- Associated Press - Monday, October 18, 2010

GREENBURGH, N.Y. (AP) - Amare Stoudemire hadn’t even signed yet when he declared the start of a new era for one of the NBA’s worst teams.

“The Knicks are back,” Stoudemire said in July, a clip that’s been replayed to loud cheers before the start of exhibition games at Madison Square Garden.

What he meant is still to be determined.

Back to focusing on basketball, not the budget?

Definitely.

Back to the playoffs?

That probably depends on Stoudemire.

The All-Star power forward was the only big piece the Knicks landed in free agency, and now will try to lead them to their first postseason appearance since 2004.

“The fans are ready just as well as we are,” Stoudemire said. “Again, we’re working hard on the basketball court to really give them what they’re looking for.”

The Knicks share the NBA’s longest current playoff drought with the Minnesota Timberwolves, but their ineptitude goes back even further. New York hasn’t won a postseason game since 2001 and is in the midst of a franchise-worst stretch of nine consecutive losing seasons.

The last two, coming under Mike D’Antoni, were part of New York’s plan to focus on building through free agency. Nearly every move was made with the salary cap in mind, as the Knicks arrived in July with enough cash to afford two maximum-salary free agents.

LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh all said no, choosing to play with each other in Miami, so the free agency route wasn’t all that was hoped. But Stoudemire agreed to leave Phoenix for a $100 million deal in New York, instantly becoming the best player to wear a Knicks uniform in years.

“You never know if you went another way what would have happened or will we ever know,” D’Antoni said. “But we had to set ourselves up to try to get one or two or three of the big free agents last summer and we came away with a good one, so it wasn’t 100 percent but it worked out pretty good.”

Stoudemire flourished in D’Antoni’s offense in Phoenix and seems poised to put up big numbers in New York. He entered the final week of preseason play averaging a league-leading 22.8 points, and he didn’t even play in the fourth quarter of his first two home games.

“I do like that we have someone we can throw the ball to and get on his back,” D’Antoni said.

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