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Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
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Sunday / June 24.
  • Copeland Shines in Game 5 Win as Amare’s Role Deteriorates

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    Special to ZAGSBLOG

    NEW YORK – Amar’e Stoudemire made $19.95 million this season and is owed $45 million over the next two seasons. Chris Copeland is a 29-year old undrafted rookie free agent making roughly $473,000.

    With the Knicks forcing a Game 6 Saturday night back in Indianapolis following an 85-75 Game 5 victory over the Indiana Pacers on Thursday evening, one of these players seemingly has a spot in the rotation, while the other’s role appears to be in question. The thing is, which player matches which scenario doesn’t make much sense based on the salaries.

    His team’s collective backs to the wall, Knicks head coach Mike Woodson went with the seemingly-instant offense of Copeland on Thursday and he delivered, scoring 13 points on 4-for-6 shooting and 3-for-4 from 3-point range in 19 minutes.

    Woodson said at shootaround on Thursday morning that Copeland would be thrown into Game 5 early in an effort to infuse offense after the Knicks averaged just 76.5 points over the last two games. With his head coach’s faith, the 6-foot-8 small forward did not disappoint.

    “Just try to make him look good,” Copeland said of Woodson. “Whenever he puts me on the floor, just try to go out there and make my presence felt one way or another.”

    Meanwhile, Stoudemire played just seven minutes, none in the second half and did not attempt a field goal. In three playoff games, he has played a total of 27 minutes off the bench. Typically one of the NBA’s more media-friendly superstars, he left Madison Square Garden without addressing the media postgame.

    With Copeland re-emerging and Stoudemire, owner of the team’s largest salary, relegated to the bench for the entire second half, the question now becomes what to do next with another elimination game rapidly approaching.

    “I’m sure (Jason) Kidd (who hasn’t scored a point since April 23 and is also stuck on the bench) and Amar’e wanted to play, but I don’t think they’re going to complain,” Woodson said. “The bottom line is we won and we got a chance to go to Indiana for Game 6 and try to steal this series back.”

    Copeland hadn’t done much through the first four games of this series, playing a total of 31 minutes in which he scored 15 points and attempted just 11 shots while never having a defined role. Any regular minutes he was seeing all but disappeared when Stoudemire returned in Game 3 from a right knee debridement.

    The experiment to have Stoudemire come off the bench after a two-month absence likely had more to do with Woodson’s commitment to Stoudemire and, possibly, how much money he is making as opposed to what he can provide basketball-wise. In any case, Stoudemire has not produced in limited minutes and now Copeland has re-emerged as a key offensive threat off the bench for a team that had scored just 71 and 82 points in Game 3 and 4 losses, respectively, in being pushed to the brink.

    “Copeland just has a knack for scoring,” said Tyson Chandler, who struggled in finishing with two points and eight rebounds. “Anytime you get him in the game he’s going to make something good happen offensively. He’s been doing it all year. He came up huge for us tonight.”

    No matter what becomes of Copeland for the remainder of these playoffs, the Knicks have certainly gotten more out of him than anyone could have anticipated.

    After a stint in the D-League and five years in various Europeans leagues, Copeland signed a one-year, non-guaranteed deal with the Knicks. Not expected to give them much, he instead averaged 8.7 points in 15.4 minutes over 56 games. In and out of Woodson’s rotation throughout the regular season, Copeland proved he was capable of quick offense thanks to barely a sliver of a shooting conscience. For the year, he shot 42.1 percent from 3-point range.

    The Knicks will have until June 30 to extend Copeland a $989,000 qualifying offer, which would make a him a restricted free agent. Any team could offer him a larger contract, but the Knicks would have the right to match any offer.

    Despite his age, he is still a rookie and has been treated as such in terms of being hazed and being given a hard time by the veterans, namely Rasheed Wallace and Marcus Camby, who picked out a Disney Princess backpack in the preseason for Copeland to carry around.

    Ninety-three games into the season, the backpack has seen better days, but Copeland still has it. On Thursday at the podium postgame, he pulled the tattered bag out of his green drawstring Prada backpack, which drew plenty of laughs from the assembled media.

    “Those guys have been helpful, but the whole team has honestly been great,” Copeland said. “From top to bottom, all 15 guys, it’s been great. It’s been a big-time brotherhood, everybody’s been looking out for me, teaching me the ropes and I’m thankful to be a part of this team because I’m sure every team doesn’t have this many guys that want to see you succeed.”

    **For Video, Notes & Quotes, read the Notebook here.

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