NEW YORK — The New York Knicks have lost long enough. Amare Stoudemire is ready for what he calls the “start of a new era.”
Stoudemire joined the Knicks on Thursday, coming to a team that has never had a winning season since he entered the league out of high school in 2002.
“It’s about challenges and this is definitely the ultimate challenge for myself to eventually bring the Knicks back to where they rightfully belong,” Stoudemire said at a news conference at Madison Square Garden.
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The All-Star power forward agreed to a deal Monday with a team looking to win again after a franchise-worst nine straight losing seasons.
The last two of those were largely the result of a plan to slash salary to allow the Knicks to afford to sign two maximum salary players this summer. Team officials were still holding out hope the other would be LeBron James, who was to announce his decision about nine hours after the Knicks were introducing Stoudemire.
Either way, landing Stoudemire was a crucial first step, ensuring they wouldn’t be shut out by the big names in free agency.
“This is a very big addition to our team and the future of our team,” Knicks president Donnie Walsh said. “Up until now our plan has been to save money in the cap and now it’s about winning, trying to put together a team that can win.”
Stoudemire’s agent, Happy Walters, said the Knicks and Suns will complete a sign-and-trade arrangement. The five-time All-Star will still get a five-year contract, but will take a little less than the maximum allowed in the first year to provide the Knicks with additional salary cap space. By signing with the Suns first, he is entitled to larger raises, but the total value of the deal will still be about $100 million.
In doing so, he became the first top player in this deep free agent class to change teams, choosing one that is desperate to win again.
“It takes courage to play where the lights shine the brightest,” Madison Square Garden chairman James Dolan said.
The move reunites Stoudemire with Mike D’Antoni, his former coach in Phoenix. Stoudemire is a fearless finisher on the pick-and-roll and helped the Suns average 58 victories in D’Antoni’s four full seasons there.
“We won a lot of games together and hopefully we’ll be successful here,” D’Antoni said.
That likely depends on what else the Knicks can accomplish, either this year or next. They would have nearly $19 million left this summer if they don’t get James, and D’Antoni said the plan is to get another max player at some point over the next couple of years. Walsh said New York would be able to afford another one next summer.
In the meantime, Stoudemire gives them a player who has averaged 21.4 points and 8.9 rebounds since he was the ninth pick in the 2002 draft — two spots after the Knicks passed on the player who had lived for a time in upstate New York.
The Suns worried about his injury history in refusing to offer the six-year contract they were allowed, given Stoudemire’s multiple knee operations, including one major microfracture procedure in 2005-06. But he played all 82 games last season in helping Phoenix reach the conference finals, and the Knicks believe he has many dominant years left.
“When he decides to do something, the things he can do, you can’t stop,” Walsh said.