Knicks’ Stoudemire Working to Put New Spin on His Career

By the time the Knicks were shoved out of the playoffs in Miami, Stoudemire appeared diminished on every level, his Q-rating and efficiency rating in simultaneous free fall.

“I’m still that player I was last year,” Stoudemire insisted then, vowing a return to full strength and “an incredible year” next season.

The mission began last week, on a quiet ranch in Katy, Tex., where Stoudemire took the first drop-step in a midcareer makeover. The pick-and-rolling, power-dunking star is now a student of the low post. His teacher is a soft-spoken Hall of Famer with a Nigerian accent and two championship rings.

, a former Houston Rockets star and an oracle of the low post, is pleased with his pupil’s progress.

“You won’t believe it,” Olajuwon said in a telephone interview from his ranch outside Houston.

The apprenticeship began on Aug. 6, with daily three-hour sessions on Olajuwon’s private court. Stoudemire has proved a quick study, assimilating moves and countermoves as fast as Olajuwon can demonstrate them.

“It’s night and day,” Olajuwon said. “What’s so nice is he wants it; he likes the post. He’s always wanted to play there, but he doesn’t have the moves that would give him that option.”

Since retiring in 2002, Olajuwon has become the N.B.A.’s go-to source for players hoping to develop their post skills. LeBron James, Dwight Howard and Kobe Bryant have visited the Olajuwon ranch. So have Marcin Gortat and the Lopez twins, Brook and Robin. This month, it’s Stoudemire and Denver’s JaVale McGee.

Most players come for about four days, Olajuwon said. Stoudemire is staying for two weeks. His motivation is clear.

Stoudemire’s 17.5-point scoring average in 2011-12 was his worst in a full season since his rookie year. His .483 field-goal percentage was the lowest since his second season. He had his shot blocked 1.3 times per game, furthering speculation that his body was breaking down (although, in fact, that rate was close to his career average).

When the season began, Stoudemire was still dealing with the aftermath of an injured back muscle. In February, his older brother, Hazell, was killed in a car accident, which took a tremendous emotional toll. Stoudemire sustained another back injury (a bulging disk) in late March.

The final injury was self-inflicted and humiliating — a lacerated left hand sustained when Stoudemire smashed a glass fire-extinguisher cover in the Miami arena, after a Game 2 loss to the Heat.

Stoudemire returned to help lead the Knicks to a series-saving Game 4 victory, but the damage to his reputation was done. And although he is known for a high work ethic, Stoudemire had reason to work a little harder this summer.

“This is the most engaged I’ve seen him in years,” said Happy Walters, Stoudemire’s agent. He added, “I think fans will be happy.”

They will be happier still if Stoudemire’s new skills foster a better dynamic with Carmelo Anthony, his All-Star tag-team partner. Stoudemire was a dominant scorer when he joined the Knicks, but his role and production diminished once Anthony arrived in February 2011. The Knicks have a losing record with Anthony and Stoudemire in the lineup, and every advanced statistic shows they are worse when both stars are on the court.

Now Stoudemire has lost the coach (Mike D’Antoni) and the offensive system that made him a star in Phoenix and New York. Without a steady diet of pick-and-roll plays, he will need other ways to score. Enter Olajuwon.

Mike Woodson, the new coach, was Olajuwon’s teammate for two years, and the two remain friends. It was Woodson’s idea to send Stoudemire to Houston.

“The coach, he has a good vision,” Olajuwon said cheerfully.

Even at 29, Stoudemire has the strength, quickness and agility to be an effective post scorer once he masters the footwork and timing.

“His spin is becoming so sharp and crisp,” Olajuwon said. “He could spin all day. He loves it.”

Until now, Stoudemire hardly needed a post game. In his first season in the league he was a high-flying 20-year-old — the Blake Griffin of his generation — before developing a sharp midrange jumper that made him nearly unguardable. He has averaged at least 20 points in seven of his N.B.A. seasons, with a career shooting percentage of .533.

Stoudemire has also played most of his career for D’Antoni, whose offense is predicated on spacing and movement, not dump-it-in-the-post sets. When Stoudemire was averaging 37 points against Tim Duncan in the Western Conference finals, no one saw much need for a low-post game.

“We had so much success with him, averaging almost 60 wins a year in Phoenix with the system the way it was,” said Phil Weber, who was on D’Antoni’s staff in both Phoenix and New York. “He could have posted up, but he was so successful.”

But circumstances have changed. D’Antoni is gone. Woodson is installing a more traditional offense. Anthony is dominating the ball on the wing. Stoudemire has little choice but to evolve.

“To now develop a post game is going to be remarkable for me,” Stoudemire told Fox 26 in Houston. “It’s going to catch a lot of my opponents off guard, and it’s going to be a great year for me.”

