Like Magic, Ewing settles into Orlando; Grant close

He sat there, 7-foot body spilling over a small chair, nervous as a choirboy at a rock concert.

Patrick Ewing fidgeted with his microphone while members of the Orlando Magic -- his new team -- sprinkled on the compliments. He reached up to wipe sweat from his forehead.

"He is clearly a man that has mastered his position," said Magic General Manager John Gabriel, introducing Ewing to the Orlando media. Ewing grinned shyly.

His mastery, honed and chiseled from 16 years of professional basketball, is more blunt now, the effects of longtime dominance. Yet here Ewing is, equipped now with knowledge and pride more than physical ability, trying to fulfill his championship dreams -- and the franchise's -- at the caboose of his career.

Once the NBA untangles its salary-cap knot, Horace Grant will join Ewing in a revamped Magic frontcourt that has now added 30 years of experience.

Ewing signed a two-year contract worth about $4.2 million Wednesday. Grant, who played for the Magic from 1994-99, will soon sign for three years (two years and an option for a third) at more than $7 million.

Whether the acquisitions are smart moves will be decided in November, when the season begins. Right now, the debate is whether the advantages outweigh one disadvantage.

The disadvantage can be explained in two numbers: 38 and 36.

Those are the ages, respectively, of Ewing and Grant. And Ewing turns 39 on Aug. 5.

"First of all, I think age is a state of mind," Ewing said. "Naturally, I'm not the same athlete I was when I was younger, but in some way, I think I'm better than I was then. I know the game better, I'm mentally stronger and tougher, and I feel that I have something to prove."

Ewing averaged a career-low 9.6 points and 7.4 rebounds last season in Seattle, his first year after 15 seasons with the New York Knicks, with whom he harvested his legend. Grant scored 8.5 points per game and grabbed 7.1 rebounds while helping the Los Angeles Lakers win their second consecutive NBA championship.

Judged solely on statistics and names, they represent an upgrade in the front court. Durability is a question because of their ages. Magic Coach Doc Rivers knows he will have to keep watch on both players' minutes if he hopes to have them playing well in the playoffs. Both figure to play anywhere from 15 to 25 minutes per game during the regular season.

"The more minutes, the merrier, but you want to make sure he is fresh not only at the beginning of games, but at the end of the season also," Rivers said. "That is something that is a work in progress."

The only other concern about adding Ewing and Grant is whether it will make the team more of a half-court snail. Rivers said no and figured the fact that the two are good rebounders will help the fast break more.

"Before, we could only run mostly off turnovers," Rivers said. "Now, we know we'll get the rebound instead of hoping to get it."

The NBA and players' union are haggling over what the salary cap should be set at for next season. Most teams had figured the cap would be at about $42.7 million, up from the $35.5 of a year ago. Until the dispute is settled, the figure is at about $35.9 million, causing some teams to stew.

The Magic, because they are at the cap, don't have those worries. They want to split the mid-level exception with Ewing and Grant. The holdup with Grant is that they don't know what that number is. Gabriel is working with an estimated figure of $4.23 million, down from the projected $4.5 million. Ewing was given about half of that, and Grant will get the remainder.

"I'm committed," Grant said Wednesday before leaving the RDV Sportsplex in Maitland. "We just have to cross the T's and dot the I's. I was surprised we couldn't get it done today, but I guess they didn't have to go over the cap. This is home."