BOSTON — The Knicks may soon face another Amar’e dilemma.
With New York on the brink of a sweep of the Boston Celtics in their first-round playoff series, Stoudemire is expected to return from knee surgery for a second time this season — this time for a potential second-round date with Indiana or Atlanta.
“‘He’s gonna play, absolutely, yes…He’s a big piece to our puzzle,” Knicks coach Mike Woodson said here Saturday, one day before the Knicks look to sweep the Celtics in Game 4 at TD Garden.
If the Knicks oust the Celtics on Sunday, they could have up to another week to prepare for the second round, which would mean Stoudemire will have had eight weeks to recover and rehab from his right knee debridement.
But do the Knicks — and their fans — really want STAT to play? Or does he risk upsetting the tremendous chemistry they have built without him?
Consider that the Knicks have won 19 of their last 21 games — including the playoffs — without Stoudemire, who has been out since March 7 with a right knee debridement.
Overall, since he played his last game they are 20-6.
With a healthy Stoudemire this season, the Knicks went 16-13 as he dutifully accepted his bench role and averaged 14.2 points and 5.0 rebounds.
When he does return, whose minutes will he take? Kenyon Martin’s?
Martin has effectively taken over Stoudemire’s role in the rotation since he was acquired in February and the Knicks have won 14 straight games in which Martin has played. He missed five games earlier this month with an ankle sprain.
Overall, the Knicks are 16-5 this season in games in which Martin has played.
He is averaging 7.2 points and 5.3 rebounds as a Knick after considering signing with the Celtics while he was out of basketball.
Tyson Chandler, for one, says Stoudemire’s return won’t upset the apple cart. In fact, he argued the Knicks could go bigger with Martin and Chandler playing together at times, with Stoudemire as the third big.
“The veteran leadership as well as the coaching on this team wouldn’t us something like that [upsetting the chemistry],” Chandler said, “Amar’e’s eager to play. I think he’s only going to help the team when he does come back. He’ll give us that extra big in the rotation that maybe will allow Kenyon to move into the lineup when we need to so me and him [can be] on the floor together.
“So it will give Woody a security blanket. We’ll have that third big off the bench. If anything it will be a positive.”
Chandler also said that because the Knicks are winning, Stoudemire won’t feel any pressure to come in and be a savior. He said the same was true of himself when he missed 16 of the Knicks’ last 20 regular-season games with a bulging disk in his neck.
“The great thing about when you’re out and your team’s winning, it gives you kind of some comfort,” Chandler. “I went through the same thing when I was trying to rest. The moment you feel like your team really needs you, you might want to rush back, maybe a little to early.
“But when the team was winning and everybody was telling me, ‘We’re fine, just take your time,’ I think it just gives you a little security that you can actually allow your body to heal.”
Soon enough, the Knicks may find out exactly whether Stoudemire helps their run at the franchise’s first championship in 40 years, or whether he upsets the apple cart and foils the chemistry they have built in the last two months.
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Adam Zagoria is a New York Times contributor and Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.