It was July 3, 2010. The NBA's free-agent signing period had just begun, and the Knicks were in hot pursuit of Stoudemire to be their $100 million man and turn the franchise around. But before they could pull the trigger, they needed their coach to sit down with their prospective star player and clear the air.
The two had worked together for five years in Phoenix. They'd found success together — as naturally, an offensive-minded coach should with a fantastically talented offensive player — but they'd also clashed more than a few times. The youth and immaturity of the former Suns star was a big reason D'Antoni left for the Big Apple in the first place. Could they really work together again?
Two days later, they decided to put the past behind them and join forces again.
It's been 10 months, one week, three days, 42 wins and one disappointing postseason sweep since the Knicks signed Stoudemire. The star and coach still aren't where they ultimately want to be, but they've improved leaps and bounds together since the old days in Phoenix.
"He was young in Phoenix when we had him," D'Antoni said on Stoudemire. "He came out of high school, and there was a series of progressions. He was an unbelievable physical talent, and he's molded into a great man and leader. That's him."
Stoudemire was 19 years old when the Suns first drafted him in 2002, out of Cypress Creek High in Orlando. He butted heads with D'Antoni in the early years. He wanted to be the star of the show, but he was surrounded by a talented cast including the incomparable Steve Nash. His ego went too far at times.
It was a different guy who signed with the Knicks last summer. Stoudemire was 27 then. He's 28 now. He's no longer the cocky young kid — he's now a grown man leading a franchise.
"It's been great," Stoudemire said of his first season in New York. "It's been a great year from start to finish. We wanted to do more here in the postseason, but with so many changes and with the expectations, I think we rose to the occasion. We achieved our first goal, which was to make the postseason. The 'Knicks are back' statement is definitely true. I think the league knows it now. It's just a matter of us getting better together, doing it as a team."
A year ago, the Knicks were at the tail end of a decade-long rebuilding process. They were irrelevant for years, they went for broke in pursuit of LeBron James, and they got nothing. Stoudemire began his time with the Knicks as nothing more than a consolation prize.
Now it appears he's the first building block toward a revitalization of New York basketball.
Carmelo Anthony was the second block. He held the Nuggets, Knicks, Nets, his fans, his friends and family and the media all hostage for months, wrapped up in a trade saga that would seemingly never end. But now he's in New York, and he's sharing the spotlight with Stoudemire in the big city.
"It would be easy, easy for a guy to be resentful for Melo to come here," D'Antoni said of Stoudemire. "Very easy. That happens all the time. But there was not one day that he said anything but, 'This makes the Knicks better, then that's what we're doing.' Where he is today is great."
Stoudemire used to be the guy inhibiting teamwork. Now he's the driving force behind it. He's bringing the Knicks together.
"The sky's the limit, man," said Anthony. "He's only going to get better, and we're only going to get better as a team. I can't wait for that. We've only been together two months, but I've learned a lot from him, and I'm pretty sure he's learned a lot from me out there on the court. We're going to make it work."
Their ultimate goal together is a lot more than 42 wins and a quick playoff exit. But this was only the first baby step for Amare and Carmelo together. The two star forwards have a chance to build something together. There are a few big-name players out there in next two summers — Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Dwight Howard, and the list goes on. Now that the Knicks have two stars, they can begin to think about attracting more.
"I think now," Stoudemire said, "players are looking at the Knicks and thinking, 'I want to be a part of that team.'"
"We've got a long way to go," added Anthony. "Some happy times are ahead for us."
In 2010, the Knicks got swept in the first round. It might be a while before that happens again.
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