As long as injuries don't necessitate otherwise, New York Knicks forward Amar'e Stoudemire will come off the bench when he returns to the team, league sources with knowledge of the Knicks' thinking said.
The Knicks hope Stoudemire will return to the lineup Tuesday at home against the Portland Trail Blazers.
The team would like Stoudemire to come off the bench initially, though sources cautioned there is a possibility he will have to return as a starter because of injuries. Carmelo Anthony was to miss his second consecutive game Friday night against the Sacramento Kings with a left knee ailment, and Raymond Felton is out four to six weeks with a fractured right pinky finger.
"It's a fluid situation (because of injuries)," one source said. "But they want him to come off the bench to start."
It's common for players who return from a lengthy absence to come off the bench initially to regain their timing. But according to sources, Knicks coach Mike Woodson is seriously considering playing Stoudemire in a reserve role for the rest of the season.
Woodson is hoping to avoid disrupting the chemistry the Knicks have established during their surprising 20-8 start. The coach and his staff also want to see how Stoudemire adjusts initially, sources say.
Woodson has not commented publicly on Stoudemire's role since the power forward underwent a left knee debridement on Oct. 31.
The power forward hasn't played competitively since a preseason game Oct. 19 due to the knee ailment.
Stoudemire's role has been the subject of endless debate because it is unclear where he fits best for the Knicks.
Some say Stoudemire would be most effective off the bench because he and Anthony have had difficulty establishing chemistry on offense at different points during Anthony's tenure with the Knicks. New York is 30-33 in the regular season when both Stoudemire and Anthony start.
Woodson has said he expects the Anthony-Stoudemire dynamic to work, pointing to the Knicks' 8-2 record with them in the starting lineup since he took over as coach last March.
If Stoudemire comes off the bench, though, it would free him up to be the primary screener on the Knicks' pick-and-roll, a role in which he's thrived in the past. If Stoudemire starts, he would not fill that role because starting center Tyson Chandler already fills it well.
Stoudemire has said he is open to playing any role Woodson and the team ask of him. He has started all 125 regular-season games during his Knicks tenure.
"It doesn't matter. Whatever it takes to win. I'm totally open to it," Stoudemire said earlier this month. "I've been here for three years now. You guys should know how much of a team player I am. I've played with a team in Phoenix that ... was a team-oriented game, and the same applies here in New York."