NEW YORK (AP) — While the top free agents are pondering their futures, the New York Knicks gave them something to think about.
If LeBron James or Dwyane Wade comes to New York now, a dominant big man will be there waiting.
Amar’e Stoudemire agreed Monday to sign with the Knicks for nearly $100 million, vowing to lead a rebirth in New York that the team hopes won’t have to be done alone.
“This could help get the dominoes falling and he’d be a great teammate for somebody,” Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni said.
“We went after a very, very good free agent and you can’t tell what’s in other people’s minds, but we do know that if you’re serious about winning, we’ve got a piece that helps you do that.”
WATCH NBC SPORTS COVERAGE OF THE STOUDEMIRE TRADE:
[NBCVIDEO source=”SPORTS” video=”http://nbcsports.msnbc.com/id/33399756″ w=”592″ h=”346″ launch_id=”38104881″ id=”msnbc66b59d”]
The Knicks said they intend to sign Stoudemire to a contract later this week when the free agent moratorium period ends. His agent, Happy Walters, said the deal is for the maximum allowed, which would be about $99.7 million over five years.
Stoudemire has already started recruiting, saying he spoke to James’ people and directly to Wade last week. He plans to pitch them again, but insisted he won’t be affected if those players say no to New York.
“Totally comfortable, totally confident that my leadership qualities will uplift all of us to do something great this upcoming season,” Stoudemire said. “So again, the Knicks are back.”
The deal can’t be signed until Thursday, after the salary cap for next season has been set.
It was a desperately needed score in free agency for the Knicks, who had signs that pictured Stoudemire in their uniform and reading “Welcome, Amare Stoudemire” all over the entrances of Madison Square Garden. After spending two seasons clearing enough cap space to afford two top players, they met with James, Wade and Chris Bosh last week, and believe they could still land one of them.
The move reunites Stoudemire with D’Antoni, his former coach in Phoenix. Stoudemire averaged more than 20 points in every season they were together and immediately becomes the best player D’Antoni has coached since leaving the Suns after the 2007-08 season.
“He’s a dominant offensive player for sure, in a variety of ways,” D’Antoni said.
Stoudemire’s days with the Suns ended late last week when the team agreed to $48 million worth of deals with forwards Hakim Warrick and Channing Frye. The sides had discussed an extension, but the Suns looked elsewhere after they’d reached a stalemate.
Wearing a blue Knicks hat, Stoudemire said he understood owner Robert Sarver’s position and wasn’t disrespected by the Suns’ refusal to give him a max deal that would have paid him millions more. He said he’s always loved New York and wanted to play here since the Knicks passed on him in the 2002 draft.
He finally got to Broadway by becoming the first big player in this much-hyped free agent class to change teams. The other top players could announce their decisions later in the week, and perhaps they might take a second look at New York now that there’s another huge piece in place.
“No one wanted to make the first move and I feel confident enough to take that first step and hopefully now we can bring a few guys in to join me,” Stoudemire said.
The Knicks decided they no longer needed to wait on an answer from Bosh, especially because Stoudemire showed such a commitment to New York. They even gave him the longest contract allowable without knowing if it could be insured because of Stoudemire’s injury history that includes microfracture knee surgery and a partially detached retina.
“I think to a degree the fact that Amare really wanted to come here, stepped up front, it got to the point where we had to acknowledge that and say that means something to us,” Knicks president Donnie Walsh said.
Walsh said Stoudemire’s arrival didn’t necessarily mean the end for David Lee, the Knicks’ own All-Star free agent who plays the same position. Lee could also be used in a sign-and-trade, though Walsh indicated he hadn’t received any good proposals in discussions with Lee’s agent.
Stoudemire has career averages of 21.4 points and 8.9 rebounds and helped the Suns reach the Western Conference finals this season. D’Antoni called him “probably one of the best, if not the best finisher in the league” and dismissed the notion that their relationship was strained in Phoenix.
“We had no problem,” D’Antoni said. “I had four great years. The reason I have a very good contract in New York is Amare doing what he did for me. So I can’t have any animosity and don’t, and he was great.”
The question now is can he help land James.
They could have ended up together in February, when the Suns considered trading Stoudemire to Cleveland before the Cavaliers instead took a deal with Washington for Antawn Jamison.
Stoudemire would instantly become the best teammate James has ever had in the NBA, but James would have to leave behind his hometown team and the extra $30 million the Cavaliers could pay him for the partnership to happen now.
“Playing with LeBron would be great,” Stoudemire said. “But again, I’m not sure what his decision is and where he’s leaning. If he’s leaning more toward New York, then that’s a great start for us.”
For a team mired in a franchise-worst stretch of nine straight losing seasons, Stoudemire alone is a good start. The Knicks can finally trot out a superstar again in front of Spike Lee — who was on hand as Stoudemire met the media — and the rest of the home fans.
“It’s the first step,” Walsh said. “It’s a big step, because it’s a big guy.”
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.