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Ball Don't Lie

Patrick Ewing, currently jobless, turned down a chance to coach New York’s D-League affiliate

Kelly Dwyer
Ball Don't Lie

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Patrick Ewing, making a difference (Getty Images)

The initial reaction to news that Basketball Hall of Famer Patrick Ewing was miffed at the suggestion that he coach New York's D-League affiliate was typical, and not without merit. Ewing, who for years has assisted on coaching staffs headed by Jeff and Stan Van Gundy, isn't owed an NBA head coaching spot. A gig as a head man in the D-League is no minor accomplishment, and it would give 30 potential NBA teams a chance to evaluate Ewing's skills at the top of the bench. Add in the New York angle, with former teammate Allan Houston serving as GM of the Erie Bayhawks and reportedly offering Ewing the job, and you would think the hiring would be a logical move, and a strange turndown from Ewing.

Don't kill the guy, though. You can call him pampered or delusional or point out that he may have just skunked whatever chance he had to be an NBA head coach, but just as image is everything to NBA GMs looking for their new coach, it runs the same for Ewing. His coaching game doesn't need any developing, according to Patrick, and he surely sees the D-League as beneath him. Perhaps this isn't Ewing's smartest move, but it's also not as easy a move as you and I would assume it.

First, the report from ESPN New York:

The big man turned down the offer because he wished to remain in the NBA, the source said. Ewing has served as an assistant coach for eight seasons, with the Washington Wizards, Houston Rockets and, most recently, the Orlando Magic.

One source close to Ewing said the Hall of Famer felt a bit slighted by the Knicks' offer to coach the Erie Bayhawks because he has already established himself in the NBA.

"Patrick has paid his dues," the source said. "He was a little insulted."

The Knicks have had several coaching staff openings since Ewing began coaching, but they've passed over the franchise's all-time scoring leader again and again.

Let's set one thing straight. For the health of Ewing's coaching career, an agreement to take over as head coach of the Erie Bayhawks would clearly be the best move.

Even with a blank slate in place, with no knowledge of his playing career, it's always best to observe a coach at the top of the chain, regardless of what league he or she is working in. Time and time again we've seen highly regarded assistants who have done brilliant sideline work fail miserably as head coaches, in ways that go well beyond being handed a chum sandwich's worth of crummy roster to work with. Calling it "a different job" isn't enough, as the gig requires so much more than a clipboard full of X's and O's thunder.

Ewing sees himself as a head coach, clearly, so it's not as if he was worried about being revealed like some other recent failures that made the jump from assistant to head coach. As it is with most great athletes, you can probably rule insecurity out in this instance.

What it probably came down to was the minor-league element of it all. We respect the heck out of the D-League and its employees, but it is a minor league. Orlando, where Ewing coached under Stan Van Gundy from 2007 to 2012, isn't exactly midtown Manhattan; but Erie, Pa., (which, I'm sure, is lovely) ain't exactly Orlando either. Patrick Ewing has been working out of the major leagues, save for a few years post-retirement, since 1985. He probably sees the job as slumming, even if the title itself is a step up.

Even if he's left off an NBA bench this season, even as an assistant, perhaps waiting out Stan Van Gundy's break from coaching. His call.

And we can't blame him for it. Not too much, at least.

Because, really, Patrick Ewing didn't need to be folding his 7-foot frame into an assistant's seat for all those years. He didn't need to be shagging rebounds pregame for backups to the backup. Ewing played in a different era, but his total payroll take as an NBA player rivals even that of a modern star, and it really does take a remarkable love of the game and sense of patience to go from being The Man to another assistant among the dozens that even the most ardent NBA fans couldn't pick out of a lineup. His previous gig was an NBA All-Star center. Their previous gig was lugging the tape machine around.

Again, we don't agree that passing on the Bayhawks job is a good move for Ewing. We just … understand. Speaking as someone who declined to write for free with his own startup blog in between paying jobs five years ago.

Ewing would get paid, of course. And he'd get the love and patience and adoration that only a Hall of Famer can surmise even if the team is struggling to break .500. No, it's not normal for longtime NBA assistant coaches to leave to take on a head coaching job in the D-League; but it's also not normal for NBA assistant coaches to take on a head coaching job in the NBA. There are only 30 of those jobs, and they're usually handed to someone who has already had one of those before.

The Bayhawks haven't announced their head coach, yet, though Allan Houston all but confirmed that they've made a decision as to who they'll pick. Perhaps, after a year off, Ewing will reconsider the D-League.

We'd understand if he doesn't want to, though. Even while disagreeing with it all.

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