GREENBURGH, N.Y. – Marcus Camby was once part of the youth movement here. But that was so long ago, he remembers when practices were held at SUNY-Purchase, before MSG Training Center was built.
It was Camby’s athleticism, his speed and fast-break ability so rarely seen by NBA big men early in his career, that made him an exciting, young novelty on a Knicks team that had been known for its half-court slugfests with lumbering Patrick Ewing dominating the pivot.
Years later, Camby is now smiling at the notion that he’s one of the dinosaurs. At 38, he’s the third-oldest player on the Knicks roster as training camp opens Tuesday. It led him to paraphrase the late pop star Aaliyah, whose 1994 song could serve as the theme song for this season’s Knicks team.
“Age is just a number,” Camby said.
It’s a number everyone will be talking about – and joking about – all season long. The Knicks will have the oldest roster in the NBA, with an average age of 30.8 years.
Too old? For what? Winning a championship? The Dallas Mavericks did it in 2010-11 with an average age of 31.3 years.
Camby was also quick to point out that his first go-around in New York also involved an older team. Let the comparisons begin.
“I take it back to that team we had in ’99 that went to the Finals,” he told MSG Network’s Tina Cervasio. “We had a lot of age on that team also with Patrick [Ewing], and LJ and Herb [Williams] and Chris Dudley and all those guys. That team seemed to compete pretty good, also.”
That 1998-99 team had an average age of 29.9 years.
The actual age of that team – based on Jeff Van Gundy’s main rotation players, not the entire roster — was 29.2 years. The starting five was the exact same.
The actual age of Mike Woodson’s anticipated rotation is 29.7 years. The starting five? 28.5 years.
Beyond that, there are experienced players waiting on the bench for spot duty. Woodson finds value in being able to rely on a grizzled veteran in a pinch rather than the uncertainty of an unproven rookie or inexperienced young player.
“It’s not young guys who are winning NBA titles,” Woodson said.
Woodson was an assistant coach with the Detroit Pistons when they won the NBA title in 2003-04 with a rotation that averaged 28.4 years.
The issue for the Knicks is that this experiment does not project long-term. Fans tend to see young players at the end of the bench as security blankets. But aside from Iman Shumpert, who, at 22, is the youngest player on the roster (and was a toddler when Jason Kidd and Kurt Thomas were rookies in this league), the Knicks future does not extend beyond the next two seasons.
That reality is what creates the pressure to win now.
“We think we’re not old,” Knicks general manager Glen Grunwald said, “but we’re experienced.”
Woodson tried it with youth in Atlanta, which had Joe Johnson and Josh Smith pre-prime years. Those teams didn’t get out of the first round.
“This go-round for me, I’m able to take a veteran team with Jason, Camby, Kurt Thomas, Ronnie Brewer; it’s important for me from a coaching standpoint. If we can stay healthy — it’s the name of the game — I think we got a shot.”
Carmelo Anthony returned from the 2008 Beijing Olympics a more mature, focused player from the experience with the Redeem Team. After winning gold again in London this past August, Anthony seems to have come back even more enlightened.
“I’m done trying to scoring 30 points a game,” he announced at Media Day on Monday. “I don’t want that role anymore.”
Melo explained to Tina Cervasio what he took from the experience of playing with fellow stars LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Chris Paul:
“I think it was a trust factor we had to instill in everyone and the confidence to know that you don’t have to do it by yourself,” he said.
Melo said the Olympians aired out the obvious issue that comes when several star players share the same court (and ball): The personal competition to outshine the other. So they made a pact to put aside those tendencies – counting shots and listening to outside criticism – and just play the game.
“Once we bought into that,” Melo said, “everyone saw the fun we had.”
That’s been the theme of the precamp workouts since the start of September, led by Melo, but endorsed strongly by the most respected voice in the room: Jason Kidd.
Grunwald addressed the Jeremy Lin decision for the first time publicly at Media Day.
“It comes down to Houston made a commitment to him we weren’t prepared to make,” Grunwald said of the three-year, $25.1 million offer sheet that Lin signed with the Rockets. “I’m very happy for Jeremy that things worked out for him personally and his family, and wish him the best. But I’m more excited about our team right now.”
The backloaded deal, which came as a surprise to the Knicks after reports of the Rockets offering a four-year deal with less of a salary cap hit in the later years, motivated the Knicks to consider other options and that’s when Raymond Felton entered the conversation.
“I’m very excited to see how Ray plays this year,” Grunwald said. “I expect he’ll do as well or better as he did when he was here before.”
Felton reiterated his motivation to make up for his lost season in 2011-12, when he admittedly was overweight and out-of-shape. Felton read and heard all of the criticism and clearly still hears the jokes about his weight and his ability.
“I’ve got a big, big, chip on my shoulder,” Felton said.
When asked directly about facing the wrath of fans who are displeased with the team letting go of Jeremy Lin to get him, Felton said, “Jeremy did a lot of good things here, so the fact that [fans] didn’t want him to leave is expected.
• Melo said last spring that he was tired of hearing about how he and Amar’e Stoudemire can’t work together as an offensive tandem. He still doesn’t want to hear it, but he knows there’s only one way to put an end to the cynicism: “Just win,” he said. “Winning is the remedy.”
• Meanwhile, Stoudemire comes into camp at full health after dealing with various injuries over the past 18 months. Amar’e will turn 30 in November and everyone will be watching closely to see if he regains his trademark explosion and athleticism around the rim. Right now, he says, he’s at peak condition, but after all he’s been though, he was careful not to jinx anything. “One thing about health is it’s hard to predict,” Stoudemire said, “but I feel great.”
• Tyson Chandler, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, emphasized his favorite subject in his media address, when he talked about the additions of Marcus Camby and Ronnie Brewer to a team that last season was one of the NBA’s top defensive teams. “We have the chance to be an incredible defensive team,” Chandler said.
• The team has not yet officially announced the signing of Rasheed Wallace, but Grunwald said he expected the 38-year-old veteran to be ready for practice on Tuesday. Wallace was completing his physical on Monday. Few people know this, but Sheed was among a handful of Knicks bigs who worked with Hakeem Olajuwon at the training center in September. He has a long way to go, conditioning-wise, before he will be ready for regular game minutes, but Wallace could become a valuable piece come playoff time.
• Shumpert is aiming for a return anywhere between December and February, which leaves a pretty wide open target. The team has set a more focused timetable for mid-season, or some time in January. In the meantime, Shump is sporting a high-top fade that resembles something Ewing wore in the ’90s. In another week or two, he’ll look more like Christopher (Kid) Reid from Kid n’ Play.
• Brewer, who had minor knee surgery earlier this month, said he is expecting to be ready to join the team for practice in two to three weeks. It will leave him about a week or so to prepare for the season opener.
• And while Steve Novak saw a few friends from last season depart, he kept in touch regularly throughout the summer with one of his favorite teammates, J.R. Smith. It’s an unlikely friendship, but there’s no question the two had chemistry on the court. The two shared the podium at Media Day.
Stay tuned for information on our coverage of Knicks training camp on MSG Network. We have a lot of special ideas in store…