NEW YORK — There are a collection of players on the Knicks who seem to come from another era, names that seem like they should belong to former players enjoying the spoils of their retirement.
Marcus Camby? Jason Kidd? Kurt Thomas? Kenyon Martin? Rasheed Wallace?
That’s a lot of years on all those knees. But it’s also a lot of experience, a lot of knowledge, things that coach Mike Woodson was looking to add to his team in the offseason. It was a team that had gotten knocked out of the playoffs in the first round in each of the last two seasons, so the Knicks had to find a different way.
That included adding players with birth dates in the early-to-mid 1970s, with ages creeping past the usual for basketball retirement. Both Thomas and Kidd are 40, followed by Camby at 39, Wallace at 38, and the relatively youthful Martin at 35. (And that’s not even including rookie Pablo Prigioni, also 35.)
Sure, some of them have fallen victim to injuries or a shortened bench, but they all added plenty when they played.
When Woodson sat down for discussions with owner James Dolan and general manager Glen Grunwald in the offseason, he said, “We were all on the same page and mind-set that we probably needed to bring some veteran guys in that could still play and help us.”
Woodson knew many of the options, either from working with them directly, or from watching and coaching against them. He was looking for one thing, in particular — defense.
“I was looking for defensive-minded guys, without a doubt,” he said on a conference call Sunday, a day after the Knicks’ 85-78 victory over the Celtics in Game 1 of their playoff series. “All of those guys have been known to defend, and it doesn’t hurt that Kidd can still make shots.
“I was basically looking for guys that had a defensive attitude and an edge about them.”
“We’ve been one of the top defensive teams in the league all year,” Woodson said. “That’s kind of what I was looking for when me and Glen and Mr. Dolan helped assemble this team.”
One of those pieces, Prigioni, wasn’t able to play in Game 1 because of a sprained ankle, a fact that Woodson lamented Sunday.
“Pablo was definitely missed on both ends of the floor,” he said. “We went back and charted our offense. We had some slow time where we were very stagnant.”
Picking up some of that slack was Kidd, who played 35 minutes in Game 1, something the point guard said he had not known would happen.
“I’m just going to play as many minutes as hard as I can when I’m out there,” Kidd said.
The Knicks are unsure whether Prigioni will return for Game 2 Tuesday in New York, with Woodson labeling him day-to-day.
“If he looks good by Tuesday, if he feels pretty good, I’m going to play him because I know what he brings,” Woodson said. “He brings high energy and he knows how to run a team.”
If he does play, that likely will result in the Knicks changing their rotations, with Raymond Felton on Paul Pierce and Iman Shumpert on Jeff Green. That was what the team had envisioned before Prigioni got hurt. Carmelo Anthony ended up with the defensive assignment on Green as Game 1 went on; after Green had 20 points in the first half, Anthony slowed him enough that he had only 6 in the second.
Whoever plays Tuesday, it was clear that Saturday the Knicks benefited from their dip into the stars of yesteryear. In addition to Kidd’s 35 minutes, Martin played all 12 in the fourth quarter with Tyson Chandler slowed in his return from a bulging disk in his neck.
“It makes a world of difference,” Woodson said. “Having Kidd and Kenyon on the floor at the same time really brought us some stability from a defensive standpoint. Kenyon made a couple of nice blocks for us and Kidd got a couple of loose balls, strips for us. Those are all winnable plays to help you win basketball games.
“That was the whole reason for adding those guys to our team, along with the Cambys, the Kurts, the Rasheeds. Those [three] are not playing, but they have played a major role in our success this season.”