The air is thick with the scent of weirdly placed irony in the city of Charlotte tonight. Patrick Ewing, the Knick legend that hasn’t been a part of the organization since being traded to the Seattle SuperSonics in the late summer of 2000, will make his long awaited head coaching debut on Friday. The Charlotte Bobcats associate head coach will lead his team up against the visiting New York Knicks.
Ewing, who has been pining for a head coaching slot throughout his assistant coach stints in Washington, Houston and Orlando, will replace Bobcats head coach Steve Clifford for the evening. Clifford was admitted to a local hospital on Thursday night, and had two stents placed in his chest after he experienced chest pains. Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Clifford will return to the Bobcats bench on Monday.
Patrick talked up the oddity, and Clifford’s unfortunate condition, with the assembled scrum on Friday morning. From the New York Post:
“It is strange,’’ Ewing said after shootaround at Time Warner Cable Arena, surrounded by mostly New York media. “Especially against seeing all you guys here. I can see the writing on the wall right now.
“He’s just wasn’t feeling well and is in the hospital getting tests,” Ewing said. “Hopefully he’ll be back for the game tonight, but we have to prepare as if he’s not. My emotion is all about Cliff and the team. Cliff is a dear and good friend of mine. I’m concerned for his health, safety and well-being. We have a great staff assembled here, so if he does not make it, myself and the rest of the staff will carry on until he comes back.’’
Clifford has worked alongside Ewing at two different outposts, and stand alongside Patrick in wishing the Bobcats’ rookie head coach well.
This is still a co-incidence to end all co-incidences. Ewing turned down a gig running the Knicks’ D-League affiliate, the Erie Bayhawks, in a controversial move in the summer of 2012. That role would have allowed teams to watch Patrick’s day-to-day routine as a head man to judge his NBA head coaching merits, but Ewing (whom one can say is happily entrenched in major league travel routines, dating back to the mid-1980s) saw it as a step down.
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After a year away from the NBA in 2012-13, Ewing returned as Bobcats associate head coach, but not after his son lamented the lack of interest in his father as 13 new head coaches (and nine rookie head coaches, including Clifford) were hired during the 2013 offseason. Both Ewing and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (a Hall of Fame center who also chased a head coaching job in the NBA for years) were borderline bemused but respectful as they discussed what was a strange NBA summer recently.
Obviously Clifford’s health is of paramount importance here. The longtime respected assistant has the Bobcats humming with a 3-2 mark and an above-average defense, and though this is the team’s second consecutive relatively hot start (former coach Mike Dunlap led the Bobcats to a 7-5 record last year before finishing 14-56), there is room for optimism in Charlotte. The Bobcats will be working without injured center Al Jefferson tonight, but they’ll be going up against an injured and thin Knicks squad that is coming off its first player-initiated team meeting of the season. Never a good sign.
Yes, Andrea Bargnani will start at center tonight for the Knicks, and Patrick could probably pull in a double-double on the converted small forward. Good thing for New York that Patrick Ewing has another role to follow through with on Friday night.
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