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Will Ewing Be $3 Million Rookie? : Even Under Win-at-Any-Cost Theory, He'll Be Very Costly

September 01, 1985|WILLIAM R. BARNARD | Associated Press

Not 1 million, not even 2 million, but 3 million dollars a year. For 10 years. For a rookie.

"If a rookie is worth $30 million, then Larry Bird and I should ask for $90 million," said Magic Johnson, whose Lakers contract calls for $1 million a year for 25 years.

But that's what it may cost the New York Knicks to sign Patrick Ewing, the three-time All-America super center from Georgetown.

"The market changes year by year, so it boils down to a question of value," said Ewing's agent, David Falk, of the Washington-based ProServ agency. "Every case is different. You can't compare players or the contracts they signed in other years.

"If a player like Magic Johnson is unhappy with $25 million dollars, he shouldn't have signed it."

Though no one will confirm that $30 million is Ewing's asking price, it's nearly certain his signature on a contract will fetch in excess of $1.5 million the first year and even more in subsequent years. That would put him in Larry Bird's and Moses Malone's salary territory.

Last year, the Knicks exceeded the $3.6 million team salary cap, which has jumped to $4.2 million for the 1985-1986 season. They still have seven unsigned free agents, who can be signed for any amount to keep them in a Knicks uniform. Dave DeBusschere, Knicks director of operations, will not comment on the Ewing negotiations, but Falks says they are proceeding amicably. DeBusschere does say he doesn't think the cap will handcuff the Knicks in signing other players.

"We'll be able to do other things," he said. "We're not going to be stuck after we're done with Patrick."

Falk said the salary cap is "less limiting in reality than it seems. The cap did not limit the Knicks ability to win as much as the injury to Bernard King."

However, under the cap system, the smaller the contract Ewing signs, the more money the Knicks might have to sign a free agent, such as Utah guard Darrell Griffith.

But Falk scoffs at that idea.

"Our concern is to obtain a contract that represents Patrick's value, not with giving the Knicks cap options," he said. "If they could guarantee a championship season by us taking less money, we would do it in a minute. But what if we took less than his value and still had a losing record?"

Falk said signing Ewing and getting players healthy, like Bill Cartwright and King, who has a serious knee injury, are the Knicks' most important priorities.

"The best way for a team to win a championship is to sign a dominating center," Falk said. "That's the single most difficult resource to find when you're trying to build a winning team."

Falk has a big factor in his favor as the negotiations continue: the Knicks must sign Ewing. Failure to do so would be a public relations disaster comparable to the Boston Red Sox trade of Babe Ruth.

The 7-foot center led the Hoyas into the NCAA finals three times, winning the championship once. Many consider him to be the best defensive center to come out of college since Bill Russell in 1956.

Falk is confident a deal will be made before the Knicks open training camp Sept. 27.

"ProServ has never not signed a first-round pick," he said. The agency has represented about 35 first-round draftees, including James Worthy, Buck Williams, Michael Jordan and Adrian Dantley.

But is Ewing, or any rookie, worth $3 million a year?

In terms of money generated, he could be worth millions to the Knicks.

When they won the seven-team lottery to determine the first pick in the June draft, the Knick's ticket office was caught off guard.

"It was like being hit by a tidal wave," said George Graff, director of season ticket subscriptions for Madison Square Garden. "The fans reacted so quickly that we weren't really prepared. We had no application forms ready and the committee that sets prices hadn't even met yet. We couldn't even give people the charges."

The Knicks have not increased season ticket prices, and in the interim are taking $100 deposits from fans who want to buy them.

During the Knicks' last championship season, 1972-73, they sold 14,000 season tickets; last year, the total was only 6,000. With Ewing's inevitable arrival, the Knicks already have sold between 9,500 and 10,000 season tickets and expect continued sales before the season starts Oct. 26 against the Philadelphia 76ers.

At an average price of $600, an additional 4,000 season tickets this season compared to 1984 gives the franchise a $2.4 million windfall.

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