Knicks 'zzone

Newsday's Al Iannazzone takes you inside the Knicks.

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Youth must serve, not be served

 The last time the Knicks were a successful franchise with a winning record (2000-01), not a single member of this roster was in the NBA. Only three -- Eddy Curry, Amar'e Stoudemire and Roger Mason Jr. -- were around to know the Knicks as a marginal playoff team in 2004.

This is as much a disturbing reminder of just how long it's been here in New York as it is an example of just how young this group will be when training camp opens for what the franchise hopes to be a new era next Saturday at the MSG Training Center.

The Knicks (average age of 24.6 years) currently have one of the youngest rosters in the league, with only six other teams -- Timberwolves (23.4), Nets (24.0), Thunder (24.1), Kings (24.2), Wizards (24.4) and Grizzlies (24.5) -- with a younger roster. Note that out of those six teams, only one (OKC) made the playoffs. 

Neither did the Knicks, who last season averaged 25.4 years of age on opening night. Over the past decade of decadence (Motley Crue reference...\oo/...(that's the "rock on" emoticon)), the average age of the team's opening night lineup dropped steadily from the apex of 29.9 years (2001-02). 

But the 2010-11 team will mark the youngest group the franchise has assembled to open a season in 30 years and fifth-youngest in franchise history. According to research compiled by the Elias Sports Bureau, you have to go back to Red Holzman's second stint as coach in the early 1980s, when the 1980-81 team, comprised of phenoms such as third-year star Michael Ray Richardson, supersophs Bill Cartwright and Sly Williams and three rookies, including Mike Woodson, averaged 24.5794 years of age. 

[That team, it should be noted, won 50 games (but lost in the first round to the Chicago Bulls, who, apparently, had your number then, too, Fixers)]

Most of that group comprised the roster from the season before, which happened to be the youngest team in franchise history, according to Elias, at 24.1827 years of age.

Youth can be the new broom that sweeps clean a troubled franchise such as this. These are players still hungry to make their mark in the NBA, not recycled veterans looking to finish off their last big payday and tune out a coach on the hot seat. So maybe Curry -- who, as far as I am told, has yet to show up at the MSG Training Center for pre-camp workouts with the rest of his mates -- is the last piece of that woebegone era the Knicks hope is truly gone. [But I contend that even Curry has too much to play for (only his career and his family's financial health) to pay postage on this season before it even begins.]

Stoudemire, the headline star, will turn 28 in November. He's ready to begin his ninth NBA season and, by virtue of games-played (especially when you count playoff games), he is the most experienced player on the roster. And yet this is sort of new to him, too, because this is his first season as The Man. In Phoenix, he had two-time MVP Steve Nash, who was considered the leader. But Amar'e matured through his years in Phoenix and it'll be interesting to see how he emerges into a leadership role with the pressure of the big, bad New York media focusing on him.

But while Amar'e will be the marquee, discerning eyes will be on the team's two youngest players, Danilo Gallinari (22) and Anthony Randolph (21). With less than three NBA seasons of experience combined (205 total games played), both are barely housebroken. But when it comes to the potential success of this Knicks team, in the dawn of this new era, both are just as important as Stoudemire and point guard Raymond Felton (who, by the way, is just reaching his prime years at 26 and still has plenty to prove).

If either or both can reach their pre-draft potential, the Knicks should easily make the playoffs and, more importantly, would immediately be one of the up-and-coming teams in the league. Then, of course, is the 800-pound gorilla in the room: the desire for a quicker rise to elite status to contend with the dynamic Heat (average age: 27.9 years), the loaded Magic (27.2) and the venerable Celtics (27.4) by acquiring another superstar such as Carmelo Anthony and/or Chris Paul in the near future.

We know the Knicks don't have the assets to get either player right now, but if Gallinari and/or Randolph make the next step in their careers over the coming season, it would present the ultimate dilemma for Donnie Walsh and Mike D'Antoni to consider: do you continue to let this grow or do you trade for the immediate upgrade?

It's certainly a good problem to have.

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* - I can't help but smile when I get emails and Facebook messages from Fixers in need of a Fix. You're all anxious for the season to begin with training camp just a short week away. We're back on the clock officially and will get things started with our first LIVE CHAT in almost two months scheduled for Tuesday at noon. The Fix will be buzzing all week leading up to Friday's Media Day and then Saturday's first practice of the season. Remember to follow me on Twitter (twitter.com/alanhahn) for up-to-the-minute information through camp, the trip to Europe and, of course, the coming season, and join Fixer Nation on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Knicks-Fix/193370609200.

 

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