- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 22, 2000

Patrick Ewing apparently is leaving the Knicks and the critics who only see what he can't do.

Ewing, 38, is no longer the dominating center he once was. His body is betraying him now, and maybe, after he is gone, the Knicks no longer will play as if they sometimes are stuck between the past and the future.

The past is Ewing, the future Allan Houston and Latrell Sprewell, and the Knicks, under Jeff Van Ankle Weight, were unable to blend the two.

So it was Ewing's fault, all of it, especially the disappointing end against the Pacers last spring, and he undoubtedly became tired of defending himself, of hearing and reading that somehow the Knicks were a stronger team if Marcus Camby or even Chris Dudley was in the low post instead of him.

Ewing gave 15 seasons to the Knicks, and for too long he was all there really was to the franchise. He worked hard and played hard, and mostly, he carried himself with dignity and stayed out of trouble, which is no small accomplishment in the NBA today.

Ewing probably finds it amusing that Vin Baker is the other essential element in the 13-player trade. Baker, in some important ways, is the antithesis of Ewing.

Baker has not been himself since he trained at an all-you-can-eat-buffet line during the lockout two seasons ago. He also has had problems with depression, which is no laughing matter and raises the uncertainty around him.

Baker is said to be in top physical condition again, largely because he is a member of the Dream Team that is preparing for the Sydney Games next month. That does not mean he will be in shape at this time next year or in the offseasons ahead.

Baker is 10 years younger than Ewing, which is his most appealing quality. He plays smaller than Ewing, and even plays small for a power forward, and there is no guarantee he will return to his four-time All-Star form.

But the doubt with Baker hardly seems to matter in the divorce-like proceedings between the Knicks and Ewing.

No, this is not how it was supposed to end for Ewing, who is basketball royalty. He was supposed to spend his last three seasons in the NBA with the franchise he has come to symbolize.

Ewing was not the problem with the Knicks, and even in his diminishing-return state, and even with the injuries, he remains one of the best centers in the game, in the top five.

The indictment against Ewing went something like this: The Knicks are a fun, exciting team with Houston and Sprewell pushing the ball up the court. They were a dull, predictable team with Ewing in the halfcourt. They eliminated the Pacers from the playoffs in 1999 with Ewing on the bench in street clothes. They lost to the Pacers last spring with Ewing in the lineup.

No one ever said you can't be successful with both styles, although the Knicks, with Van Ankle Weight in control, could not figure it out.

Hard as it is to believe, being both already has been done, notably by Pat Riley and the "Showtime" Lakers of the '80s. The nickname was misleading.

Magic Johnson ran the fastbreak like no other point guard, but when the fastbreak wasn't available, when it was necessary to be dull and predictable in the halfcourt, the Lakers turned to the fellow with the dull and predictable sky hook in the low post.

When the Lakers won the last two of their five NBA championships in the '80s, in 1987 and '88, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was on the downside of his career. He celebrated two championships after turning 40 years old, and however limited he was by then, he was still an effective, useful player.

Yet the Knicks could not envision what could be with Ewing. They did not want to smooth the rough edges in the relationship. They accepted the list of eight teams from Ewing, one of which was the team in Tony Cheng's neighborhood.

In case you were wondering, Juwan Howard compares favorably to the post-lockout Baker, at least statistically if not contractually, but the Wizards, quiet as ever, stayed out of it.

The Knicks are feeling good with Baker and Glen Rice, looking ahead to a season that won't include the familiar presence in the middle. The Knicks will miss Ewing soon enough, and that only will be fair.

The spin, the tone and mood around Madison Square Garden was not fair to Ewing the last two seasons.

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