GREENBURGH, N.Y. (AP) — Amare Stoudemire will go into next season with $45 million left on his contract and no guarantee of a starting job.
He also could remain a reserve who plays restricted minutes.
Searching for ways to improve next season, the New York Knicks could use a reliable second scorer and dependable low-post option. They have no way of knowing if Stoudemire can provide either because of his knees.
"He's a heck of a player and I think we all know that. The question is his health and how much he can play," general manager Glen Grunwald said Tuesday. "So we've got our medical staff and training staff working with him to design an offseason program that will get him to full health, and we hope he'll be able to play significant minutes for us next year. How much that will be, we don't know at this time."
Stoudemire was limited to just 29 games in the regular season and four brief appearances in the postseason because of a pair of knee surgeries.
Following a 54-28 finish and their first playoff series victory since 2000, improvement won't be easy for the Knicks. Their options will be limited by salary cap rules, and it's unclear if they even want to make many changes. Grunwald agreed with players that the best strategy might be giving this season's roster more time together.
"Our focus is to continue to build this core team," Grunwald said in a rare meeting with reporters. "I think some continuity, some familiarization, further growth as individual and as a team, I think that's what we have to do."
That could mean re-signing sixth man J.R. Smith if he becomes a free agent, though Grunwald wouldn't comment on specific plans. He also said 40-year-old Jason Kidd, who has two years left on his deal, gave no indication during his exit meeting that he planned to retire after a dismal postseason.
Grunwald said the Knicks won't be allowed to acquire players in sign-and-trade deals and have only the exception for taxpaying teams, starting at about $3.2 million next season. They won't get much top talent for that, but they would if Stoudemire could come back and play at anywhere near his former All-Star level.
He has to show the Knicks he can be healthy before showing them he deserves to start again.
"I haven't made that decision. I'll have the summer to kind of evaluate where I go with that, but I think first things first, he's got to come back healthy," coach Mike Woodson said. "I mean, that is the major part of this. Our struggles in terms of where we wanted to go this season was the fact that we had the injury with STAT. STAT was ready I thought when he came in, but he got hurt.
"A lot is going to depend on where he is once he steps foot in vet camp in terms of where he is health-wise and minute restrictions, that may be the case. All of that's going to play a major role in STAT in terms of where we go with our ballclub and him playing, because I just don't know at this point."
Stoudemire worked hard last summer following an injury-plagued 2011-12 season, training with Hakeem Olajuwon to add low-post moves. But he had surgery to clean up and remove tissue from his left knee in training camp and was sidelined until New Year's Day. He was playing well in March but then ended up needing the same procedure, called a debridement, on the other knee.
He returned for the second round but was clearly rusty and played just 33 minutes, Woodson hardly using him in the final two games. The Knicks didn't get nearly enough scoring in the paint against Indiana, something a healthy Stoudemire could have changed.
"I think STAT ... could've really helped us in that area because we had developed him over the summer to give us some low scoring, and the fact that he just wasn't, I don't think, where we needed him based on his injuries, that kind of hurt us a little bit," Woodson said, acknowledging the Knicks were a jump-shooting team this season and may have to look at adding someone with a low-post game.
The Knicks gave Stoudemire a five-year deal worth nearly $100 million in 2010, but he's been unable to remain healthy. He and Carmelo Anthony haven't played enough to be comfortable and productive together, and when Stoudemire was sidelined to start the season, Woodson moved Anthony to Stoudemire's power forward spot. Anthony ended up winning his first scoring title and the Knicks their first division title since 1994.
Once Stoudemire returned, he was limited at first to about 20 minutes a game, which was gradually increased to 30 before he was hurt again. Woodson never seemed to consider starting him, even when frontcourt injuries left few other options, and will have to hope Stoudemire can be healthy enough to give him something to think about next season.
"That'll be for us to determine where our roster winds up next year and where everyone else is," Grunwald said. "I thought he had a great role in terms of where Woody put him in to be successful, in terms of coming off the bench as Woody said, and whether that continues next year or not will be determined. But there's no grand plan per se that he'll start or not start. It'll be determined on what Woody decides is best for the team that will give us the best chance to win."
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