Patrick Ewing deserves a chance to be a head coach in the NBA, and it has little to do with his Hall of Fame playing career. The iconic Knick played in New York for 15 seasons, only three more than he’s be an assistant coach since retiring.
The Sacramento Kings plan on interviewing Ewing for their coaching vacancy, perhaps hoping that he can appeal to DeMarcus Cousins in a way that George Karl couldn’t.
After retiring in 2002, Ewing became an assistant coach under Doug Collins with the Wizards in what was Michael Jordan’s last season. When Jeff Van Gundy, Ewing’s coach with the Knicks, took the Houston Rockets job, he brought Ewing with him. Ewing was with the Rockets for three seasons, on a staff that included Tom Thibodeau. It was also a way for Ewing to help develop Yao Ming for several years.
Then Ewing joined Stan Van Gundy in Orlando and was part of the staff that helped the Magic get to the 2009 NBA Finals. Dwight Howard came into his own during this time, before becoming the question mark that he would become in later seasons. Ewing has been an assistant/associate head coach for the Charlotte Bobcats/Hornets over the last three years.
It’s not as if Ewing struts around expecting a head coaching job because of a legendary playing career at Georgetown and with the Knicks. It wouldn’t be like Clyde Drexler being hired at the University of Houston while he was still playing for the Rockets.
A few things hurt Ewing, through no fault of his own. Very few big men become head coaches, similar to the way that few pitchers ever become managers. Willis Reed was fired in his second year as Knicks coach and later went 33-77 with the Nets. Bill Russell had mixed results with Seattle and then was fired by the Kings after a 17-41 start during the 1987-88 season. Point guards like Derek Fisher and Jason Kidd were considered on-the-court leaders and were able to become head coaches right after retiring. Teams might fear that Ewing’s work with Yao, Howard, and now Al Jefferson in Charlotte, don’t mean as much in what is currently a guard’s game.
Ewing has also been left out by the way that the NBA basically recycles coaches. Sure, the Celtics went outside the box with Brad Stevens from Butler, and the Cavs made the Finals with David Blatt from Israel. For the most part, once you’re in the coaching fraternity, you’re in. Randy Wittman went 62-102 with Cleveland but got another head coaching job in Minnesota. Wittman went 38-105 with the Timberwolves and found himself as head coach in Washington several years later. There’s always a risk that a first time head coach might struggle but is it better to hire someone who struggled elsewhere?
During his playing days Ewing could be surly at times, but that was two decades ago. Ewing the Head Coach would be an interesting move for the Knicks. It would be terrific for the city if he could win, and bring back the excitement that the Garden had in the 90s. Even if he struggled, there might be more patience for him than there would be for Kurt Rambis or anyone else without ties to Knicks of the past.
Phil Jackson’s plan of running the Triangle might hurt Ewing’s chances of coaching the Knicks, but it couldn’t hurt the Kings to take a chance. They don’t have to look at the impressive playing career that might be hurting Ewing’s chances. If a random assistant had a 12-year coaching career under guys like Doug Collins and the Van Gundy’s, he would be an assistant that would have the attention of most teams.
Ewing hasn’t made it a secret that he would like to become a head coach, and when you look around at a lot of coaches in the last decade, it makes you wonder ‘why not’?