Josh Howard, in case the Anthony-Stoudemire plan doesn’t pan out

Josh Howard. (NBA.com)
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With training camp set to begin next week, the New York Knicks have been busy trying to lock up one more forward for their bench.

Last week, the conversation revolved around Tracy McGrady, who is reportedly no longer being considered. This week, the target has been Rasheed Wallace. And a target from earlier in the offseason, Josh Howard, is still in the mix, too.

Whether Wallace, a power forward, or Howard, who is a small forward, is a better fit has a lot to do with how you see Amar'e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony fitting together on the court.

Consider that there's a significant possibility that the Knicks are best off playing Carmelo Anthony at power forward, where he thrived last season while Stoudemire was out with a back injury. In that scenario, Stoudemire would become the focal point of the second unit's offense, while the two stars would rarely overlap and be forced to share the ball.

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The argument for that is Anthony's best stretch as a Knick, along with the relative futility from the two stars playing together.

It is premature to conclude from this evidence that the two cannot work together in the Knick offense. Their time as teammates has consisted of: a mid-year deal bringing Anthony in 2011, followed by a lockout and Stoudemire's first back injury, which brought him to the Knicks last fall out of shape. The lockout gave the two stars almost no time to work together, and they started the season without a point guard. They returned from missing time to Linsanity, and had to figure out how to work with that, at which point their coach, Mike D'Antoni, resigned. Then came another Stoudemire injury and a Lin injury that left the Knicks without a point guard again.

By contrast, Stoudemire is healthy this offseason and training hard. He and Anthony will have a full training camp to get the offense right, and three point guards in Raymond Felton, Jason Kidd, and Pablo Prigioni to guide the ball to each of them. Clearly, Plan A is, and should be, to have the two most expensive and offensively talented players on the court together as often as possible.

That's where Wallace comes in. If Stoudemire and Anthony are playing major minutes at the 3/4, that means Wallace and Kurt Thomas can split time behind Stoudemire, with Steve Novak serving as the putative small forward, and Marcus Camby serving as Tyson Chandler's backup center. The combination of Wallace and Camby defensively largely mitigates Novak's limitations on the defensive end.

But what if Stoudemire and Anthony don't work together? That compromise of Stoudemire off the bench would almost certainly mean more time for the second unit. It would mean finding another player, in addition to Novak, to play the small forward, or risking the large defensive hole created by playing Novak and Stoudemire together for long stretches.

That's where Josh Howard would fit in perfectly, assuming he's healthy enough now to revert at least somewhat to his all star form of the middle of last decade. If so, he could play the part of the Carmelo Anthony understudy quite nicely; no one else on the roster really can.

So depending on the Knicks' level of optimism about the Anthony/Stoudemire partnership, Howard becomes the safe play—insurance for a roster built on a lot of best-case assumptions.