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Jewish World Review August 24, 2000 / 23 Menachem-Av, 5760

Mile Lupica

MikeLupica
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A case of cold feet on burning bridge

http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- HOW DO YOU take someone back on the island after you've already voted him off?

The Knicks thought they had Patrick Ewing traded on Monday. It was never the finished deal that all the runaway dot.coms said it was, but all of the parties had agreed. And when you stripped away all the junk in the deal and just looked at it from the Garden, it was Ewing for Vin Baker and Glen Rice. Which is a lot more than the Knicks ever thought they could get for a 38-year-old center.

The Knicks wanted two players, not one, for Ewing, and thought they had them. You can debate all you want whether Baker and Rice make the Knicks a better bet than they already were to get back to where they were in June, the Eastern Conference finals. It is an excellent debate. That is why this was such an intriguing deal for both sides. I happen to think the Sonics, if they had added Ewing and then signed Maurice Taylor, would have gotten the better of it, just because I think Ewing has a lot left.

But the Knicks watched what Orlando did with Grant Hill and watched what Coach Riley is doing in Miami, and decided to finally try it without Ewing. Dave Checketts and Scott Layden, his general manager, now stood with all the Knick fans who believe the Knicks are better off without Patrick Ewing. At a time when the Knicks need rebounding, they are willing to trade their best rebounder. It tells you plenty.

And Ewing, by giving the Knicks that list of teams to which he would be traded, had decided he would be better off without the Knicks. It is why it is impossible to believe that this marriage can be saved. It is clear that Ewing wants to go even more than Knicks want him to go. He probably feels as if voted himself off the island.

Make no mistake, the Sonics were happy with the deal they thought they were making. They know they are taking a risk with Ewing's knees and aching feet and a wrist that has never been the same since Andrew Lang knocked him out of the air one time in Milwaukee. But they also know that through it all, Ewing soldiers on and still gives you nearly 15 points a game and 10 rebounds. If he still got as many shots as he did in the old days, he would still be giving you 20 and 10.

"He's a long way from being through, as far as I'm concerned,'' Seattle coach Paul Westphal said the other day. "He is still a formidable presence.''

The Sonics were already thinking about a starting five of Ewing, Taylor, Gary Payton, Rashard Lewis, either Horace Grant or rookie Desmond Mason out of Oklahoma State. Now they wonder if Taylor, another David Falk client, might go somewhere else because of the mess the four-way deal became, at which point the Ewing-Baker part of this falls apart completely.

This all happens because Joe Dumars of the Pistons, who was supposed to be getting draft choices and money and players he could dump after one year, changed his mind at the last minute. Maybe it was fan reaction. Maybe Dumars saw what happened in Chicago, when they had all that money to spend and all that room under the salary-cap. Except nobody wanted their money.

Dumars bailed and people on both coasts howled and now the Knicks have to find another way to get Glen Rice from Los Angeles to New York or they are going to have to find another team willing to take on Ewing's age and his salary, even for a year.

The Sonics still want Ewing. It is hard to believe they are going to want him forever. They are now in the same spot with Vin Baker the Knicks are with Ewing: They have to move him. Even after a couple of mediocre seasons from Baker, with a contract as fat as he looked after last year's lockout, as soft as he played last season, he is still only 28.

So many people around here can't wait for Ewing to go. No one is sure what he said about a contract extension. No one seems interested that he hasn't asked for a new contract from the Sonics. They just want him to go. Maybe not as much he wants to go. With each year, he grows more tired of being the town pinata. He seems more and more detached from so many of his teammates, even as some of the best them, like Allan Houston, continue to defend him.

When Ewing wonders out loud why the same people who call him the team's third offensive option now -- after Houston and Latrell Sprewell -- still blame him first when the team falls short of a title, he is asking a terrific question.

Maybe it is all the money he has made since Georgetown, more money than any New York athlete has ever made over a career. Maybe it is because he has been as detached from the fans as he is from players in his own locker room. But there are hard feelings here, all around. So a 15-year marriage was called off on Monday, at least before the calling-off was called off.

Patrick Ewing doesn't seem to want the Knicks anymore. They don't seem to want him very much the last couple of weeks. You wonder how this marriage could be saved, if it ever came to that. You wonder where Ewing is supposed to go if he doesn't go to Seattle. This wasn't the Knicks' fault, but for now Ewing must wonder if he got voted off the island of Manhattan, or Gilligan's.


JWR contributor Mike Lupica is author, most recently, of Summer of '98: When Homers Flew, Records Fell, and Baseball Reclaimed America. To comment, click here.

Up

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08/22/00: Best shot just par for course on magical day
08/04/00: Gooden magic is the Dwight stuff
08/03/00: Shea holds fort, Atlanta reloads
07/27/00: Bombers pass on small change
07/12/00: Dealing from strength, bombers laugh last
07/12/00 Under Rocket fire: Too high & tight for Bombers
06/29/00 Deal with it, Bombers will
06/19/00: Sosa whine is not fine
06/16/00: Even for Sammy, can't afford to throw this one away
06/15/00: Go for gold, George. How does Sosa help Yanks? Let us count the ways
06/12/00: Thirty-three is the loneliest number
06/12/00: For starters, Yanks up in arms & age

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