Olajuwon sounds just as eager to see Stoudemire unleash his new moves in the fall — and to see Woodson’s reaction. Woodson attended the first workout last week and was “very happy,” Olajuwon said.

“But if he sees now, if he sees him today,” Olajuwon continued, chuckling, “he would not believe. I’m excited.”

Jason Kidd Chooses Knicks Over Mavericks

That moment, and the point guard, at last arrived Thursday afternoon.

, who was set to rejoin the Dallas Mavericks, made a late and stunning reversal and agreed to join the Knicks instead. Negotiations were continuing Thursday night, and it was not yet clear whether the Knicks would sign Kidd outright or acquire him in a sign-and-trade deal.

Just as Kidd committed, the Knicks learned that , their promising 23-year-old point guard, had agreed to an offer sheet with the Houston Rockets, complicating the picture further.

The Rockets’ offer could be worth as much as $28.8 million over four years, with backloaded payments in the final two seasons, according to a person who was briefed on the details. The fourth year is a team option. Because Lin is a restricted free agent, the Knicks have the right to match the deal.

The offer sheet cannot be signed until the N.B.A. moratorium ends next Wednesday, at which time the Knicks will have three days to either match it or let Lin walk. The Knicks are determined to keep Lin, even if the contract costs them millions more in luxury-tax payments.

Under the Rockets’ offer, Lin would earn $5 million next season, $5.2 million in the second year and balloon payments of $9.3 million in the third and fourth seasons — a structure that is designed to dissuade the Knicks from matching the offer.

Houston is in desperate need of a point guard, having agreed to trade their starter, Kyle Lowry, to the Toronto Raptors on Thursday. The Rockets will receive a first-round pick that, under the terms of the trade, is guaranteed to be in the lottery in one of the next four drafts.

Houston also lost its highly regarded backup point guard, Goran Dragic, who agreed to terms with the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday.

In trading Lowry, the Rockets appeared to be going all in for Lin. It will be another week before they know if they have him.

Kidd, a 10-time All-Star, would be an ideal mentor for Lin, as well as a proven playmaker who can organize the Knicks’ disjointed offense and make sense of the clunky -Amar’e Stoudemire tandem. Even at age 39, Kidd has the skills and the credibility to make a difference.

Landing Kidd takes some of the sting out of losing Steve Nash to the Los Angeles Lakers a day earlier. It also gives the publicity-minded Knicks a modest boost after they watched the Nets celebrate Deron Williams’s decision to stay with the team when it moves to Brooklyn.

Signing Kidd — who led the Nets to consecutive N.B.A. finals in 2002 and 2003 when they were in New Jersey — adds yet another layer to the budding rivalry.

Kidd helped lead the Mavericks to the championship only 13 months ago and is a virtual lock for the Hall of Fame. But he is about to enter his 19th season. His days as an elite point guard are over. The Knicks simply hope he can provide quality minutes every night, whether as Lin’s backup or as the starter.

The most the Knicks can offer Kidd is $9.7 million over three years, by using the so-called mini-midlevel exception. They could pay him more through a sign-and-trade arrangement with Dallas, an option that was being explored Thursday, according to a person involved in the talks.

Kidd had all but committed to the Mavericks and was closing in on a three-year, $9 million deal. But at 4:45 p.m., reported that Kidd had changed his mind and was heading to Madison Square Garden, where he will join a crowded marquee of stars.

Even as reports circulated early in the day that Kidd was heading back to Dallas, a person familiar with his mind-set said that Kidd “so much wanted to get to New York” and was clearly conflicted about his decision.

The Knicks snared Kidd just one day after losing Nash — another elite-but-aging point guard — to the Lakers. The Knicks had been negotiating with Phoenix on a sign-and-trade deal for Nash, but Nash instead pushed for a trade to Los Angeles, to compete for championships alongside Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol.

Before landing Kidd, the Knicks were considering an array of second-tier options, including Raymond Felton, who played a half-season for them in 2010-11 before being traded to Denver in the Anthony deal. Felton could still be an option if the Knicks let Lin leave.

Derek Fisher had also been in talks with the Knicks, but he is now expected to look elsewhere.

The Nets are now among the front-runners to sign Fisher, along with the Mavericks, the Chicago Bulls, the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Oklahoma City Thunder. Fisher, who won five titles with the Lakers, joined the Thunder in February and was a key part of the rotation for Oklahoma City, which lost to the Miami Heat in the finals.

Five days into free agency, this is already shaping up as the Summer of the Point Guard. It began with Williams and Nash, two of the most prominent on the market. It continued with Kidd, Lowry, Dragic and Lin.

On Thursday, Chauncey Billups agreed to a new deal with the Los Angeles Clippers, while Jameer Nelson reached terms to return to the Orlando Magic. Two others have deals to stay put: Andre Miller with Denver and George Hill with Indiana.

