IPPOLITO: Ewing’s Legacy Bolsters Coaching Qualifications
The Water Cooler

As the NBA playoffs continue, at least four NBA teams are unsure of who their head coaches will be for the 2016-17 season. The New York Knicks and the Houston Rockets both had interim head coaches after firing Derek Fisher and Kevin McHale, respectively, during the middle of the season while the Sacramento Kings and Los Angeles Lakers currently have vacancies. For all those who will be considered to fill those four spots, there is also one man who craves that opportunity but will almost definitely not receive it.We know him well because is one of our own: Georgetown legend and NBA Hall of Famer Patrick Ewing.

For nearly 15 years, Ewing has been sitting on NBA benches as an assistant, but he has yet to receive serious consideration for a head coaching position. Ewing deserves an opportunity to interview for these vacancies, and several teams should find his background and skill set appealing.

One potential reason people believe is holding Ewing back is the perception that he is primarily a big man’s coach. In a league where small ball is the hot trend and teams like Golden State are reaping the rewards, teams do not want to hire a man who made his living in the paint backing down other 7-foot centers. Yes, Ewing’s coaching skills have shown brightest with big men; Dwight Howard’s spectacular playoff performances in 2009 were greatly assisted by Ewing’s work with him and in Charlotte, where Ewing currently works as an assistant, his work with rookie Frank Kamisky is beginning to show dividends in the playoffs.

Even if one falsely assumes that Ewing can only coach big men because he was one, that should lead the Knicks and Kings to express particular interest in hiring Ewing. The Kings’ DeMarcus Cousins is one of the NBA’s best centers, is only 25 years old and is under contract for two more seasons. One knock on Cousins is that he is difficult to coach and publicly clashes with authority. To counter that, one particular strength of Ewing’s is his ability to build relationships with players and relate to their situations.

Who better to relate to an All-NBA talent who feels frustrated or misunderstood than Patrick Ewing — a man who spent 15 years dealing with the New York media and the constant pressure of trying to deliver the Big Apple a title while battling the dynastic Bulls and the feisty Pacers year in and year out?

For the Knicks, bringing Ewing back to New York would be more than just a public relations move; it would give Kristaps Porzingis, the Knicks’ rookie phenom, access Ewing’s knowledge of his position. If Porzingis is the future of the Knicks, few coaches could accelerate his development like Ewing could which would give the Knicks part of what they need to climb out of the NBA lottery and into the playoffs.

Ewing also does not just work with big men and post players. He studies all facets of the game and understands basketball holistically. Suggesting a former center cannot understand the point guard position but a former guard can understand the power forward of center position is both untrue and nonsensical.

Another reason teams could have passed on Ewing is because there are simply better candidates. For the most part that seems to be plausible. Former point guard Jason Kidd has done a fine job with the Milwaukee Bucks and former Spurs assistant and current Atlanta Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer have proven to be quality hires for their respective teams.

For every Kidd or Budenholzer, there is a Derek Fisher or Kurt Rambis — a successful player who won championships but could not transform a team into a contender. Fisher played under 11-time champion head coach Phil Jackson and Rambis was a player for the Showtime Lakers and an assistant in LA for 13 seasons. From a results perspective, both are mediocre head coaches at best.

Fisher was fired in the middle of this season and won under 30 percent of his games as Knicks head coach. Rambis was the head coach of the Timberwolves from 2009 to 2011 and was promptly fired after winning a combined 32 games in those two seasons; Rambis took over after Fisher’s firing and promptly finished the season winning nine of 28 games. In a way, it is hard to imagine Ewing doing worse in either New York or Sacramento.

For the last three decades, Patrick Ewing has been a student of basketball, either as a player or coach. He has played under some of the best minds at both levels and worked under quality coaches during his time as an NBA assistant. The next logical step for him is to be a head coach. Sacramento or New York just needs to pick up the phone and call — he will be waiting. 

MichaelIppolito_SketchMichael Ippolito is a junior in the College. This is the final installment of The Water Cooler.

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