It's not particularly his fault, as he has carried the future of the organization on his shoulders throughout the season. He has propelled the team to many victories, even having last-second plays drawn up for him where he shoots a three-pointer on an inbound pass in an attempt to keep the Knicks in a game--sometimes, even miraculously converting on such a play.
At the same time, it wouldn't be shocking to see him slowing down, as discouraging as it might be. In the previous two seasons, the Knicks found moderate success (compared to what was expected) by attempting to mold Chris Duhon into a D'Antoni-type point guard. Duhon's court vision was impressive at times, and he was able to efficiently work the pick and roll with the Knicks' All-Star at the time, David Lee.
Unfortunately for the Knicks, while the success was not expected to last long, it abruptly came to a halt as Duhon faltered, exhausting himself towards the end of both his seasons for the Knicks.
The one (and only) correlation between Duhon and Stoudemire is that the Knicks seemingly depended on each one's success to propel the team, leaning on them heavily. For Duhon, a career-long role player, it was clearly too much to handle. He wasn't meant to carry his team by any means.
Stoudemire, on the other hand, was brought in for that very reason. While it would be ideal for him to find a nice balance with Carmelo Anthony (and Chauncey Billups) in regard to a consistent offensive attack, he needs to continue to step up on his own.
Besides having a less than stellar shooting streak during the Knicks slump, Stoudemire has seemed to lack the same type of aggression he has had throughout the season. While some of the offensive burden may be taken off his shoulders now, the aggression still needs to be there. The Knicks brought in Anthony not because he was an improvement over Stoudemire as a potent option on offense, but so the two could power their way through defenses around the league, dominating together. That has to be the key.
Exhaustion throughout the season is understandable, especially when your team and one of the biggest cities in the world depends on you. That being said, it's time for Amar'e Stoudemire to take a deep breath and use New York City celebrating playoff-success as his motivation moving forward. He was paid and brought in to do a job, and that is to help the Knicks climb back to greatness. It's now, more than any other point in the season, that his impact matters most.