No Pat Answers
After failing to dump their veteran center, can the Knicks fly with a broken Ewing?
When Patrick Ewing was on the verge of being traded to Seattle in a four-team, 13-player deal last week, the New York Post proclaimed PATRICK'S LEGACY: EGOISM, WHINING AND CHOKING. "I've never seen such scathing articles," says players association executive director Billy Hunter. "I can't imagine what the man has done to deserve such treatment."
The issue no longer is the trade, which was pronounced dead last Thursday. The issue now is how Ewing will be received if he plays out the final year of his contract in the Big Apple. Rather than being feted as the longest-serving Knick in history, he will likely return as a pariah for his 16th season. Many of the problems plaguing the 38-year-old Ewing can be traced to his role as president of the players' union during the NBA lockout two years ago. His advocacy of the players' exorbitant demands injured his image. Even more damaging were the 60-hour workweeks that kept Ewing out of the gym. When the lockout ended, he showed up for his day job uncharacteristically out of shape. He has been battling injuries ever since, and the combination of his fragility and his plodding, feed-the-post style has fueled debate over whether the Knicks are better off without him.
At first glance, Ewing is an unsympathetic figure: an old man demanding that he remain the center of attention. In fact, according to a source involved in the aborted trade, Ewing agreed to a reduced role with the Sonics. "He feels he took all the heat in New York," the source says. "He was the scapegoat, even though he wasn't the focal point of the team. He's taken a lot of flak, and he's fed up with it."
Central to Ewing's frosty relations with the Knicks is the collective bargaining agreement he helped negotiate. In the 1990s New York might have awarded him a contract extension as his gold watch, but in the new NBA economy it is harder to rationalize sentimental payoffs. Starting with the 2001-02 season, the Knicks will face the likelihood of having to pay a luxury tax of one dollar for every dollar they spend on players in excess of $56 million. The Knicks might be more willing to extend Ewing's contract if he would agree to accept the salary of a diminished player who has missed 43 games (including 11 in the playoffs) in the last two seasons. Ewing is likely balk at that because he knows that when healthy, he is still among the half-dozen best centers in the league.
Unless Ewing's agent, David Falk, can broker a trade—a long shot—one of the greatest Knicks must return to New York knowing he isn't wanted. In the meantime, his teammates should think hard about a future without their big man. If Latrell Sprewell, Allan Houston and other Knicks seemed liberated by Ewing's absences during the playoffs, it was in no small part because they weren't expected to go far without him. The countdown has begun on that free ride: Soon the New York pressure will be entirely on them. Let's see if they handle it as well as Ewing did.
Heat Point Still Unsigned
$7 Million the Hardaway?
With the exception of the original Dream Team, in 1992, the NBA players who have represented the U.S. in the Olympics and world championships have been accused of playing without passion or pride. That charge surely won't apply to Tim Hardaway. As the U.S. Olympic team gathered in Hawaii last weekend to prepare for Sydney, Hardaway was the only player without job security. Unless his negotiations with the Heat take a sudden turn—Hardaway's agent, Henry Thomas, describes them as "stalled"—the veteran point guard will go to the Olympics without a contract.
At issue are Hardaway's age-he turns 34 on Sept. 1—and health. His last two seasons have been marred by chronic knee ailments, leading to a demand by Miami president and coach Pat Riley that Hardaway improve his conditioning. Before Riley began negotiating extravagant sign-and-trades that resulted in close to $175 million in contracts for Eddie Jones and Brian Grant (whose complicated trade from Portland was still pending as SI went to press), he considered offering Hardaway $7 million for one season with the idea of keeping the Heat under the salary cap. Now that Miami is certain to be over the cap for several years, the team could offer Hardaway a more lucrative deal in recognition of his years as a cornerstone of the franchise. Too much money for Hardaway, though, will put the Heat perilously close to paying a luxury tax in 2001-02, which Riley doesn't want to do.
Miami and Hardaway seem destined to make a deal—no other point guards on the market are capable of leading the Heat to the NBA Finals, and there are no other contenders who can offer more than the midlevel exemption. For the time being Riley seems content to see how Hardaway plays in the Olympics before deciding how much he is willing to pay him next season.