Friday, February 22, 2013

Old, Older, Oldest NBA Team: New York Knicks — Old Timers on the Radar

Illustration by Sam Manchester/The NYT; Photographs by Todd Heisler/The NYT & Getty

C’mon, Knicks: Go Bold. Go Old.
by The New York Times

As the N.B.A. trading deadline approached Thursday afternoon, the Knicks sent 27-year-old guard Ronnie Brewer to the Thunder for a draft pick. That left the Knicks with a roster spot to fill, and a few hours later they said they were going to sign 35-year-old forward Kenyon Martin, who has yet to play an N.B.A. game this season. By replacing Brewer with Martin, the Knicks, who started the season as the oldest team in N.B.A. history, got even older. Surely a team that in the off-season signed Rasheed Wallace, a 38-year-old who had been out of the N.B.A. for two years, has more vision than that. Here are some suggestions.

Back to the Seventies

Seeking Big Man with shorts, Man of a Certain Age preferred, even older O.K., full set of teeth not really required.

The Knicks, my team, God help me, had a job opening, having traded Ronnie Brewer, a once ambulatory small forward who transformed himself into a gimpy statue, for a second-round draft pick, which is the N.B.A. equivalent of fish chum. So, how should they have filled that roster spot?

Let’s start with height and age, as the Knicks needed a big man, and ancient is how the Knicks roll. Our big men include Rasheed Wallace, who has been sitting on the bench, listed as “day to day” since 2009 with a “minor” foot problem that could result in amputation. And there’s Marcus Camby, who was injury prone when he was a young stud in the 1990s. Young is no longer his problem.

Why not page Walt Bellamy? He last played in 1975, and isn’t that the point? He’d be hungry to get back into the game, assuming he remembers the game. He was an All-Star, he rebounded and scored, and he was cantankerous, which makes him a perfect roomie for J. R. Smith.

But don’t rule out Nate Thurmond, John Gianelli (Knicks backup center mid 1970s; I rode the crosstown bus with him once), Greg Fillmore (Greg was the 136th pick of the 1970 N.B.A. draft and 7 feet tall, and I had such high hopes — until I saw him play). C’mon, gentlemen, whoever adjusted his hearing aid and got James Dolan on the phone first deserved the job. — MICHAEL POWELL

Shawn Kemp

If the Sacramento Kings move to Seattle, the SuperSonics will get their chance at a comeback. The Knicks could have given a similar comeback to one of Seattle’s signature stars: Shawn Kemp.

The Reign Man was last seen in a 2009 episode of “Pros vs. Joes,” but played professionally as recently as 2008, when he joined Premiata Montegranaro of the Italian League. Although that stint failed to have lasting power — Kemp appeared in just three preseason games — he was reportedly in shape, which should come as a surprise to anyone familiar with Kemp.

A six-time All-Star, he forced his way out of Seattle over contract demands, ate his way out Cleveland, played his way out of Portland and then saw his N.B.A. life peter out in one last season in Orlando. But Kemp has mouths to feed (at least seven of them) and made some waves last season when he described Blake Griffin’s posterizing dunk over Kendrick Perkins as “just a layup,” giving him motivation to play hard for the Knicks.

Even if he can no longer play at the level of a star, at 43 years young he would at least have served as a cautionary tale for Iman Shumpert, a young player with a similar preference for acrobatic dunks and stylish hair. — BENJAMIN HOFFMAN

Stephon Marbury

To consider any other players for an open roster while the greatest point guard of his 
generation, according to him, is available seems like a waste of everyone’s time.

Since leaving the Knicks, Stephon Marbury has led the Beijing Ducks to the 2012 Chinese Basketball Association championship, giving him the winning pedigree that the Knicks desire. His moment of international triumph will live on forever, as a statue was commemorated of his celebration.

The man with a tattoo on the side of his head depicting the logo for his personal sneaker brand (which may or may not still exist in China) was previously an N.B.A. star as well, averaging 21.7 points and 8.1 assists a game for the 2004-5 Knicks, numbers that even Jeremy Lin fanatics would have to admit were strong. Provided the discussion never turned to character, marketability or dependability, it is hard to see how this signing could go wrong.

