30 teams in 36 or so days: Seattle Supersonics
September 27th, 2007
Players acquired via free agency or trade:
Kurt Thomas (acquired from Phoenix)
Wally Szczerbiak (acquired from Boston)
Delonte West (acquired from Boston)
Players acquired via draft:
First round: Kevin Durant (2nd overall), Jeff Green (5th overall)
Second round: None
Danny Fortson (unsigned)
Mike Wilks (unsigned)
Randy Livingston (unsigned)
Rashard Lewis (signed and traded to Orlando for way too much)
Ray Allen (traded to Boston)
Andre Brown (signed with Memphis)
It’s rarely the correct move for an NBA franchise to blow the doors of the thing, jack it all in, admit failure and begin again. It takes a special kind of situation to justify it, and the team has to be a victim of a number of extraordinary circumstances.
However, Seattle did exactly that this offseason. And entirely justifiably.
After their fluke season in 2004/05 (oh please, yes it was), Seattle endured two years of nothingness after that, winning 35 and 31 games respectively. In all that time, the prolonged soap opera of the team’s ownership and arena continued to play out – the team was sold to new owners in 2006, who invested in the on-court product (giving Nick Collison and Luke Ridnour extensions totalling seven years and $44.5 million, which seems a bit much), yet who have not particularly well-disguised intentions of moving the team to Oklahoma City. One of the minority owners said as much in August, drawing a big fine from the NBA, but telling us nothing that we didn’t already know. With off-court turmoil and on-court mediocrity, the Sonics weren’t going anywhere, and they weren’t getting there very fast.
But then in June, they won the #2 pick in the lottery.
Suddenly, things were looking up. In a two superstar draft, Seattle just lucked themselves into getting one of them. However, from the second the lottery was decided (if not prior to that), it was apparent that Portland was selecting centre Greg Oden with the #1 pick. That left Seattle stuck with the sloppy seconds that was Kevin Durant – not that there’s anything wrong with those particular sloppy seconds.
What that did do, though, was present a bit of a poser. For Durant plays small forward, the same position as Sonics star (but also Sonics free agent) Rashard Lewis plays.
So were the Supersonics to keep Lewis, keep Ray Allen, add Kevin Durant, and make a strong push out west with a young team with an aging star, a young roster and a loaded conference, or were they to blow it up and start again around Durant?
They chose the latter. And they were probably right.
Dealing Allen to Boston landed the Sonics the dead weight of Wally Szczerbiak, young combo guard Delonte West, and the #5 pick in the draft, which they used on Jeff Green. Whether that was the right pick or not, I couldn’t possibly comment, for I’ve never seen him play. I appreciate that that minor inconvenience shouldn’t stop me from having an opinion, as it certainly wouldn’t for the Charles Barkley types of this world. But maybe I’m just too stubborn to invent an opinion. All I will note, though, is that Green plays the same position (small forward) as does Durant. So unless one can move elsewhere, it seems a bit odd. But anyway, they did all that, and then watched as Lewis agreed to sign with Orlando.
Then, Seattle got a break.
For reasons that I don’t think we will ever know, Orlando decided to give Rashard $30 million more than they ever needed to. They were bidding against themselves, but, fearing that they might still somehow lose, Orlando asked Seattle to help them get Lewis some more money. With exactly $14,844,951 available in cap space after renouncements, the most that Orlando could offer Lewis was a five year, $86,100,713 deal. Strangely convinced that this wasn’t enough, Orlando asked Seattle to sign and trade Lewis to them for the nominal fee of a second-round pick (apparently Seattle wasn’t tempted by Orlando’s generous offers of Pat Garrity and Keyon Dooling), to a deal starting at $14,844,951 and six years in length. The final total was $112,753,504, and so Seattle’s generosity allowed Orlando to make a stupidly oversized deal into a truly insane one. So that was fun.
There was a purpose to it for Seattle, though. By signing and trading Lewis, Seattle got an enormous trade exception from Orlando, whereas in a straight-up signing they would have gained nothing. This trade exception was almost immediately put to good use: the Phoenix Suns, looking to dump salary for no return (unusually for them), traded Kurt Thomas and two first-round draft picks to the Sonics for the same token price of a mere future second-round draft pick.
And just like that, the Sonics’ future on-court prospects were turned around.
With improved financial flexibility for the future – Kurt Thomas’s $8 million expires this season, and the contracts of Szczerbiak and Chris Wilcox combine for $20 million next offseason should Seattle go that route – and some decent young players, Seattle’s future on the court has brightened considerably. It’s almost enough to make you overlook the whole relocation issue.
After all that had gone on, the future of the Supersonics franchise had improved noticeably from where it was four months ago, when the team was losing out to improve their lottery odds. However, the long-term future brings with it a serious short term cost – the Supersonics figure to be one of the worst teams in the league next season, if not the very worst.
All realistic projections have Kevin Durant pencilled in as a superstar right off the bat. But, as of right now, not a lot surrounds him. The point guard duo of Luke Ridnour and Earl Watson have struggled to be consistent on both ends of the floor, and neither emerged as the guy to run the team last year (the edge goes to Ridnour….but he wasn’t that good). The young centre trio of Johan Petro, Robert Swift and Saer Sene have shown flashes of decency, but are still raw and under-producing, with the added hinderance of Robert Swift’s knee surgery to deal with. The power forward spot sees good offence with the duo of Chris Wilcox and Nick Collison, but they offer little on defence (something of a team motif, there). And the off-guard rotation is the worst in basketball – Delonte West is decent, but there’s a wholllllle lotta nothing behind him.
A lot of the aforementioned players are young, and worth keeping. It is worthwhile for Seattle to go to war with these players (and lose), to see what they have for the future. Their future is somewhat rosy, after all – as described above, they have plenty of expiring salary to work with in trades, along with future picks and decent young players. They figure to have a high draft pick coming up in the next draft, and have a new ownership group that has already spent decent money to retaining the team’s younger players.
It does appear, though, as though they’re going to lose next year anyway. The last days of the Seattle Supersonics could well be fairly bleak. As the weakest team in the Western conference on paper, the Sonics need some breakout seasons and immediate impacts from the two rookies to avoid a 50-55 loss season. (And that’s should they even want that.)
The Oklahoma Sonics, though, will be worth waiting around for.
I am continuously intrigued by the esoterica and minutiae of all the aspects of building a basketball team. I want to understand how to build the best basketball teams possible. No, I don’t know why, either.
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