MIAMI -- Amare Stoudemire tried to slink out of AmericanAirlines Arena unnoticed, head covered in a black hooded sweatshirt, left arm in a sling, nothing but arena security standing between him and the solitude of a seat on the New York Knicks' team bus.
Behind Stoudemire, though, were a mob of media and a handful of curious arena workers wanting badly to see or speak to the man who was so frustrated with a Game 2 loss to the Miami Heat that he busted open his left hand punching a fire extinguisher cover, putting into question his availability for the next game and the rest of the series.
If Stoudemire drew a fraction of that attention from his teammates just an hour or two earlier, it never would've come to this.
If Stoudemire were a primary contributor for the Knicks rather than an afterthought once Carmelo Anthony completed his isolation dance, Stoudemire's hand wouldn't be held together by stitches and his New York team wouldn't be seemingly bursting at its seams.
Even though the Knicks got 23 points closer to their first playoff victory since 2001 than they did two days earlier, the evidence on the floor remained just as damning.
This Anthony-Stoudemire pairing just doesn't work.
While that's hardly astonishing news to those who've watched the two play together for segments of the past two seasons, the fact is the Knicks should've seen this coming.
And they could've done something about it.
Instead, the team's front office, without Donnie Walsh in the fold to truly run the show, again showed a shortsightedness that has haunted it since back in the days when playoff wins were expected, not extinct.
The Knicks could have, and should have, used the amnesty clause this past December on Stoudemire, not Chauncey Billups.
The Knicks should've realized that the acquisition of Anthony changed the entire game plan that started with the signing of Amare in the summer of 2010, and used the Get Out of Jail Free card the new collective bargaining agreement granted them to rid themselves of the most undesirable contract in the NBA.
Instead, the Knicks stared at a team featuring Anthony, Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler, and coached by Mike D'Antoni and his guard-driven offense and said, "This ... this is going to win us a championship very soon."
It's easy to understand why fans and media alike -- otherwise known as people who aren't paid to make long-term basketball decisions for an NBA franchise -- thought this Knicks team would make the jump to Eastern elite status and possibly challenge the Bulls and Heat for a trip to the NBA Finals.
The Knicks had names. They had recognizable names, were coached by a recognizable name and were going to be better defensively because of the presence of Chandler.
But how is it possible for the Knicks' front office to look at what it had in place before the season started and not see that it was ill fitting and doomed for this sort of ending?
They had a coach who needed a point guard and didn't have a quality one until Jeremy Lin fell into their laps -- and that didn't even last long enough to save D'Antoni.
They had one of the game's best scorers -- if not the best scorer -- playing right next to a power forward who enjoys scoring quite a bit himself.
And they were about to sign a defensive presence in the middle that would make them both look better, but wouldn't exactly leave much room for Stoudemire to operate the way he did either in Phoenix or in his first year in New York, when he was a serious MVP candidate through the first quarter of the season.
But rather than rid themselves of Stoudemire and look past this season, the Knicks went with the immediate-satisfaction route. The route that would sell tickets and help owner James Dolan deal with that $850 million Madison Square Garden renovation.
They used the amnesty clause on Billups, who had one year left on his deal, and decided that this would be the group that not only would compete this season, but for the next several seasons, because the restrictive CBA and Stoudemire's albatross of an uninsured contract would force them to do so.
No, it wouldn't have been the wisest public relations move to kick Amare to the curb just one offseason after New York fans fell in love with him.
But it wouldn't have been that difficult to convince those fans that Carmelo is a game changer. A plan changer. And that building around Carmelo meant Stoudemire just didn't fit anymore.
It would be even easier just by mentioning the name Deron Williams (remember, this is when D'Antoni was still the coach) as a potential 2012 signee, with enough salary cap space to sign another quality player as well. Even the backup plan could've included signing Steve Nash and spending the rest of its money on building a true team.
That would've made a lot more sense, and the only cost would've been a spurned Stoudemire and one more season with playoff hopes but no championship hopes.
That sales job would've been a lot less complicated than the one the Knicks have ahead of them now.
When this series is over -- and the only real mystery left is whether the Knicks will end their drought and win a single playoff game -- the Knicks will have to convince anyone listening that this core group can be anything more than what it was this season.
The Knicks will be about as flexible as Carmelo's offensive approach when it comes to offseason maneuvering. So the improvement can't be that significant.
Yes, the team can hope to have an improved, and recovered, Iman Shumpert and re-sign Lin and hope that Landry Fields' regression isn't permanent.
But overall, it's this big three or bust.
And based on Stoudemire's actions, it might already be bust.
This isn't an indictment of Anthony, by any means.
He's one of the few unstoppable scorers in the league, and when he's the primary option offensively, he'll engage defensively. He has done it since Mike Woodson took over, despite spending much of his time playing out of position.
"I don't know how many times in his career where we've said, 'Great defense. But he's killing us,'" Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said after Anthony scored 30 points, 15 in the first quarter, in Game 2.
But if you're going to build around Anthony, you take advantage of who he is. You don't pair him with a score-first power forward whose athleticism and effort seem to magically leave him when he's not getting touches offensively.
The Knicks could've even built around Stoudemire, kept Raymond Felton, Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari, Anthony Randolph and Timofey Mozgov, and even that team would've made more sense than this one (and the rumors in New York were that Dolan brokered that deal against the advice of Walsh, and that's why Walsh left this past offseason).
Instead, the Knicks get a bloody hand and an apologetic tweet from a player who's supposed to be a stabilizing force.
Without much to look forward to, either.
Now, the Knicks could still find the tiniest of cracks to create an escape route.
As much as Stoudemire's contract is deemed untradeable because it has three years and roughly $65 million left on it, and Stoudemire is widely considered damaged goods because of previous knee injuries and a current back ailment, there really isn't such a thing as an unmovable player in the NBA.
All you need to remember is Gilbert Arenas was traded to know that anyone can be.
So there might be a team this summer desperate enough to relieve the Knicks of Stoudemire and allow them to build a more Carmelo-friendly group.
But it's a lot more likely the Knicks will spend the offseason kicking themselves for not choosing the amnesty route with Stoudemire.
"He's one of the keys on this team," Anthony said. "We need him. I need him out there. I need him playing his game. I need him fighting with me."
Stoudemire fought an inanimate object instead. And lost.
There might not be a clearer sign that this marriage should've been annulled back when the team had the chance.