While with the Phoenix Suns, Amare Stoudemire was known for many things. He scored a lot of points, grabbed lots of rebounds some nights and almost none on others, he played below average defense, and he talked big. He was also known for getting hurt, being distant as a teammate (even though that improved in his last year), and for passing the buck. As a member of the New York Knicks, he is doing mostly the same things, but he has added something new and interesting: leadership.
Stoudemire has been lauded since arriving in New York for being a leader. Just a couple of nights ago, after a 125-116 overtime victory over the Detroit Pistons, Mike D'Antoni said this:
"He does what a leader needs to do. He's never down, and he never gets cross -- he just keeps leading and leading. Raymond was sick today and real quiet, but Amare filed the void. That's what great leaders do."
Before the season even began, D'Antoni said this:
"He's always been one of the best players in the league ... I don't want to talk about the past, but I do know one thing -- the leadership he has shown and the intensity that works out and the dedication that he has brought [to the Knicks], you do not get better than what he's doing right now. It's a credit to him and he's come a long ways. I've always been impressed with his talent. That's been off the charts. But his leadership right now is off the charts."
This is particularly meaningful considering that D'Antoni had a front row seat when he coached STAT here in Phoenix. They had their issues and the team had issues with Stoudemire.
I have always been of the opinion that part of Stoudemire's problem when he was a member of the Suns was that, because of the presence of Grant Hill and Steve Nash, he was never able to show up as a leader. It was never "his team." I always felt that with the maturation as a player he experienced last season, he would take the next step this year.
He is producing on par with his previous seasons, averaging over 24 points a game and 8.6 rebounds per game, but he is now doing it while leading a young team. It is the one thing he craved -- the chance to be a leader, or better said, the leader.
We can debate all week about whether or not Phoenix should have brought back Amare, and I can understand that. I wanted him back. Many are glad he's gone. In the end, I am happy (and sad at the same time because he is doing it in New York and not Phoenix) that he has taken the next step as a player.
But if the Knicks are in the playoffs and the Suns are not, I hope we all realize what could have been.