Amar’e Stoudemire returned to some semblance of work Tuesday, as he began his rehab stint with the Knicks’ D-League affiliate, the Erie Bayhawks.

 

Erie, which is scheduled to hold practices at the Knicks’ Greenburgh, N.Y. facilities from Tuesday through Friday, will try and assimilate Stoudemire as quickly as possible to game conditions, however long that takes. Stoudemire won’t be able to play in actual Bayhawks’ games, but he can scrimmage, said head coach Mike Woodson.

 

Stoudemire acknowledged his surgically-repaired knee was “sore” following his session with Erie and noted he’s “not sure” when he’ll make his season debut.

 

“I don’t know where everyone got that assumption that I’d be back Christmas Day,” Stoudemire said. “I never made that statement at all. I’m not totally sure if I’ll be back by then or not.”

 

The Knicks hope Stoudemire’s return is timely because they’ve been banged around on the glass (ranked 21st in the league), and other than center Tyson Chandler, are lacking in a shot-blocking presence (28th in the league). But while the 6-foot-10 Stoudemire won’t be mistaken for a maven in either category, his athleticism and hustle will be a boost for the frontline.

Woodson naturally wants Stoudemire back in the mix as soon as possible, but said there is no timetable and he “won’t rush things.”

New York is off to an 18-6 start without the guy who was originally brought in to be the franchise’s cornerstone. But since Carmelo Anthony has taken on the larger responsibility of being a leader this season — even sacrificing his comfort zone of playing out of position at power forward — the Knicks have thrived sans Stoudemire. The 6-foot-7 Anthony has been a nightmare matchup for slower and bigger power forwards, and as a result, the team is second in the league in offensive efficiency and fifth in points per game (102.9).

This has led to many critics worrying about integrating Stoudemire back into the mix, and perhaps disrupting the offensive flow. Stoudemire has kept quiet and even hinted through his own back channels that he would be open to a bench role once he returns.



Stoudemire reiterated he’s “not concerned” about his role, either as a starter or sixth man, because he

“only cares about winning.”

Woodson said it will be key to see how Stoudemire responds following the down time after his first practice Tuesday. And that may go a long way in determining if Stoudemire will be available for either Friday’s home game against the Chicago Bulls or Sunday’s home tilt against the Timberwolves.

“After his first practice, we’ll have to weigh how he feels, [but] I think he’s moving in a positive way and everything is going according to plan,’’ Woodson said. “That’s the whole key. If he’s sore the next day, we’ll have to back off until we gradually get him where we need to have him. ... I’m not throwing any guys out there where they have a chance to fail.’’

Knicks notes

»Anthony was seen shooting with the team today during Tuesday’s practice. The MVP candidate said his left ankle is still “sore” and will “play it smart” when deciding his fate. Anthony then acknowledged that he’ll likely be a gametime decision again when the Knicks host the Nets, Wednesday. New York is currently 2-2 without Anthony in the lineup.



Follow Knicks beat writer Tony Williams on Twitter
@TBone8.