Patrick Ewing thinks he'd be a 'great fit' to coach the Knicks

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After 13 years as an assistant, Patrick Ewing's eager to show he can run his own show. (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
After 13 years as an assistant, Patrick Ewing's eager to show he can run his own show. (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Patrick Ewing is a Hall of Famer who was named one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History, a Georgetown graduate who developed into one of the most skilled offensive and defensive centers of his era, and who since his retirement has spent more than a decade working as an assistant on the staffs of respected coaching lifers like Doug Collins, Jeff Van Gundy, Stan Van Gundy and Steve Clifford. And yet, nearly 14 years after hanging up his high-tops, Ewing has interviewed for NBA head coaching jobs only twice: with the Detroit Pistons in 2011 (they went with Lawrence Frank, whom they fired two years later) and with the Charlotte Bobcats in 2012 (they went with Mike Dunlap, whom they fired one year later before hiring current coach Clifford).

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Ewing has made no secret over the years about his desire to become a head coach in the league in which he starred for 15 years, making 11 All-Star teams and seven All-NBA teams, and finishing in the top five in MVP voting six times as a member of the New York Knicks. On Wednesday, after the Charlotte Hornets club on which he currently serves as Clifford's associate head coach knocked off the Knicks at Madison Square Garden, the 53-year old 7-footer renewed his public wish for a chance to lead an NBA team ... like, for example, the one that retired his jersey in 2003, that currently employs an interim coach, and that may (or may not) be in the market for a new long-term solution this summer. From Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News:

“You know, this is a great fit for me. I have my number up there (in the Garden rafters). I still live in the area,” Ewing said. “If I get an opportunity for an interview I’d be happy.” [...]

“I’ve been doing this, what, 13 years now? I see people who don’t have the same amount on their resume as I do and still have gotten opportunities,” Ewing said Wednesday.

Those comments echo sentiments Ewing shared last month in a revealing and wide-ranging chat with Adrian Wojnarowski on The Vertical Podcast with Woj: "It is what it is. Naturally, I would love to be back in New York. I still have a home there. In the offseason, I still get to go back there. My kids are still in that area. But I guess it's not meant to be."

Ewing emphasized to Woj that he's happy to be in Charlotte, where he's worked with Clifford for friend and Hornets owner Michael Jordan for the last three seasons, helping the club make two playoff trips in three years and evolve into one of the league's most balanced teams and best stories this season. But just like most other assistants, Ewing still dreams of one day getting to run his own show.

"It is my goal to be a head coach, and if the Knicks called me and offered me that position or offered to give me an interview, I think it'd be great," he told Woj. "I've played there, I'm one of their best players, my numbers in the rafters, and I think it'd be a great fit."

The Knicks did call Ewing to offer him a job nearly four years ago, but it was to coach the D-League's Erie Bayhawks. He declined that offer, which he viewed as a slight and a "step back" after feeling he'd already established himself as a viable coaching prospect at the NBA level.

That might not have been the wisest move for the former star — as our Kelly Dwyer wrote at the time, sometimes NBA decision-makers feel they need to see someone work as a head coach somewhere, dealing with all the responsibilities and issues that arise when you're at the head of the bench, before feeling comfortable pulling the trigger on even the best-regarded assistants.

That's not always the case, though, and it hasn't been in several high-profile situations in recent years — most notably Mark Jackson and then Steve Kerr with the Golden State Warriors, Jason Kidd with the Brooklyn Nets, and Derek Fisher with the 'Bockers, all of whom walked off either a broadcast setup or out of a locker room and into an NBA head coaching job, all while Ewing was doing his due diligence as part of helping Van Gundy or Clifford prepare their clubs for the next night's opponent. Why did they get the openings that Ewing hasn't?

"I really don't know. I can't really put my finger on it," Ewing told Woj. "Could it be that, one of the things when I first came into coaching, which I told Jeff, is that I didn't want to be pigeonholed into being a big man coach? That could be it. People just perceive me as a big man's coach. Some people think big men can't think, that guards are the ones who are the floor general, and they don't really see that the center position, we're the floor generals also. We're the ones who are barking out calls on the defense. Back when I played, I called out the offensive signals also."

Clifford suggested to Howard Megdal of USA TODAY Sports last year that Ewing — so famously vocal and demonstrative on the floor during his playing career — might at times help himself by showing a bit more willingness to beat his chest and toot his horn about his post-playing career:

"He's not at all a self-promoter," [said] Clifford [...] one of many of colleagues who try to compensate by going out of their way to speak on Ewing's behalf. "We were together in Houston and in Orlando. And both times, when Jeff called him to come to Houston, and Stan called him to come to Orlando, his big thing was, 'I'll come as long as I'm doing everything everybody else is doing.' A lot of guys don't want all the work. He embraced all the work. But I don't think that story gets out there because he doesn't worry about it." [...]

"He's a great communicator with the players," Clifford said. "He has a ton of knowledge. And he communicates with them in such a way that it isn't just about, say, a jump hook. He establishes relationships where he really coaches them."

At this point, as he's been for more than a decade, Ewing's just looking for the chance to establish more of those relationships.

"In terms of teaching or learning, I don't think that just because I'm a center or a forward or a guard, that makes me a better coach than anyone else," he told Woj. "I just feel that if given an opportunity, that would show if I'm good or I'm bad. I just want the opportunity to prove — to see one of them. There have been a lot of coaches in this league who have been successful, and there have been a lot of coaches in this league who have failed, but they have gotten the opportunity.

"I haven't been given the opportunity yet. Until I get that opportunity, all I can do is continue to work, continue to learn and show everybody that I have a passion for this, for coaching."

Despite the tremendous amount of goodwill it would engender with a long-suffering fan base that has come to appreciate Ewing even more in the years since he left New York than it did during his days in orange and blue, it feels unlikely that the opportunity will come with the Knicks this summer. Whether or not Ewing could credibly teach and run the triple-post offense, Knicks president of basketball operations Phil Jackson may well only have eyes for longtime assistant and current Knicks interim head coach Kurt Rambis, and if he chooses to look elsewhere, there figures to be a deep pool of well-established NBA head coaches on the market who might take spots ahead of Ewing on the line.

Even so, given Charlotte's rise under Clifford, the role Ewing has played in helping the Hornets develop talent on both ends of the floor, and the evident strength of the Pat Riley/Van Gundy coaching tree, it'd be neat to see Ewing get at least another interview or two for open positions this summer. Whatever reservations a team might have, at this point, there doesn't seem to be any doubt that Ewing has paid his dues, knows his stuff and can get through to his players. The only way we'll find out if he can do the other stuff — the CEO-level work of juggling basketball operations and business-side responsibilities largely demanded by today's head coaches — is for him to get in the room with the folks who sign the checks so he can make his case directly to them.

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Dan Devine is an editor for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at devine@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter!

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