Friday, August 29, 2008

And, the Son of (the) Man Shall Be Our Savior...Or, He Shall Come Off Our Bench

Knicks Acquire Patrick Ewing, Jr.

In a very welcome and very surprising move, the New York Knickerbockers have acquired the son of the greatest (or second or third greatest depending on who you ask) player ever to tread the boards for the home team in franchise history. The offspring of soon to be Hall of Famer Patrick Ewing was picked up from the Houston Rockets today in exchange for, and you won't believe it, the rights to the 1999 draft pick and forever draft-joke Frederic Weiss of France. Not only is this the greatest-possible karmic move ever considering the way last the Ewing we had left town (traded to Seattle rather than given a one-year deal and being allowed to retire as a lifelong Knick) and the unmitigated disaster that was the drafting of Weiss with the 15th pick in '99, but I think that it also makes sense both on and off the court.

Ewing Jr. was drafted by the Sacramento Kings with the 43rd pick in this year's draft after being named the Big East Sixth Man of the Year during his final year at Georgetown University. He was then part of the Ron Artest deal and found himself traded to Houston, where he was unlikely to find a spot in the rotation due to a glut of forwards. In a strange, and I guess meaningless side note, Jr. was also drafted with the top overall pick (in their own private draft) by the Harlem Globetrotters in July. The 6-foot, 8-inch Ewing Jr. is as athletic as they come (which is why the Globetrotters were so high on him) and nearly as a hard a worker. Growing up in his father's large shadow he seems to have learned from an early age to know his place and find his role. Unlike most uber-gifted athletes he doesn't have a history of getting ahead of himself or trying or do too much. He plays like a guy who is at the office rather than a guy who thinks he's too good to have to work. Having grown up around professional athletes and seeing his father encased in ice after every game in the final third of his career he knows what happens when the flashbulbs aren't popping and how much grit and determination it does take to play in the Association.

All of that being said, he received one of only two perfect scores at the 2008 College Slam Dunk Championship and is a guy who I really thought was as a nice late sleeper pick as the draft was approaching. He's a role player. And, he knows it. In fact, he embraces it. This a rare thing these days and I think that mentality puts him ahead of a lot of young players who waste their early careers trying to become a star instead of just trying to take the smaller opportunities being offered them. Aside from the fact that I think Jr. has a chance to be a legit contributor on an NBA roster as an on-the-ball defender, the guy who pushes the vets and the starters in practice (which can't really be taken for granted), and an energizer off the bench, this move shows that new GM Donnie Walsh and new coach Mike D'Antoni get it.

This move shows that they already better understand what it is to be a part of this organization than their predecessor ever did. Under Isiah Thomas there was no effort to make connections to franchise history beyond the league-mandated and financially-driven occasional wearing of throw-back jerseys every few weeks. Thomas wasn't making overtures to former players (or their kids) and there was a night when Charles Oakley was sitting courtside and never even appeared on the big screen above the court for fans to see him in the house. Obviously I don't think Thomas was running the in-house video display that night - after all, he was barely running the team on the court - but that sort of disregard for the fans and the Knicks past was indicative of the cult of personality that Thomas was hoping to build. He didn't want to be upstaged by guys with the last names like Ewing or Oakley or Starks or Frazier or Reed. He wanted this to be his show all the way. And, ultimately it was. Right up until the point when that show was cancelled for being utterly unwatchable.

Walsh and D'Antoni know that even if Jr. ends up not sticking on the roster past this season or if he really can't crack the rotation that the goodwill boost alone is worth it. They will get credit for trying this. And, the first time the Garden PA announcer hollers "Two points, Paaaa-trick EWWWWWing" the fans will go absolutely wild. I know I will.