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It looks like the Lakers will have Steve Nash in the lineup for the Christmas Day game against the Knicks.
The one man who has ever made Mike D'Antoni look like an elite NBA coach is close to a return from a broken bone in his leg. It is a return that the Lakers are counting on to save their season, something that's about 180 degrees away from the return that the Knicks are anticipating.
Amar'e Stoudemire's been practicing with the Knicks' D-League outfit as he tries to return from the knee problems that have made him a spectator for the 19-5 start that's taken the Knicks to the top of the Eastern Conference. Stoudemire said Thursday that he's "not quite ready" to return to game action yet, making it hard to believe the Knicks would take the wraps off on Tuesday afternoon at the Staples Center when they play the next day in Phoenix.
Even though Stoudemire doesn't figure to be on the court on Christmas, his impending return has renewed discussions about whether he will wind up being a lump of coal in the Knicks' stocking or if he'll be that gift you never knew you needed until you got it. There's an argument to be made on both sides.
Howard Beck of the New York Times lays out the coal argument in painstaking fashion, pointing out how dreadful the Knicks offense was last season whenever Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler were on the court at the same time in comparison to how effective they've been in the first 25 games this season. He also points out Stoudemire's recent vow to return to dominance as a sign of the pride that will hinder Stoudemire's ability to take on a lower profile one than he's had since coming to the Knicks.
It's basically a synthesis of every anti-Stoudemire argument that's been made in the last six months and it is hard to argue with it. Anthony has been an MVP candidate playing at power forward this year, but he and Stoudemire like to operate in the same patches of the court which has made it impossible for them to coexist.
All of those arguments are based on a different Knicks team, though. In the recent past, the Knicks teams needed to play Anthony, Chandler and Stoudemire together because they didn't have enough talent to go in any other direction.
This year's team has a lot more going for it and Mike Woodson will be approaching his Stoudemire decision from a position of great strength. While things don't need to be antagonistic, it would be very easy for him to tell Stoudemire to take or leave whatever role the team has for him while pointing out that leaving it would leave the prideful Stoudemire painted as a selfish player who doesn't want to help his team win.
There's a much easier route, though, and it is one that appeals to the prideful nature that has Beck predicting disaster. Woodson can point to a bench scoring role that would make Stoudemire the complement to J.R. Smith on a second unit that could actually carry a lot of teams around the league.
Woodson can paint a picture of how Stoudemire would be revered for sacrificing personal glory for the chance at a championship, a chance that would be improved greatly by having Stoudemire finishing pick-and-rolls for 20-25 minutes a night. It would allow Anthony and Chandler a bit more rest over the course of a long season while also showcasing Stoudemire's strengths while limiting his weaknesses because of the role he's asked to play.
There have been plenty of players who have ridden sixth man duties to great acclaim. Kevin McHale, Bill Walton, Jason Terry and Lamar Odom all helped teams to titles off the bench while Anthony Mason still gets a hero's welcome because of the job he did as a reserve.
Stoudemire might not accept it, but that will essentially make him persona non grata on a team that has seen Anthony change his game for the best interests of the whole. Going the other way opens up a whole new avenue, offering a chance for the guy who wanted to be the Knicks' savior to become the final piece of the puzzle.
Pride goeth before the fall, or so they say, and there's a lot of rising to be done if Stoudemire accepts a role that's about the Knicks and not just about him. The answer is coming and we feel like kids on Christmas Eve waiting to find out what we get.