Sunday, July 08, 2007

Where are the Sonics today?

I believe the word is transformation. The upheaval of the roster and the movement to the new era of Sonics basketball is nothing short of spectacular.

The hard part is to evaluate the moves. Nothing with this franchise is happening inside of a basketball bubble other than maybe the moves of Sam Presti. Therefore, for all of us who are desperate for basketball to stay in Seattle (Count me in) it adds a different tint to the glasses by which we view the moves.

One issue can't be forgotten. The team won 31 games last year and its best player was a shooting guard who if history follows its usual course should be on his downward trend.

When the previous basketball front office built the team the hope was that as Ray began to fade, Rashard would be at his apex and be able to pick up the burden of being the man. It could be argued that was close to taking place. Unfortunately, the cast around those two didn't develop into the championship supporting cast in enough time.

My feeling last season was that throughout the year, somewhat due to injuries, somewhat due to the roster make-up, players were out of their rightful spot in the basketball universe. Players will only succeed if they are in a position where they are being asked to do things they are capable of and too often they were being asked to do more. In any sport, when asked to do more a player usually slips behind what they are capable of. That is the essence of sport. That is the essence of roster building.

Would Kevin Durant put everyone back into their basketball universe? That had to be the debate and clearly the belief of this ownership and Sam Presti is no.

Therefore, we start the new era. The team has been turned over, by choice (trading Ray) and by circumstance (Rashard free agency) and is being built entirely around Kevin Durant.

Has this ever worked? Has anyone in NBA history drafted a player and immediately replaced the core of the team. Did it work? Yes, I am in the midst of researching this. Suggestions are welcome.

Wins will be hard to come by in the opening years of the Durant era if the roster stays the same. That is the reality of the NBA. In LeBron's first year the Cavs won just 35 games and the team had Ilgauskas and Boozer. Patrick Ewing won just 23 his first year. Jordan won 38 and Iverson won just 22.

At the same time a culture and a method of how to play and how to build the team will be installed rather than trying to create a quick fix that is fools gold and that is a step in the correct direction.

Specifically to the Ray Allen deal. Ray is one of my most favorite players to watch so I am totally biased. I understand the decision. It is not the move of idiocy in any manner, rather the opposite is true, it makes sense. In addition, Ray is a dominant locker-room personality and if you don't believe he matches the culture then you have to move him. On the flip side, I am not sure he will age the same way other guards have in the past. He is meticulous in his training and professionalism and it will pay off.

Losing Rashard hits me in the gut more because he was Seattle's than because of basketball. We watched him grow and develop. He told me last year, "I feel like Seattle is my mother and I am her son." Again, the turnover of the roster makes sense considering the season last year. If Rashard is going to get max money you have to believe unequivocally that he is capable of being the #1 guy on a team that goes to the Conference Semi-Finals. I love his development, I like the person a ton and I am not sure how I answer that question.

With all that said, the issue is how long will it take? Has it worked before and can it work this time? Most importantly, what does it mean for basketball in Seattle long term?

And that is the issue that blurs all thinking.

Share your thoughts in the comment zone.


RJ said...

Will be interested in what you find about the 'tear down" process.

On the new construction side and just looking at the core, I found in rough terms recent (last 10 years) championship team won titles in third of fourth year their 3 or 4 key building blocks were together. Do the Sonics have all their true core on board yet? Probably not. If not the clock for successful progression to payoff hasnt started yet. Just the clock for searching for the right combo. Which never ends most places.

Will want to see Durant/Green with Wilcox and Swift and I guess Collison too (though maybe he goes back to 20-25 minute PF?) That might work for scoring, floor balance/ball movement, rebounds, defense. At least it is a half decent idea on paper to look at for awhile and evaluate.

Too early to see which guards they go with in longterm. Ideally I think you'd want a penetrator and a shooter with average defense or above. West/Wally or Watson/West are among the possible starting points but wont be the end point.

Sonics Man said...

Great Article Locke, many people will crucify the team for the moves but I think you should judge these moves in 2 or 3 years. That is when we will know if they worked. Next year if this team struggles to win they will call for Sam Presti job and say that trading Ray and losing Rashard was a mistake. The Reality though is that you have to give it time. The Sonics fans of today are not use to the word rebuilding but that is what it and you have to approach it with understanding.

