Mike Woodson named this defense 'The MedicAlert Bracelet.' (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
The New York Knicks front office approached roster-building for the 2012-13 season like the braintrust behind "Last Vegas" approached casting. Step 1: Bring in several fun old guys. Step 2: ??? Step 3: Profit!
It started innocently enough, with general manager Glen Grunwald signing 39-year-old Jason Kidd to serve as both backup and mentor to rising young point guard Jeremy Lin, who had entered restricted free agency but whom the Knicks had vowed to bring back; these things seemed reasonable enough. (We know how that worked out.) Grunwald then pulled the trigger on a sign-and-trade with the Houston Rockets that brought back 38-year-old center Marcus Camby to back up reigning Defensive Player of the Year Tyson Chandler; considering the glaring hole behind Chandler at the five the season before, this, too, seemed reasonable enough.
Next, 39-year-old center Kurt Thomas came along from the Portland Trail Blazers in another sign-and-trade, this one bringing Raymond Felton back to Madison Square Garden to run the point ahead of the Lin debacle. Little about this seemed reasonable, but such was the state of things in the awkward time before the deadline for the Knicks to match the Houston Rockets' offer sheet to Lin. And then, of course, there was the pre-training-camp addition of 38-year-old Rasheed Wallace, which seemed a level of unreasonable befitting the player signed. Add 'em all up, and you had the single oldest roster in NBA history, which made the Knicks something of a laughingstock ... right up until they posted their best regular season in 17 years, earned the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference and advanced past the first round of the playoffs for the first time since the summer of 2000.
They didn't make it past the second round, though, falling to the younger, bigger, stronger and better Indiana Pacers in six games. For his part, point guard Felton thinks New York could be poised for a deeper run this season, thanks in part to moving away from the AARP set, according to Marc Berman of the New York Post:
"We’re a younger team this year," Felton said at an Under Armour appearance at Macy’s in Herald Square. "Kurt Thomas, Rasheed, love them like brothers. [But] those guys were 38, 39, 40 years old. Once they got injuries, they’re out and it hurt us last year. We’ve added Metta [World Peace], [Andrea] Bargnani, Kenyon [Martin] and Amar’e [Stoudemire] are coming back. Tim Hardaway [Jr.] looks great by the way. I’ve been most impressed with him. It gives us depth at that big spot and youth. Those guys are younger.
"No knock to the guys we had last year. Those guys had incredible careers. I wish I could play that long. But we are young. That’s what I’m saying. We’re a younger team this year. We still got depth from last year, but we also have a younger bench. That’s going to help us later in the season."
On one hand, yes: offseason trade acquisition Andrea Bargnani will be 28 years old on Opening Night, and free-agent pickup Metta World Peace will turn 34 years old two weeks into the season. This makes them quite a bit younger than the likes of Thomas, Kidd, Camby and Wallace; the 2013-14 Knicks will not be the oldest team in NBA history, which seems like a good thing.
Plus, while it wasn't the primary reason the Knicks were outclassed by the Pacers back in May, the absence of those older players, whether literal (Sheed's retirement, Thomas' post-injury waiving, Camby's persistent plantar fasciitis-fueled benching) or figurative (Kidd failing to make a shot in the Knicks' final 10 postseason games, which would wind up being the last action of his NBA career), after a long season sure didn't help. Having some younger options on the bench — including rookies Tim Hardaway Jr. and C.J. Leslie, should they prove worthy of important minutes — could be a huge help in keeping key pieces fresh over the course of a long season.
On the other hand, it's worth remembering that while Bargnani's on the right side of 30, he's missed 98 games over the past three seasons with a variety of ailments, including a pair of right elbow/wrist injuries that brought his career with the Toronto Raptors to a disappointing close, and that he's entering this season having spent the summer recovering from pneuomnia. It's also worth remembering that while 34 is younger than 38/39/40, it is still not very young in NBA terms — especially when the 34-year-old in question has 14 seasons and more than 33,000 NBA minutes on his legs, one of which suffered a lateral meniscus tear last season. (Also, Metta reportedly wants a larger role in the Knicks offense than he had with the Los Angeles Lakers, which ought to work out swimmingly, considering he's barely shot 40 percent from the floor over the past four years.)
And that while bringing back midseason addition Kenyon Martin on a one-year veteran's minimum deal seems fine enough, he'll be 36 by New Year's, has a pretty checkered injury history of his own and probably isn't the safest bet to provide the same level of impact over a full 82-game slate as he did in a 30-game sprint last season. And that relying on a comeback from the cursed knees of Amar'e Stoudemire has sadly proven to be a fool's errand, no matter how much he rests and eschews scrimmaging, and rests some more.
There are plenty of major factors that will likely determine the Knicks' chances of improving upon last year's finish — whether Chandler can stay healthy and formidable enough to serve as the defensive anchor he was in 2011-12 and the surprising offensive centerpiece he was early last season, whether Carmelo Anthony can replicate his career-best perimeter shooting marks, whether J.R. Smith can return from surgery and suspension to look more like the Sixth Man of the Year than an invisible man, etc. Having improved depth and more healthy bodies available come the end of the season would surely be helpful and welcome, to be sure. But given the myriad question marks surrounding the new additions, returning contributors and how coach Mike Woodson intends to juggle them all — to say nothing of the apparent improvements to fellow Eastern Conference contenders like the Indiana Pacers, Brooklyn Nets and Chicago Bulls — I'd hold off on drawing a direct line between "younger" and "better" until we see how the roster and rotations shake out.
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- Raymond Felton
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- Glen Grunwald