A handful of solid point guards remain on the market, including Felton, Aaron Brooks, Ramon Sessions and Kirk Hinrich.

James White, Forward in Italy, Agrees to Deal With Knicks

Steve Nash, the longtime Phoenix Suns star and part-time New York resident, is now the pivot point upon which the ’s free agent market turns. Four teams — the , Toronto Raptors, Dallas Mavericks and Los Angeles Lakers — are vying for his services and are prepared to spend lavishly despite his age (38) and history of back trouble.

Knicks officials would love to install Nash as the starter and mentor to Jeremy Lin. But Lin’s status is also in flux. He was in Houston on Wednesday for a meeting with the Houston Rockets, who were expected to tender an offer.

The Knicks can match any offer to Lin, because he is a restricted free agent. Signing both Lin and Nash could test the bounds of the N.B.A.’s new supertax on high-spending teams.

The Knicks once seemed the least likely destination for Nash because of their salary-cap constraints. But they were pushing hard Wednesday afternoon to find a way to land him in a sign-and-trade deal, even as he considered other offers.

The Raptors have already offered Nash a deal worth a reported $36 million over three years. The Mavericks can offer just as much, if they are inclined. The Knicks have only a $3.09 million cap exception, but they could manufacture a richer contract through a sign-and-trade deal.

The details are complicated, and there was no indication Wednesday that anything was imminent.

The Suns are willing to grant Nash his wish and send him to New York on a three-year deal worth about $25 million, according to , but the Knicks would have to part ways with their best young prospect, Iman Shumpert, in return.

To make the deal work under salary-cap rules and to give Nash a starting salary around $8.3 million, the Knicks would have to send Phoenix nearly every minor player available, including Toney Douglas, Dan Gadzuric, Jerome Jordan and Josh Harrellson, as well as Shumpert.

The Knicks lost Landry Fields as a potential trading chip when he reached a handshake agreement with the Raptors on a three-year, $20 million offer sheet. The Knicks could have given Fields up to $5.3 million in a starting salary in the sign-and-trade deal, allowing them to offer Nash a bigger contract.

Fields averaged 9 points and 4 rebounds a game last year, numbers that declined from his rookie season.

Fields is expected to sign Toronto’s offer sheet once the N.B.A. moratorium is lifted on July 11. The Knicks will have three days to match the offer — though they have not given any signs they will — but they cannot use Fields in a sign-and-trade deal once he signs it.

Nash is reportedly pushing the Suns to trade him to either the Knicks or the Lakers. The Suns’ owner, Robert Sarver, is willing to help Nash get to New York, but not to the Lakers, a divisional rival.

Whether or not they land Nash, the Knicks need a veteran point guard to complement the 23-year-old Lin and to stabilize their backcourt. Presumably, Nash would also bring order to the clumsy pairing of Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire.

Signing Nash would give Lin time to develop. Lin became a sensation in February and had some brilliant moments, but he has started just 25 games in the league and remains an unproven commodity over a full season.

Lin averaged 15 points and 6 assists in 35 games with the Knicks last year after the team claimed him off waivers from the Golden State Warriors.

The Knicks have made it clear throughout the offseason that resigning Lin was a top priority for two reasons: his improved play and his highly profitable marketability in New York.

On Wednesday morning, the Knicks reached an agreement on an offer sheet for a one-year deal with James White, who spent the last three years playing overseas. White, who was drafted in the second round in 2006, will make the league minimum of $854,000.

The signing of White was the Knicks’ first indication they are prepared to start replacing their backcourt.

White, who is 6-foot-7, has played the past two seasons in the Italian Serie A league, the country’s highest professional level. He averaged 17 points, 5 rebounds and 3 assists a game last season for VL Pesaro.

This will be his third stint in the N.B.A.

White, 29, said he planned to be a valued role player for the Knicks.

“I’m not coming in to be a guy who doesn’t play,” he said. “I think I have the ability to contribute a lot and to make everyone around me better.”

Besides Lin and Fields, the Knicks are also still hoping to re-sign guards Steve Novak and J.R. Smith.

Novak was able to retain his early Bird rights last week, which allows the Knicks to re-sign him for up to $5.3 million. Smith declined his option with the team last month, but he hopes to return for close to $3 million next season.

Rebounds

The Nets are reworking the contract of the recently acquired Mirza Teletovic, in order to maintain cap flexibility and to keep alive their faint hopes of landing Dwight Howard. Teletovic agreed in principle Tuesday to sign for the $5 million midlevel exception. By rule, a team using the midlevel must abide by a hard cap of $74 million, which would virtually eliminate the Nets’ chance of acquiring Howard, and perhaps preclude them even from resigning Kris Humphries.

At the Nets’ request, Teletovic and his agent returned to the table on Wednesday and were moving toward a new agreement for the “mini-midlevel” of $3.09 million.