Anonymous said...

I think most successful NBA teams are built thru a combination of developing young stars and veterans. The Sonics in the early 90's had Ricky Pierce, Eddy Johnson, Derrick Mckey, Nate, then added Kemp, Payton, Spurs had David Robinson, Sean Elliott adding Tim Duncan, The Jazz had a few nice pieces then added Stockten and Malone. Lakers added Magic Johnson to a team that had Kareem.
I cant think of one team that blew it up went young and were any good for a long time, Dallas with Jason Kidd, Jimmy Jackson, Bulls after Jordon retired come to mind! For the next few years as the sups struggle were going to hear every off season we need to bring in some veteran players to help Durant out!

Dawgfan1980 said...

The dominant teams over the years all have the "Super Star". Go down the list, and it is less about veterans or rookies, it is about having the alpha dog who can do two or three things at an A level, and then finding the guys, whether they be young or old who can do the other things at an A-/B+ level. Durant is a guy who can score, who can get rebounds, and has that killer instinct. Jeff Green is a great support player, who will be able to score without having plays run for him, and make everyone on the court better.

Three years from now is when this draft will be judged, much like the Ridenour and Collison picks. The other beauty is that Durant is definitly #1 from day one, so if he is mentally strong enough, he will know his role, and Green steps in as #2. The other beauty is that they both are players that can play 2 or 3 positions in a classic NBA. The question becomes do they get production out of Swift or Petro or have to go another direction with the lottery pick next year? Hopefully we will be able to see this team in 2010 in Seattle, when they will be poised to make a run.

courtsense said...

So long, Ray. Good luck in Boston.
So long, Rashard. Good luck in Orlando.

Hello, Sonics fans. Your luck has finally changed.

The reality is, with the lone exception of the surprising 2005-2006 squad which pushed the Spurs to 6 games in the second round of the playoffs, the Sonics have been in a slow-but-steady state of decline for about 8 years now.

In hindsight, things started going sideways for the Sonics in 1999, when they re-signed Vin Baker to a maximum contract. The exhilarating run of success that began in 1989 when the Sonics drafted Shawn Kemp, and which crested in 1996 with a NBA Finals defeat at the hands of MJ's Bulls, ended when the Sonics went against all better judgement and gave Baker a 7-year deal. The length and weight of that contract became an instant albatross, and the years since have not been kind to this franchise or its loyal fans.

From Barry Ackerley's obsolete arena deal to Howard Schultz's recurring 5-Year Plan; from Wally Walker to Rick Sund; from Calvin Booth to Danny Fortson; from all the non-impact draft choices to The Bobs - Weiss and Hill...when does it ever stop?!

Well, it’s finally stopped. It stopped several weeks ago when Clay Bennett finally did something right and hired Sam Presti as the team's new GM. Apparently Sam’s one of the few people in this town who still recognizes the smell of **** when he steps in it…and boy, did he ever step in it. Sam took the Sonics GM job knowing full well that he was going to have to blow this thing sky-high before he could get down to the business of building a winner. I salute him for having the balls (not to mention the acumen) to actually follow through with it, because Sam had to know going in that casual fans and idiotic observers alike would abandon ship as soon as he made his first move. But Presti did it anyway, dropping his first bombshell on draft night, when he traded Ray Allen.

Many people have suggested that the Sonics should have just added Kevin Durant to a team already featuring Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis, and that surely that trio of “superstars” would not only keep the fans thoroughly entertained with their high-scoring/high-yield hijinks, but would ultimately “save” the NBA in Seattle. Riiight…there’s just one problem - there’s only ONE true superstar in that trio. Ray Allen is a fantastic scorer, and by all accounts a great individual - but he isn’t a true superstar in the sense of a player who can frequently will his team to victory. Rashard Lewis is a solid 3rd wheel on a good team, but he’s nowhere near being an NBA superstar - not now, not ever, never. Yet, even despite Ray Allen's shortcomings as a defender and a superstar, I've never had a problem with Ray getting max money - because his one special skill was so incredibly beautiful to watch that you just couldn’t say no to him.

