Knicks and Celtics Swapping Places

by Steve Simineri
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AP || Charles Krupa

Knicks Using Celtics Blueprint for Success

Last season the Boston Celtics went on to surprise many in getting to the Conference Finals, then taking Miami to a seventh game. Boston’s aging big three of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen were in year five of an original three year plan, and most media members declared their title window closed.

The team battled through age and injury during the regular season, but the proud trio went on to have an honorable last run together. The five-time defending Atlantic Division champion Celtics entered this season with a different look than years past, but to the delight of coach Doc Rivers they dropped the distinction of oldest team in the league, as the Knicks assembled the oldest roster in league history.

“They surpassed us as being the oldest team. We enjoyed that — being called the new, young kids on the block. But all of them can play, all have great knowledge. I think they’ll help them,” Rivers said about New York’s anti-youth movement in October.

Over the summer Knicks General Manager Glen Grunwald drastically retooled the roster, with the understanding that the franchise has a three-year plan of their own to win a Championship with their own aging "Big Three."

The team’s core of Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudemire, and Tyson Chandler may seem like spring chickens in this Knick locker room, but not by NBA standards, as they are respectively going into their 10th, 11th, and 12th seasons in the Association.

The trio’s contracts run out after the 2014-2015 campaign, and when carefully piecing together their supporting cast over the summer Grunwald took a page straight from the Celtics playbook.

For the last few years Boston has proven that age doesn’t matter, and now the Knicks are out to prove that age is indeed just a number -- as Mike Woodson’s group has a mean age of 31.6 years old.

During the five-year run made by Pierce, Garnett, and Allen, Celtics General Manager Danny Ainge surrounded them with a slew of veterans, who accepted smaller roles and less money for a chance at a coveted title.

In the first year when they won it all, Ainge brought in warhorses Sam Cassell and P.J. Brown, who played big parts in bringing Boston their first title since 1986. During the following four seasons, Ainge signed veterans: Stephon Marbury, Michael Finley, Rasheed Wallace, Shaquille O’Neal, Jermaine O’Neal, Troy Murphy, Delonte West, Carlos Arroyo, and Keyon Dooling.

This off-season Ainge stayed the course, adding vets: Jason Terry, Jason Collins and Leandro Barbosa. But those guys seem like youngsters compared to the nine new faces brought into New York by Grunwald.

During the off-season, the Knicks added four of the six oldest active players in the league and the league's two oldest rookies, aging the locker room by a mean of just under five years. The additions included former All-Stars Jason Kidd (39), and Rasheed Wallace (38), who are shells of their former selves, but know what it takes to win from their days in Dallas and Detroit.

In a reunion of sorts, the team brought back big men Marcus Camby (38) and Kurt Thomas (40), who are the last two active players from a veteran Knick squad that made a surprising run to the finals in 1999. Each move made the Knicks older than the Celtics, but the question is did it make them better?

Last Thursday the Knicks seemed to finally get over one obstacle, winning their first game in Beantown since Nov. 24, 2006, when the team was led by Marbury, Steve Francis, and Eddy Curry.

When showing highlights of that game TNT Commentator Steve Kerr said, "that feels like it's from a different generation." The Knicks have a lot of work to do before proving anything, but seeing Curry and Marbury was a reminder of just how far the Knicks have come.

As these old Knicks reach the midway point of the season, they seem to be holding up just fine – sitting second in the East. Heading into the season, critics thought the Knicks roster was too old but Woodson’s veteran laden crew is proving to fit a recent NBA trend.

Of the last eight NBA champions, all but the Lakers had at least five players age 31 or older on the payroll. This current Knick squad has five players over 35 and eight that are at least 30. But, for Woodson that’s a good thing.

"Young guys," as he likes to say, "are not winning titles."

The Knicks have taken a calculated risk in assembling such an ancient roster, but the advanced age is only an indicator that these Knicks are all-in.  

"We gotta win now, because we do have guys whose clock is ticking,” Woodson said. “We all have something to prove."

The Knicks have learned the hard way though, that having a lot ‘old guys,’ makes for a lot of work for the medical staff. The team has already lost over 140 games worth of action as Anthony, Stoudemire, Shumpert, Wallace, Kidd, Camby, Raymond Felton and Steve Novak have all missed time due to injury.

Even with the injuries the Knicks have supplanted Boston as not only the eldest team, but atop the Atlantic as well. New York is currently 2.5 games ahead of the Nets, and 7 games in front of Boston, who sit eighth overall in the Conference.

It may only be January, but for the time being it seems as if the two rivals have swapped places. In the four years prior to last season Boston had won the Atlantic by an average of 17 games, but the Knicks’ 36-30 lockout-induced record a season ago was just three games off first.

For the last few years Boston has been the butt of all senior citizen, AARP, and retirement home jokes. They have also been the class of the Atlantic and Miami’s biggest challenger in the East, but now the Knicks are the old dogs leading the Atlantic, who may represent Miami’s toughest obstacle.