NEW YORK -- The New York Knicks won their arbitration battle with Patrick Ewing yesterday, but it was still unclear whether the All-Star center would be a Knick when the team opens its season in November.
Several hours after the arbitrator, Daniel Collins, ruled against Ewing in his bid to become a free agent, Dave Checketts, the club president, said he would be willing to trade Ewing if the player told him he wanted to leave New York. "I would make every attempt to accommodate him," he said.
But Checketts, speaking from Los Angeles on a conference call, was quick to add, "As of now, we are not openly shopping him."
"The best of both worlds would be if Patrick would come back and play hard," Checketts said.
What Ewing wants isn't exactly clear.
When he filed for arbitration, he rejected a six-year, $5.4 million-a-year contract extension that would have made him the most highly paid player in all of team sports and said he was simply seeking "freedom of choice."
Many people took that to mean that he wanted to leave the Knicks, who have not gone past the second round of the playoffs in his six years here.
In a statement, Ewing did not clear up the matter. "I filed this case to exercise my rights which were granted by the Knicks in 1985," he said. "I am very disappointed by the ruling of the arbitrator. I feel he made the wrong decision. But I know in my heart that I made the right decision to fight for what I believe."
Ewing's case was built around a clause in his 1985 contract that stipulated he could become a free agent if after six years he wasn't among the four highest-paid players in the game.
Yesterday's decision by Collins, a New York University law professor, was that his salary was among the top four.
Asked if it would be easier under the salary cap restrictions to trade Ewing now that he has lost his arbitration case and will have to play for $3.138 million next season, more than $1 million less than last year's salary, Checketts said:
"I don't think it would be difficult at all. Patrick is a franchise player. We would get back players in return and teams would waive players to get a chance at him. But we still want him to be a Knick."
Even so, the Knicks have withdrawn the contract extension.
Had Ewing been successful in his arbitration, he would have become a restricted free agent, meaning that he could accept offers from any NBA team and the Knicks would have 15 days to match any such offers.
Instead, he could have signed a one-year contract with the Knicks for $5.5 million this season (125 percent of his salary last year) and become an unrestricted free agent, which would have given him total freedom from playing for the Knicks, if he so choses, after the the 1992-93 season.
Checketts hopes to learn the reason Ewing chose the arbitration route when he meets with him, "sometime this week or next."