The real advantage of signing Marbury, however, would be to give the basketball world an opportunity to finally answer the question of who is better: Marbury or Jason Kidd. In a rivalry that seemed to exist only in Marbury’s head, the talkative former star often declared himself superior to Kidd. This would give him the chance to prove it. — BENJAMIN HOFFMAN

Michael Jordan

M.J.! He’s already come back two times, why not a third? He had some of the best games of his career — which is to say, of anyone’s career — at Madison Square Garden. The Double Nickel. The playoff sweeps. That dunk over Ewing. He owned New York without ever living here; think what he could do if he called Manhattan home. Coming back at 50 to play under the glare of New York’s brightest lights would have been a bold move. Perhaps a foolish one.

But Jordan, “the best there ever will be,” as the statue says, is nothing if not bold, and some of his post-basketball moves certainly qualify as foolish. He would have instantly been the biggest celebrity in a city jam-packed with them, making our interest in A-Rod and Tebow look like silly dalliances. We would have watched Jay-Z squirm as he struggles to square his lyrics (“I’m the Mike Jordan of recording”) with his Nets allegiance. He’s already got his steakhouse in Grand Central, one of the city’s finest landmarks. Why not set up shop in a far more exciting temple across town? — SAM DOLNICK

Walt Frazier

The Knicks are no strangers to signing aged superstars. It’s what they do. So why don’t they throw it all the way back and give Walt “Clyde” Frazier a look? All that yoga and the off-seasons in St Croix have surely kept him limber and relaxed. His vocabulary is certainly stronger than ever. Maybe his teammates would be the beneficiaries of his altruistic percolations. Maybe together they could have bedeviled overzealous opponents and found themselves rejuvenated and omnipresent in the second half. What about rhyming? Do the Knicks have any capable rhymers on their roster? Maybe he could have initiated some huffing and stuffing. Or even some swishing and dishing. Even at his advanced age he surely could have helped them outhustle and outmuscle a lackadaisical opponent.

With the trend in sports toward alternate jerseys, Frazier’s sartorial instincts might also have come in handy. How about a cow-print shooting shirt? Maybe a new wildcat patterned away ensemble from Mohan’s Custom Tailors for the stretch run? The possibilities are endless. It might have even be worth it just for the postgame spreads at Clyde Frazier’s Wine and Dine. It’s within walking distance from the Garden and the pan-roasted mahi mahi sounds delicious. — FRED BIERMAN

Latrell Sprewell

Spree! He was the last good thing to happen to the Knicks, the rare player whose attitude managed to embody the city’s spirit. He was scrappy, elbows and arms flapping every which way along with his braids. He led a not very good team, an eighth seed in the playoffs, to the N.B.A. finals in 1999. He would have added some swagger, some surprises, and sure, some menace, to a team that can look as if it’s sleepwalking some nights. He would probably have gotten along famously with J. R. Smith. And let’s be honest, he needs a break. He was arrested on New Year’s Eve in Milwaukee for disorderly conduct after neighbors complained that his music was too loud. It’s safe to say that if Spree moved back to New York, the neighbors would not complain. That was only the latest setback for the would-be savior — his home was foreclosed a few years ago, he’s had serious tax problems, and the U.S. Marshals auctioned off his 70-foot yacht. So we would be saving him, just as much as he would be saving us. New York at its finest. — SAM DOLNICK

Jeff Van Gundy

He was known to guzzle Diet Cokes on the sideline. He wouldn’t crack six feet in heels. And his best-known move on the hardwood involved riding the leg of a rival’s star center during a brawl.

But the Knicks could use Jeff Van Gundy, their 51-year-old former head coach, who once starred at Nazareth College in Rochester, leading the team to the 1984 N.C.A.A. Division III Eastern Regional championship. Though a news article from 1996 appraised Van Gundy as “slight” and “unheralded” as a player, his 87 percent career free-throw percentage at Nazareth would place him third on the current Knicks — second among those without a full head of hair. (Sorry, Jason Kidd.)

Knicks fans will recall that the Van Gundy-led teams of the late-1990s paid more than occasional mind to defense. He must also be commended for having the foresight to resign as coach in 2001, evading the imminent decade of losing, the Isiah Thomas era and the hoops trinity of Eddy Curry, Jerome James and Jared Jeffries. — MATT FLEGENHEIMER

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