Somewhat under the radar during this year's NBA Summer League has been the play of Patrick Ewing Jr., who has come back very strong after a year away during which he recovered from a knee injury.
Junior has been solid in two games (he was a DNP in the SL opener on Sunday) so far and is averaging 9.5 points, 4 rebounds and 2 blocks in 17 minutes per game over two games. In four game with the Magic at the Orlando Summer League last week, he averaged 11.3 points and four boards in 27.3 minutes per game over four games. He is once again showing versatility as a wing player who can be effective in transition and defend with energy and athleticism. He's more of a role player at the NBA level, but an NBA-quality player at that.
This is no revelation. You remember in 2009, the 6-8 Ewing was the last player cut on a Knicks team that opted to keep Stephon Marbury on the roster. That was tough news for the kid, who immediately became a fan favorite and, more importantly, a locker room favorite. He spent that year in the D-League and played well for Reno, which, at the time, was a shared affiliate of the Knicks. When Marbury was finally cut, which opened room on the roster, Ewing Jr. had suffered a knee injury that ended his season.
The knee injury also caused him to miss summer league last year (he was on the original roster) and he still wasn't ready to play come training camp. He took the season off to focus on getting the knee back to full health and get his body ready for another run at the NBA in 2010.
There's no question he has a preference when it comes to playing in the NBA. Pat Jr. wants to play where his Dad played in the city where he grew up. He wants to be with the franchise that, let's be honest, should have his father employed as an assistant coach. It's always great to see Patrick Sr. and he always offers a warm hello. But he won't talk about the Knicks anymore.
"I only talk about the Orlando Magic," he said to me on Monday, when I asked about the LeBron James decision and if he felt James would have been able to handle New York. "The Orlando Magic is the only team I talk about. I've got nothing to say about anything else."
But we know deep down he does still care about the Knicks and will have great reason to care even more if his son earns a spot on the roster. And this year there is no reason why Ewing Jr. shouldn't be on the team. The Knicks have 11 players under contract, plus three second-round picks to consider (though 7-footer Jerome Jordan looks like he could use a year in the D-League). Even if all three are signed, that still leaves one roster spot open under the NBA's maximum allowed. That spot could be for Ewing Jr.
Here's why it might not: The Knicks already have too many wings to begin with and Mike D'Antoni, who generally plays a short rotation of 8-to-9 players, might not want to carry a full roster if it isn't necessary. Donnie Walsh may prefer to have an open roster spot for flexibility -- there's that word again -- in case he has to make a trade that requires the Knicks take an extra player. But in the latter case, Ewing Jr. could be easily waived if he is signed to a non-guaranteed deal.
Of course we're assuming the Knicks will be his only option. If Ewing Jr. continues to play well in these last two summer league games (today against the Pistons, tomorrow against the Wizards), he is sure to get some interest from other teams and could have a choice of training camp invites.
But we know where he'd really like to be and what uniform he'd like to wear.
He wore No. 6 during the preseason in 2009, but that number has been taken. It was supposed to be LeBron's, but instead rookie Landry Fields has requested it. So maybe Ewing Jr. will go with the number that would fit even better: No. 33.
The Knicks need to continue to heal wounds of the past and present. Having Ewing Jr. on the team is just good karma. And it's also good business because the kid is no mascot. He can play.