Jason Kidd came to the Knicks expecting to mentor Jeremy Lin through what would be his first full NBA season. Instead, it’s Raymond Felton who arrived at training camp with an apple for the teacher and his ears and mind wide open. Even as a seven-year veteran, Felton came ready to learn.
“He’s been talking to me every day, staying in my ear, helping me out tremendously,” Felton said. “He’s been great. He’s a big role model of mine. I watched him when I was in high school and he was in the NBA. So the opportunity to play with him and pick his brain is a blessing for me.”
Felton hasn’t been Kidd’s only pupil at the MSG Training Center. From the day he arrived for pre-camp workouts in early September, Kidd has been holding court with several players on the team.
“I’m here to let the guys know, from starting to coming off the bench to whatever Coach Woodson sees my role, to helping the guys and make it as easy as possible,” Kidd said. “To remind them that the game is supposed to be easy and fun and go from there.”
He has already sought out Carmelo Anthony to develop a trust with the high-volume scorer, who has vowed to be “done with trying to score 30 points a night” and buy into a team concept. Kidd has also talked with depth players like Steve Novak, who could benefit greatly from the trailer play Kidd used to run with Dirk Nowitzki for open threes.
But what he can do with Felton might be equally important to the job he thought he was coming to do in raising Jeremy. Felton already has plenty of NBA experience and had success in New York, but he has yet to reach the level of fellow 2005 point guard draftees Chris Paul and Deron Williams.
To avoid any issues, Mike Woodson gave a quick nod to Felton as the starter, which comes as no surprise considering the age difference. Felton, 28, is in his prime, while Kidd, 39, is in the latter stages of his career. But Kidd is also more valuable off the bench for his versatility to play both guard positions.
Kidd, who developed later in his career into a top three-point shooter, is open to playing a “two-guard” role next to Felton, especially while Iman Shumpert and Ronnie Brewer recover from knee injuries. The presence of veteran Pablo Prigioni as a backup point guard allows Kidd to play minutes at the two without compromising the depth at point.
“Yeah, I can play with Ray,” Kidd said. “Me guarding the bigger guards, I’ve done that in the past, so I can see that somewhere down the line.”
While there are plenty of athletic shooting guards Kidd will struggle to defend (which is what makes Brewer and Shumpert so valuable), it is clearly an option Woodson will go to throughout moments of a game. Perhaps even down the stretch in close games.
Felton welcomed the idea. “I think we will play with each other a lot, for sure,” he said.
Woodson said the Knicks will focus this first week of training camp on conditioning drills. The team won’t get into basketball-related instruction (implementing offenses and defenses) until the weekend. The first preseason game is Oct. 11 against the Washington Wizards.
Woodson demanded peak fitness from every player (returning or acquired) during the offseason with a zero tolerance policy. Every player arrived at least two weeks early to the training center and reported for duty in top form.
The goal now, Woodson said, is to maintain those levels throughout the course of the season so when the playoffs arrive, the team doesn’t have all of the nagging injuries it had last spring. While Woodson plans to be stern in motivating this group, he brought back a word he used often last season and put it on the players to push each other and not allow any drop-offs.
“It’s all about accountability and everybody’s got to hold each other accountable,” Woodson said. “We’ve got to come ready to play every day. We can’t take possessions off. That’s going to be important as we try to build this team and walk this journey. And the journey is, the ultimate goal is to win an NBA title. I like the makeup of our ball club, but we’ve got a lot of work on our hands and it’s going to be my job to make sure I push them in the right direction.”
CUE THAT AALIYAH TRACK AGAIN
Tyson Chandler turned 30 on Tuesday, which raised the number of 30+ players on the Knicks roster to six (Amar’e Stoudemire will make it seven on Nov. 16. And Rasheed Wallace, 38, has yet to officially sign so it’s possible that more than half the Knicks roster could be 30 or older by then).
And come Thursday, Kurt Thomas will leave his 30s and hit the Big 4-0. He will be the first 40 year old player the Knicks have had on their roster since Herb Williams (1998-99).