NEW YORK -- Dave Checketts either was too polite or too uncertain about Patrick Ewing's future as a New York Knick to describe the club's arbitration victory yesterday as a slam dunk registering 10.0 on the Richter scale.
But make no mistake. The judicial facial administered to Ewing yesterday by New York University law professor Daniel Collins -- the NBA's independent arbitrator -- could change the face of the Knicks very soon. Checketts, the Knicks president, realizes he may have won the battle by retaining Ewing's rights for the next four years but may have witnessed the outbreak of a cold war should Ewing demand a trade.
"I don't think Patrick is going to be very happy about it," Checketts admitted yesterday. "I'm hopeful that Patrick's response to this will be, 'Let's get going. I want to play.' But I don't know what it will be.
"Whether this will end up in a fairy-tale ending and Patrick will come rolling in, ready to help us go where we want to go with this club, I just don't know."
Ewing had contended his contract allowed him to become a restricted free agent because he was not among the four highest paid players in the NBA on June 1. But Collins ruled that Ewing did rank No. 4 because his contract excluded counting signing bonuses toward "salary compensation."
Even though Boston's Larry Bird will make $7.1 million this year ($4.9 million in a deferred signing bonus) to Ewing's $3.138 million, Bird's base salary is lower. That kept Ewing fourth behind John "Hot Rod" Williams, Hakeem Olajuwon and Michael Jordan.
"I'm very disappointed in the ruling of the arbitrator," Ewing said in a statement released through his attorney, David Falk. "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 in."
The basic question, of course, is whether Ewing wants to remain in New York. Checketts made it very clear yesterday that the $33 million contract extension he had offered Ewing before the center filed for arbitration on June 21 was off the table.
"No, we have not put it back on the table," Checketts said. "We have no plans to do so right now."
Will Ewing sulk now that the blockbuster offer has been shelved? Will he demand a trade? Checketts intends to find out when he meets with Ewing and Falk within the next week.