Stan Van Gundy's unprovoked rant Monday about the Knicks using Patrick Ewing "to help them sellout the building" was clearly premeditated. Those closest to Ewing know how much it bothers him that other people (see: Isiah Thomas) have had control of a franchise he carried on his shoulders for 15 years and had to watch crash and burn from afar. Give SVG a pass here because he's sticking up for his guy and that's fine.
But for Van Gundy to say "the organization sort of pretends to appreciate him" is way over the top. There is a new regime in place and it's not fair to lump Donnie Walsh -- who is unquestionably trying to do the right thing here in re-connecting the wayward franchise (and it's fan-base, to that matter) to its past -- with those who came before him.
Let's not forget that Walsh said he wanted to speak with Ewing during the coaching search last spring, but Magic GM Otis Smith would not give permission while the Magic were still in the playoffs. The same went for Tom Thibodeau of the Boston Celtics.
Sure, Walsh could have waited and let Mike D'Antoni, clearly the most accomplished and experienced coach available (after Stan's brother, Jeff, said he wasn't interested), take an offer from the Chicago Bulls. But Walsh acted fast, blew the Bulls away and got the man he felt was best for the long-term plan (read: making the Knicks even more attractive for potential star free agents).
D'Antoni immediately said he would be open to adding Ewing as an assistant coach, but would Ewing want to take the job knowing it might mean one of his best friends, Herb Williams, would be out of a job? (Remember, Herb was the only assistant retained from Isiah's staff).
Ewing isn't looking for any handouts. He has put in the work as an assistant coach and has learned from both Van Gundys and Doug Collins. If and when he does get a head job, those who know him best say he will need to make sure he -- like any rookie coach -- hires a top assistant with head coaching experience to help him through game management.
And keep this in mind: like Mark Jackson, who was inches from getting the job, if Ewing was hired to coach the Knicks, he would have had to endure a first season of salary-dump trades (Zach Randolph and Jamal Crawford) in the first month, the Stephon Marbury saga and the pressure to prove he could handle the job (including meeting three times a day with the media on game days...which you know Ewing would just love to do, right?).
I tried to make this point from the very start of the season: this year is more about demolition than it is about making the playoffs. I have debated it all season long, that the playoffs are a nice goal, but with a collection of expiring contracts and an eye on going after star-level talent, this isn't the roster you're going forward with. So don't expect too much.
And so with that in mind, to hire a rookie coach to handle this transition period would have been a disaster greater than anything that has happened this season, including those losses to the Nets and Kings last week.
But for those who can't get over it, let's look around the NBA for a second and consider some of the greatest players of Ewing's era who now have NBA positions:
Michael Jordan - an executive in Charlotte (and previously in Washington) and not in Chicago
Larry Bird - an executive in Indiana (and not in Boston)
Isiah Thomas - with the Knicks (previously with Toronto) and not in Detroit
Dominique Wilkins - a figurehead executive position with Hawks and also a TV analyst
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar - a "special assistant" coach with the Lakers
Magic Johnson - bought a small ownership share of the Lakers, coached them briefly
Let's assume Ewing, who has made it clear his goal is to be a head coach, would not be interested in what is essentially an apprenticeship role that was given to Allan Houston, which is a "special assistant to the president." Ewing wants to coach. If the Knicks invited him on the staff after this season, why would he take it? Why would he leave a star pupil like Dwight Howard and an established team like the Magic? So he can spend a year going early to the gym only to have Eddy Curry blow off their pre-arranged workouts?
[Bloghost note: Full disclosure here - I wrote last season about Curry saying he would love to talk more with Ewing. But we're learning over time that Curry, like many of these current Knicks, are really convincing with their pseudo-sincere rhetoric.]
Patrick's future may be elsewhere, such as in Washington, perhaps, where his coaching career began on Doug Collins' bench. He has an old friend in Ernie Grunfeld, the GM for the Wizards, who should reach out and invite him in for an interview. It would also be a bit of a homecoming for Ewing, who has those Georgetown roots. And there is far less of a media glare there in D.C. and a much better roster (when healthy) that could grant him much-needed success out of the gate.
As for the Knicks, there is major repair work to be done with this franchise, from its present condition to its future and also to its need to mend so many fences of the past. Monday night was an attempt to begin the latter process.