Rashard, on the other hand, arguably doesn't deserve anything more than 3rd tier money - let alone max money. But with his departure for Orlando now imminent, we can summarize Rashard's attitude toward staying in Seattle thusly: 1) he doesn’t want to stay and finally show some leadership by mentoring Kevin Durant and Jeff Green; and 2) he doesn’t want to play 2nd fiddle to Durant; but 3) he still wants superstar money. Wow - you gotta love a guy who doesn’t want to lead, and refuses to follow - but still wants to get paid like he’s carrying the team. Like the bumpersticker says, "Lead, Follow, or Get The Hell Out Of The Way." Rashard Lewis is now out of the way.

To my way of thinking, there are 3 types of players: the first kind says “I’LL do it.” This is the classic superstar mentality - for the Sonics, it was Gary Payton, and it will be Kevin Durant. The second type says “I’ll HELP you do it.” That was Detlef Schrempf, and it will be Jeff Green. The third type says “YOU do it.” This is Rashard Lewis at his finest - HE doesn’t want to do it, he doesn’t want to help YOU do it, but he wants to get paid as if he did it. Priceless, indeed!

Sam Presti had to blow this thing up, and he’s doing it. This was a team that with Ray and Rashard leading the charge has barely managed to play .500 ball for the past 4+ years. It wasn’t going to get better with them, and the sooner the Sonics move beyond that, the better off they’ll be. Ray Allen is a shooter without equal. Rashard Lewis is...what exactly? Kevin Durant will be...a top 5 NBA player, perhaps at multiple positions! That's the kind of player you build around - you don't add that player to a "shoot-first/ask questions later" mix of Allen and Lewis. And Sam Presti knows that. In his public statements, Presti has preached the need to build a team around defense, teamwork, culture, and accountability. Translation: the team won’t need to score 120 points to win, every player will know their role and who The Man really is, every player will be expected to give equal effort at both ends of the floor, and the only goal is to win championships.

Kevin Durant is going to turn this town and this league upside down within the next couple years…and Sam Presti is not going to stop cleaning the Sonics' house until that ****** smell is gone. So get used to it! If you’re attached to players like Chris Wilcox, Johan Petro, Damien Wilkens and Earl Watson, you might want to start saying your long goodbyes now, because chances are they won’t be here when the team gets really good…which in all likelihood will be sooner than any of the casual fans and idiotic observers think.

Prediction: Kevin Durant will win an NBA championship before Ray and Rashard ever even get to the Finals. And the Sonics roster today is not the roster of Opening Day 2007. Does anyone with a brain really think that Sam Presti’s only plan all along was to re-sign Rashard Lewis and then hope for the best? That there’s no contingency plan or preparation whatsoever going on behind the scenes? If you really believe that, then please jump off the ship when Lewis leaves, so those of us with a vision of a brighter future can watch the rebuilding process unfold in peace.

It sounds bizarre, but even without Allen and Lewis, and with a roster chock full of youngsters, the Sonics may be closer to winning a championship today than they were when the season ended a few months ago. They might even be as few as 2 key players away from being a major surprise next season. The addition of either a quality point guard or a quality shooting guard - especially when combined with the departure of Wilcox and Petro - and the Sonics become much-improved defensively, more unselfish offensively, and a much deeper, more balanced team. Even if they don't improve on last year's dreadful 31-51 record, and wind up back in the lottery again next year (as Portland recently did in Year 2 of their rebuilding process) the Sonics will still be ahead of the curve they were stuck on with Ray and Rashard's history of acceptable mediocrity. Kevin Durant and Jeff Green are only going to get better, and until Durant is ready to consistently take over games, it's all about Presti methodically putting the right pieces in place. I'd say he's off to a solid start.

Anonymous said...

If Durant is to achieve what is hoped for or expected he will have be tough and avoid injury problems and really show full effort on defense instead of resting. Right now there are indicators to support hope for great results down the line.

D Wade is only player drafted since 2000 who you could say deserved half or more of the credit for team championshp leadership. Between now and 2015 I'd guess 4, no more than 6 teams win championships. Will Durant be one of the leaders to achieve that among everybody in the league? And how many of those titles will go to pre 2000 leaders? It wouldnt surprise me if 3 of the next 5 titles go the older stars before the new generation breaksthru strongly. 2011,2012 Durant competing against teams led by James, Amare, maybe Yao, Wade,Boozer/Williams, Howard,Arenas, perhaps Oden and a few others. Doable with smart GM and strong coach.

