Like the Yankees, Knicks Must Use Age to Their Advantage During Stretch Run
“I haven’t seen a young team win an NBA title in the last 10, 15 years,” Knick head coach Mike Woodson said in July. “If you can tell me one, then so be it, but I haven’t seen one. It’s veteran guys that are winning NBA titles.”
This summer when trying to construct the Knicks roster, General Manager Glen Gruwald built a team to Woodson’s liking, adding antiques Jason Kidd, Marcus Camby, Rasheed Wallace, and Kurt Thomas, who at 40 is the oldest active player in the league.
“I was surprised that they went with not just old players, but ancient players,” said Jeff Van Gundy, NBA analyst for ESPN and former Knicks coach, “but if those guys can hold up and stay healthy, they have something to offer as a collective group.”
Woodson and Grundwald have been saying since day one that the goal is to end the franchise's 40-year Championship drought and you can say that when carefully piecing together this roster, they took a page straight from the Yankees playbook—who better?
The Bronx Bombers are the model franchise of not only baseball, but all of professional sports. Since 1995, they have won 13 division titles and made the postseason every single season except for 2008, winning five Championships in the process.
During their amazing run the Yankees have always been an old team and a large part of that has to do with the philosophy of their longtime General Manager, Brian Cashman. His 2012 group was the oldest one yet, with an average age of roughly 32 years old. The roster consisted of eight players 37 or older and three players in their 40’s.
Other than Yankee icons Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, and Andy Pettitte, most of those older players were spare parts. Cashman rounded out the roster with a slew of former All-Stars, who were all past their best days.
The group of Ichiro Suzuki, Raul Ibanez, Eric Chavez, Andruw Jones, Freddy Garcia, and Derek Lowe looked more like the 2001 All-Star roster, but instead they carved out niches in reduced supporting roles.
In recent years Cashman has been criticized for constructing such old teams, and now the Knicks are being chastised for putting together a roster resembling more of an All-Star team from ten years ago. The ancient players Van Gundy talked about aren’t quite holding up, as Kidd is seemingly running on fumes, and both Wallace and Camby remain sidelined with nagging foot injuries.
There’s no question that one of the main arguments against this Knick team is their age, and that question is something the Yankees have become all too familiar with over the years. But, they’ve fared pretty well for themselves.
“I don’t care if it’s old; I care if it’s good. At the end of the day, these guys are really competitive, they’re good at what they do, they’re great professionals,” an agitated Cashman said when asked about his team’s age after getting swept by the Tigers in the Championship Series.
“We are old. If you’re old and still good, then it’s not an issue.”
As March approaches, the Yankees for a change aren’t the only New York team being scrutinized about their age. The average age of the Bombers projected Opening Day lineup will be an MLB high 33.3 years old, and the Knicks currently have assembled the oldest roster in NBA history, with a mean age of 31.8 years old.
The Knickerbockers surprised many in storming out of the gates to start the regular season, compiling a 19-6 record by mid-December, which qualified as the third best start in franchise history.
However, injuries started piling up, the crisp ball movement slowed, the 3-pointers stopped falling at a record pace, and they finally started showing their age. The early season success has stagnated in recent weeks and the swooning ballclub is now 15-15 during their past 30 games.
Due to their blistering start they still remain atop the Atlantic Division, but their lead has dwindled down to just a game and a half over the Nets, and the Celtics are still lurking at five games off the pace. Many have attributed age to the Knicks nose-dive, and the recent rut is eerily similar to the one the veteran-laden Yankees experienced down the stretch last season.
The Yankees got off to a great start, building up a 10-game division lead by July 18th. Some assumed they already punched their ticket to the postseason, but that’s the tricky part when messing with father time.
The grind of the 162-game season took its toll on the aging Yankees. The injuries started to mount, and the banged up bunch watched as Buck Showalter's pesky Orioles kept chipping away at their division lead.
Baltimore finally caught up to the slumping and ailing Bombers on Sept. 4. However, between then and the conclusion of the season, they tied the Yankees atop the division on ten different occasions, but never surpassed them. During one stretch the Yankees went 19-25, but Joe Girardi’s veteran group picked it up when it mattered, winning 19 of their last 27 games.
"I think having that experience in there when it got to zero no one panicked," Girardi said of the division lead. "They had the same personality every day. The looseness, some of the guys were goofy."
That Yankee team was a battle-tested group like no other, and arguably one of the most accomplished groups ever assembled in baseball history. The locker room was a proud one, full of guys who have been there and done that, remarkably accounting for 826-playoff games, 84 All-Star appearances, and ironically 27 World Series rings.
The Knicks locker room may not be as accomplished, or have the likes of Jeter, Rivera, and Pettitte leading the way. But, they do have the Championship pedigrees of Kidd, Wallace, and Tyson Chandler. They also have a plethora of experience, with a roster accounting for 831 playoff wars.
The road ahead for the Knicks is a daunting one, with 16 of their 29 remaining games on the road, nine back-to-backs, and a brutal month of March, which includes 19 games and six back-to-backs.
After Friday night’s loss J.R. Smith said, "We’re still alive. We’ve still got a heartbeat. It’s just a matter of do we get off the bed or not?"
The team finally showed signs of life in a victory over the lowly 76ers Sunday night, snapping a four-game losing streak, the first such streak during the Woodson-era. The win was a step in the right direction, especially since it started to seem as if panic was creeping in-- at least from the outside.
Many are starting to doubt this aging Knicks team, the same way many began to wonder if the Yankees could hold up during the month of September. During the stretch run of any season it surely helps to have experience on your side, and the Knicks must use their veteran leadership to help guide them through this downswing just like the Yankees did.