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Only six months ago the sun over Manhattan seemed to be shining a brilliant Knickerbocker orange. The Knicks had won the NBA lottery and the right to draft Patrick Ewing, and on that day executive vice-president Dave DeBusschere had pounded the table before him in delight. Five thousand Knick season-ticket holders suddenly possessed the keys to heaven, and 6,000 others would race out to join them. Longtime Knick fans began slipping photos of Willis Reed and Walt Frazier and Bill Bradley and DeBusschere out of their frames and replacing them with brand-new Ewings. You could hear that word "dynasty" being whispered in the spring air.
Other words are being shouted now, like "disgrace," "joke" and "you must be kidding." Through Sunday, the Knicks have been the Nix, winless in their first eight games of the season. They are 0-20 since last March 23 and only four losses away from tying the Cleveland Cavaliers' alltime NBA losing streak. The David Letterman joke is still alive. Did you hear about the new diet in New York? You can't eat until the Knicks win.
The Nix are an amalgam of bad luck and bad management, and unfortunately for Ewing, who has performed heroically, averaging 22 points and 9.3 rebounds per game, and their fans, there's no relief in sight. In retrospect, it's a wonder that DeBusschere didn't chip a bone in his hand when he hammered that table—one of his few decisive actions, incidentally, over the last six months. Consider the state of the Nix at present:
•High-scoring forward Bernard King is home in Franklin Lakes, N.J. trying to rehabilitate the right knee that he severely injured March 23. He never comes to the Garden, either to look in on practice or watch a game. His disinclination to do the latter is understandable. King's last complete game coincided, not coincidentally, with New York's last win—he had 45 points as the Knicks beat the Pacers 118-113. That was so long ago.
•Sweet-shooting 7'1" center Bill Cartwright, who missed all of last season with a broken foot, is sidelined until at least mid-December after having fractured—for the third time—the fifth metatarsal bone of his left foot in an exhibition game. But five years and $6 million are guaranteed in the six-year, $7 million contract the Knicks gave him just before the injury occurred. The Knicks gambled—and lost—that the surgery performed last December by team physician Norman Scott would turn Cartwright back into the 17.0 scorer, .561 shooter he was in '83-84. The word is they signed him only after Scott had told them that Cartwright's foot would be able to withstand the rigors of regular NBA play.
•Steady Louis Orr, a veteran free agent forward who could make Ewing's life easier on offense, is sitting in his Cincinnati home waiting for the Nix to pay him what he's worth. Though DeBusschere offered millions to a medical risk like Cartwright, he has been battling Orr over what amounts to small change. Says Orr's agent, Ron Grinker, "A lot of general managers in the league are chess players, guys who are always three or four moves ahead. The Knicks do not act, they react. They are checker players."
•Instead of signing Orr, the Knicks took the absurd step of tendering New Jersey Nets free-agent forward Albert King, Bernard's brother, a five-year, $3 million offer sheet two weeks ago. King himself motored over to the office of Nets chief operating officer Lewis Schaffel to hand deliver it, his best drive in many seasons. The Nets matched the offer, and though the clubs were still talking about a deal late Sunday, New Jersey isn't about to send Albert across the river for nothing. It's a moot point whether King is more valuable than Orr at any price.
•Frontcourtmen Pat Cummings (pinstriped suit) and James Bailey (leather pants) have joined Cartwright (designer jeans) in an impressive bench fashion show. Cummings has recurring tendinitis in his right ankle and admits he's worried about his future. Bailey has partially torn ligaments in his left knee and will be out at least another two weeks.
•The poor play of the Knick backcourt has nothing to do with bad luck and a lot to do with being plain bad. DeBusschere stands behind the rotation of Rory Sparrow, Darrell Walker and Trent Tucker, which is shooting a collective 38%. The Knicks knew Ewing would need help from a guard who could both shoot from the outside and penetrate, but DeBusschere has not acquired one. Free agent Norm Nixon was practically begging to come to New York; his wife, actress Debbie Allen, is scheduled to open in the Broadway play Sweet Charity next March. But as of Sunday the Knicks hadn't rung Nixon's number, and he was reportedly close to signing with Houston.
Ewing could use some sweet charity. His knees are padded, and his left elbow—hyperextended in an exhibition skirmish with Indiana's Steve Stipanovich—obviously pains him. Tugging constantly at his elbow pad, getting ice in his spare moments, the sweat of defeat racing from every hardworking pore, Ewing sometimes looks more like a 10-year veteran than a rich kid of 23.