Anonymous said...

I guess to cover more of the 2011, 2012 and beyond title contenders I should add Bosh, Deng, Gasol, Paul, T Parker maybe without Duncan by then or with a diminshed version of him.Maybe Portland isnt really the Greg Oden story, and I dont think it is the Brandon Roy story but it could be a team story like the Pistons if Aldridge comes on. Frye, etc.

Anonymous said...

Any chance of your going back to KJR? You are missed.

Jeremy said...

Here's the thing. I think people are more interested in this Sonics team than last year's because there's hope of something beyond mediocrity.

The group led by Ray and Rashard was a lock to play historically bad defense and wind up with a lottery pick.

Finally, the team is trying something new, moving to start emulating the successful franchises in this league.

Anonymous said...


You make some really good points but great teams can re tool and still be competitive. Whats wrong with a 7 seed next year 4-5 seed the year after that then maybe the finals? There are no quarantees that Durant and Green are going to be anything more than nice NBA players. Kevin Garnett has been a great player but Minnesota hasn't gone very far in the playoffs, Tracy MCcrady hasn't got out of the first round and thats with Yao Ming in Houston and Vince Carter in Toronto. Durant has been compared to Both MCcrady and Garnett. I hope Presti's plan works but he needs to add another star player to this team that can take pressure off Durant while he is developing and keep this team competitive. I believe rebuilding plans are for losing organizations. Remember 2 years ago with good coaching this team won 52 games with Ray and Rashard proven NBA players, maybe adding Durant and a new coach and a few less injuries might of been enough to send this team on a nice 5- 6 year run. Instead people are saying hey in 3-4 years were going to have a good team.

Sonics Man said...

To much pressure on Kevin Durant already!!!

Jeremy said...

Re: retooling

The 1 team that made the playoffs was more of everything breaking perfectly right than it was an indication of the true talent of that mix of players.

They got career type years out of Jerome James, Vlad Radmanovich, Antonio Daniels, Luke Ridnour, Danny Fortson, Reggie Evans and Nate McMillan. Those guys played at or near their best years all at once.

Having a team that would have been built around Ray, Rashard (assuming he even wanted to resign) and Durant would have had a difficult time competing for the championships.

I would rather turn the reigns over to a couple guys who have been working in a model organization and build the team on proven principles than a gimmicky plan that has proven to be unsustainable

Anonymous said...

It's hard to defend anything Sund and Walker did in the last few years but I'm sick and tired of hearing what a model organization the Spurs are! They had the good fortune of being gutted by injury's in I think 1997 and landed the first pick Mr Duncan. You take him off that team and there just another team trying to get out of the first round! I want to see Poppovich win one series with out Duncan. Phil Jackson was a genius with Jordan, Pippen, Shaq, Kobe. I hope Presti turns this team around and we win 4 titles in 5 years but to say he's building this team on proven principles is Tim Duncan traded to Seattle and I didn't hear about it?

Anonymous said...

Locke, thanks again for your contributions. Next to some ex-girlfriends, your voice is at the top of my most-missed list.

Has this ever worked out? My synapses fired and immediately brought to mind the Celtics and how they closed the 70's. It was a team that had no direction, bad contracts and horrible attitudes.

The star, or at least the front office thought, of the team that closed the 70's was McAdoo, he played 20 games and was not the same player from Buffalo. JoJo White was a year from retirement and Dave Cowens was two years from trying to find himself. Digregorio, Kermit "One Punch" Washington, Sidney Wicks, Curtis Rowe, Dave Bing and Billy Knight were all run through the Celtics roster in '78 and '79 and the team only won 30(?31?) games one year and 29(?28?) the next. It was a disaster until Larry Bird was drafted.

Can Kevin Durant be Larry Bird? No, Larry Bird was a once in a liftime player. But, the Sonics are in a better position now with a somewhat clear direction.

Finally, I love Rashard and still remember the nite Westphall started him alongside Payton and ran the lane like Pippen (If he just had the jimmy back then). But he went from Shawn Marion money to Kevin Garnett money and I know he's not The Big Ticket.

Enjoy CA Locke and the Locketts.