New acquisitions make Knicks old

BY Sam Gardner • July 26, 2012

The last time the New York Knicks won an NBA championship was 1973. At that time, the Watergate scandal was beginning to heat up in our nation’s capital and the Pine Ridge Reservation standoff had just ended in Wounded Knee, S.D.

In the sports world, Secretariat had just won the first leg of the Triple Crown, O.J. Simpson was months away from beginning his 2,000-yard run into NFL history, and the New York Mets were en route to their second National League pennant under the rallying cry of Tug McGraw’s “You Gotta Believe!”

Jason Kidd was alive to see it all. So was Kurt Thomas – though neither he nor Kidd was old enough to revel in (or recall) the celebrations. Marcus Camby? Well, he missed the Knicks’ last title by a few months, but he certainly heard the stories.

And if the Knicks are to have any hope of bringing the first championship in four decades back to Madison Square Garden next spring, they’re going to need their trio of newly acquired, over-the-hill stars to play well below their stated ages.

All summer long, as the Knicks’ new neighbors across the East River in Brooklyn have added youth and excitement to their roster in an effort to make the Nets championship contenders, New York has taken a different, well-traveled route to its goals.

“Age before beauty” is apparently the mantra at MSG, and the team’s roster moves show just how much value GM Glen Grunwald and owner James Dolan are placing on experience before their increasingly narrow championship window closes for good.

Notably missing from the Knicks’ rotation this year will be 23-year-old point guard Jeremy Lin. He has been replaced, in part at least, by former All-Star Kidd, 39.

In addition to letting Lin walk, New York sent two future draft picks to Houston, along with 23- and 25-year-old big men Josh Harrellson and Jerome Jordan and 26-year-old point guard Toney Douglas, in exchange for lanky 38-year-old center Camby.

The Knicks also dealt 30-year-old big man Jared Jeffries, a future second-round pick and the rights to 21-year-old draft pick Kostas Papanikolaou as part of the deal that netted them Thomas, 39, and point guard Raymond Felton.

All told, the Knicks acquired three of the five oldest players in the league this off-season, and if that’s not enough to make you spit out your prune juice, they also were connected to reports surrounding the other two.

In addition to adding soon-to-be quadragenarians Thomas, Kidd and Camby, New York also courted point guard Steve Nash, who turns 39 on Feb. 7, and Grant Hill, who will be 40 on Oct. 5. Both Nash and Hill ended up in Los Angeles, however, with the former MVP Nash agreeing to a sign-and-trade deal with the Lakers and the seven-time All-Star Hill signing with the Clippers.

If we assume that New York doesn’t try to coax Juwan Howard or Brad Miller into one more year in the league, the average age of the Knicks’ nine likely rotation players will be almost 32½ when the season starts.

At 27, J.R. Smith will be the youngest in the rotation this year, followed by 28-year-olds Felton and Carmelo Anthony and 29-year-old Steve Novak. The rest, including stars Amar’e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler, will be 30 or older by mid-November.

When 22-year-old shooting guard Iman Shumpert returns to the lineup next January from the knee injury that ended his rookie season, the average age of the Knicks rotation will decrease by about a year, which is still nearly four years older than the average NBA player.

But that’s not necessarily a problem, according to coach Mike Woodson.

“I haven’t seen a young team win an NBA title in the last 15 years,” he told reporters in Las Vegas during last week’s summer league. “That’s why the Miami Heat are loading up with veteran guys like Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis to continue their run. That’s why Boston tried to hold the Big 3 together. It’s veteran guys who are winning NBA titles.”

Woodson has pointed out that some of the Knicks’ new additions have championship pedigree, including Kidd, who won a title with Dallas in 2011, and Thomas and Camby, who appeared on the Knicks’ last NBA Finals roster in – gulp – 1999.

But what he doesn’t seem to realize is that his team is older than every recent NBA champion. According to the Wall Street Journal, the average age of every NBA conference champion since 2001 is 29 years, eight days.

In other words: the Knicks are about five years past their prime.

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