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Inside The NBA

No Pat Answers
After failing to dump their veteran center, can the Knicks
fly with a broken Ewing?

When Patrick Ewing was on the verge of being traded to Seattle
in a four-team, 13-player deal last week, the New York Post
never seen such scathing articles," says players association
executive director Billy Hunter. "I can't imagine what the man
has done to deserve such treatment."

The issue no longer is the trade, which was pronounced dead last
Thursday. The issue now is how Ewing will be received if he plays
out the final year of his contract in the Big Apple. Rather than
being feted as the longest-serving Knick in history, he will
likely return as a pariah for his 16th season. Many of the
problems plaguing the 38-year-old Ewing can be traced to his role
as president of the players' union during the NBA lockout two
years ago. His advocacy of the players' exorbitant demands
injured his image. Even more damaging were the 60-hour workweeks
that kept Ewing out of the gym. When the lockout ended, he showed
up for his day job uncharacteristically out of shape. He has been
battling injuries ever since, and the combination of his
fragility and his plodding, feed-the-post style has fueled debate
over whether the Knicks are better off without him.

At first glance, Ewing is an unsympathetic figure: an old man
demanding that he remain the center of attention. In fact,
according to a source involved in the aborted trade, Ewing agreed
to a reduced role with the Sonics. "He feels he took all the heat
in New York," the source says. "He was the scapegoat, even though
he wasn't the focal point of the team. He's taken a lot of flak,
and he's fed up with it."

Central to Ewing's frosty relations with the Knicks is the
collective bargaining agreement he helped negotiate. In the 1990s
New York might have awarded him a contract extension as his gold
watch, but in the new NBA economy it is harder to rationalize
sentimental payoffs. Starting with the 2001-02 season, the Knicks
will face the likelihood of having to pay a luxury tax of one
dollar for every dollar they spend on players in excess of $56
million. The Knicks might be more willing to extend Ewing's
contract if he would agree to accept the salary of a diminished
player who has missed 43 games (including 11 in the playoffs) in
the last two seasons. Ewing is likely balk at that because he
knows that when healthy, he is still among the half-dozen best
centers in the league.

Unless Ewing's agent, David Falk, can broker a trade--a long
shot--one of the greatest Knicks must return to New York knowing
he isn't wanted. In the meantime, his teammates should think
hard about a future without their big man. If Latrell Sprewell,
Allan Houston and other Knicks seemed liberated by Ewing's
absences during the playoffs, it was in no small part because
they weren't expected to go far without him. The countdown has
begun on that free ride: Soon the New York pressure will be
entirely on them. Let's see if they handle it as well as Ewing

Heat Point Still Unsigned
$7 Million the Hardaway?

With the exception of the original Dream Team, in 1992, the NBA
players who have represented the U.S. in the Olympics and world
championships have been accused of playing without passion or
pride. That charge surely won't apply to Tim Hardaway. As the
U.S. Olympic team gathered in Hawaii last weekend to prepare for
Sydney, Hardaway was the only player without job security. Unless
his negotiations with the Heat take a sudden turn--Hardaway's
agent, Henry Thomas, describes them as "stalled"--the veteran
point guard will go to the Olympics without a contract.

At issue are Hardaway's age--he turns 34 on Sept. 1--and health.
His last two seasons have been marred by chronic knee ailments,
leading to a demand by Miami president and coach Pat Riley that
Hardaway improve his conditioning. Before Riley began negotiating
extravagant sign-and-trades that resulted in close to $175
million in contracts for Eddie Jones and Brian Grant (whose
complicated trade from Portland was still pending as SI went to
press), he considered offering Hardaway $7 million for one season
with the idea of keeping the Heat under the salary cap. Now that
Miami is certain to be over the cap for several years, the team
could offer Hardaway a more lucrative deal in recognition of his
years as a cornerstone of the franchise. Too much money for
Hardaway, though, will put the Heat perilously close to paying a
luxury tax in 2001-02, which Riley doesn't want to do.

Miami and Hardaway seem destined to make a deal--no other point
guards on the market are capable of leading the Heat to the NBA
Finals, and there are no other contenders who can offer more than
the midlevel exemption. For the time being Riley seems content to
see how Hardaway plays in the Olympics before deciding how much
he is willing to pay him next season.

Workouts over the last two months with Alonzo Mourning's personal
trainer have dropped Hardaway's weight to less than 200. It's the
first time in years that Hardaway has been at his playing weight
during the summer. In Sydney he won't just be trying to win a
gold medal for his country; he will also be trying to prove that
he can still play at the highest level. If he does that, it will
be good for his bank account and for the U.S.A.

COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO Ewing (right) knows that when healthy he's still one of the league's top pivotmen.

Around The Rim

Jaws dropped in Toronto when new Indiana coach Isiah Thomas
hired Brendan Malone as his top assistant. When Thomas was the
Raptors' executive vice president and Malone was their first
coach, he fired Malone after one season, 1995-96, in an argument
over what Thomas felt was inadequate playing time for younger
players. "Brendan's competitive nature was that he wanted to
win," recalls Thomas. "That's a good thing."...

Thomas is hoping that 34-year-old Rik Smits will return. "His
feet weren't bothering him last year," says Pacers president
Donnie Walsh, who sounded optimistic about his visit with Smits
this week....

Rasheed Wallace is telling friends he'll do whatever the Trail
Blazers ask of him this season. One thing the team may ask is
that he play more center if the trade for Shawn Kemp goes
through--provided that Kemp loses weight and regains the
athleticism that made him one of the league's best power
forwards from 1993 to '98. The Blazers hope that Kemp will be
inspired by Portland assistant coach Tim Grgurich, who had a
close relationship with Kemp when both were in Seattle....

The Mavericks helped blow up the Patrick Ewing trade by
discussing a two-part trade with the Pistons: Dallas would send
them Cedric Ceballos, Eric Murdock and John Wallace for
Christian Laettner; then in October, after the recently acquired
Dana Barros and Bill Curley can be moved again, they'd be
swapped for Loy Vaught, whose contract the Pistons are desperate
to unload.