Ewing is keeping tight lip on future

July 31, 1991|By Bob Rubin | Bob Rubin,Knight-Ridder

The Patrick Ewing saga isn't over by a long shot. Although an arbitrator has ruled against his bid for restricted free agency, key questions remain unanswered. The only one who can answer them is Ewing, and he isn't talking.

"The mind and spirit of Patrick Ewing is in a place I don't know," New York Knicks president Dave Checketts said.

Does Ewing want to continue to play for the Knicks, which management says it dearly wants, or will he ask to be traded, a request management said it would try to accommodate? One New York reporter already has listed clubs -- headed by the Miami Heat -- that might be in the market.

The proposed deal: Ewing for Rony Seikaly, Glen Rice and next year's No. 1 draft choice.

No deal. "We would have interest in Patrick Ewing," Heat partner Billy Cunningham said. "Who wouldn't? But not at that price."

If Ewing decides that he wants to remain in New York, will he try to placate Knicks fans angry over what they perceive to be his greed, ingratitude and dishonesty? Hell hath no fury like a New York fan scorned.

Ewing's public reaction to his arbitration loss isn't encouraging. In a written statement that smacked of defiance, he said, "The arbitrator made the wrong decision. I know in my heart I made the right decision."

Ewing based his case on the contention that he no longer is among the top four paid players in the NBA and is therefore eligible for free agency as stipulated by a clause in his contract, which has four years to run at $3.5 million per year. In opting for arbitration, he turned down a mind-boggling extension that would have paid him $33 million for six years, making him the highest-paid player in all team sports.

Us working stiffs have a problem with someone saying no to $5.5 million per year.

Ah, but money wasn't the issue, Ewing said through his agent. It was "freedom of choice."

No one believes it. People think he just wanted more money.

If Ewing wanted the freedom to leave the Knicks, why didn't he just say so? Other stars in situations similar to his have wanted out and explained why. Ewing could have pointed to the constant turnover in the Knicks front office and coaching staff (if he stays, Pat Riley will be his sixth coach in seven years), the bad trades, the club's inability to surround him with the talent to contend for a championship. He could have said he has given the Knicks his all, but now, as he approaches 29, it's time to move on.

It wouldn't have been popular, and Riley probably would have phoned NBC immediately to see if the job is still open, but at least Ewing would have gotten credit for being honest.

Questions raise further questions. If Ewing asks to be traded, how easy or difficult would it be to move him in light of the hefty bite his contract would take out of a new club's salary cap, thus reducing its ability to pursue other players? Would trading him be good or bad for the Knicks? He's the franchise, but they're in a cap bind because of his salary.

One of the many oddities of the Ewing saga is that he once was an untouchable because the Knicks feared the wrath of fans if they traded him. Now Checketts says people urge him to dump Ewing.

Checketts is in a delicate position. He wants to keep Ewing -- an enthusiastic, motivated Ewing. But the Knicks have removed their monster extension offer from the table and have no plans to revive it. There's no reason to, since, ahem, money wasn't the issue.

Right, Patrick?

"I think when all the dust settles, you will see Dave Checketts, Patrick Ewing and Pat Riley arm in arm, with broad smiles, at the opening of training camp," Cunningham said.

Checketts and Riley are certainly willing. Ewing is the unknown.

Speak, Patrick.

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