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Thread: 4-22-04

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    Member Ragnar's Avatar
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    Default 4-22-04

    Sonics' shake-up coming this summer?

    By Chad Ford
    NBA Insider
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    Patience.

    That was the buzzword last fall at the Sonics' first training camp without Gary Payton in 13 years.

    "We've been flirting with the rebuilding process for several years," Sonics GM Rick Sund told Insider in October. "But this is the first year that you can say that we're fully into rebuilding."

    The Sonics faced an interesting dilemma last summer. They knew they had a ton of talent -- Ray Allen, Brent Barry, Rashard Lewis, Vladimir Radmanovic and first-round picks Nick Collison and Luke Ridnour. What Sund wasn't sure was how it was all going to fit together.

    Privately, Sund was hoping both Lewis and Radmanovic would take the next step toward stardom. Lewis had put together two nice seasons in a row, but under the wilting glare of Payton, he had never shown much leadership. Radmanovic, who happened to play the same position as Lewis, was asked to take the lead at power forward after Collison went down with a season-ending shoulder injury early in training camp. Should both of them emerge, Sund thought, the Sonics would be a playoff team with a bright future. If they failed?

    "We know we need three stars to have a real chance at competing in such a tough conference," Sund said in October. "Obviously Ray Allen is a superstar. Rashard Lewis has shown us that he's a very good player on the brink of becoming a star. We need one more guy to step up. This year we've got to see if that guy is here. If he is, great. If he isn't, we'll have to go get him next summer."

    Now next summer is here -- for the Sonics, anyway -- and the jury is still out.

    Allen put up superstar numbers but acted at times like an abused diva. Lewis looked awesome in Allen's absence. He scored 25 and 50 points in two October games, then posted a career-high 18.9 ppg in November. After Allen's return, though, Lewis' numbers starting falling off fast. By April, he was averaging just 14 ppg and 3.8 apg. Radmanovic was in a similar boat. He averaged 14 ppg and 6.3 rpg in November. In March? 9.9 ppg and just 3.8 rpg -- not too good for a power forward.


    Ronald Murray
    Shooting Guard
    Seattle SuperSonics
    Profile


    2003-2004 SEASON STATISTICS
    GM PPG RPG APG FG% FT%
    82 12.4 2.5 2.5 .425 .715

    However, no one suffered a second-half breakdown quite like Ronald Murray. With Allen out for the first 18 games of the season, Murray, an unheralded second-round pick in his second year in the league, came out of nowhere, averaging 20 ppg for the first six weeks of the season. He rebounded, dished out assists and looked like a lock for the most-improved player award. Once Allen returned, though, his minutes and numbers were cut in half. By the end of the season, everyone, including coach Nate McMillan, looked frustrated and worn out.

    After the season Allen and Lewis were both convinced it was time for the team to make the changes necessary to get a "beast" down in the post. Allen spoke of taking a pay cut to get it done. Lewis acknowledged the Sonics might have to trade him. Barry, a soon-to-be free agent, had a different request.

    "I don't think it's a change in direction, it just needs to define the direction," Barry said. "This year, we seemingly tried a few different styles of play, at least those were the ideas that were floated around. It's about committing to what direction you're going to go to, and then putting all your energy, harnessing all your energy in that one direction."

    That sounds like a direct dig at McMillan. If it was, it wasn't the first.


    Ray Allen
    Shooting Guard
    Seattle SuperSonics
    Profile


    2003-2004 SEASON STATISTICS
    GM PPG RPG APG FG% FT%
    56 23.0 5.1 4.8 .440 .904

    Allen also took a dig at McMillan, saying that, "I thought we were very inconsistent all year. A lot of times we didn't know what we wanted to do as a team. This team, going into next year, we're a running team. We play well when we run. When we play fast, when we get up quick shots."

    That raised McMillan's blood pressure. In his season-ending press conference, he lobbed a few bombs back in Allen's direction.

    "This season was more a year of developing, and I don't think Ray Allen understood that. I think he was playing to play. We've talked about our style changing, I think it did change at times some this year. But it had to. We had to slow it down because at the beginning of the year, our turnovers were high. So, yes, we did talk about changing, slowing down, to concentrate, focus, on the half-court part of the game, and Ray being an All-Star, he should be able to adjust to that."

    The in-fighting has led to enormous speculation. Over the past week there have been rumors that owner Howard Schultz is looking to sell, that Sund will leave for the Raptors, that McMillan is on the hot seat and that Allen, Lewis and Radmanovic are on the trading block.

    Suddenly, that patience Sund and the team possessed in October now seems in short supply.

    How much patience can the Sonics have? Here's a look at what to expect as Insider continues its summer blueprint series.

    Sonics Summer Blueprint

    Other blueprints: Free agents | Bulls | Warriors | Clippers | Magic | Celtics | Blazers

    DRAFT: The Sonics continue to get roughly the same draft spot every year. This year they are tied for the 11th spot in the draft lottery along with the Warriors and have a 0.9 percent chance of winning the No. 1 pick. Over the last few years that slot has produced Corey Maggette, Radmanovic, Ridnour and Collison. Not too shabby.

    The problem for the Sonics is the pick is just low enough to keep them from drafting what they really need -- a big-time big man. Collison was supposed to fill that role last year, but a shoulder injury kept him out all season. Even with a healthy Collison, the Sonics know he's one of the pieces of the puzzle ... not the piece.

    This year the power forward/center crop is fairly deep, but there are no sure things this deep in the draft. The power forwards left on the board tend to be young, international players who'll need more experience. Latvia's Andris Biedrins, Brazil's Tiago Splitter and Serbia's Kosta Perovic could all be here. All have great upside, but none could give immediate help or address the team's long term needs for blue-collar toughness. Minnesota's Kris Humphries could be an option here, but he's not that much different from Collison.

    The center prospects at this point will be Siberia's Pavel Podkolzine, Sebia's Peja Samardziski, BYU's Rafael Araujo and Colorado's David Harrison. Araujo's the most ready but has the smallest amount of upside. Podkolzine is huge, but he's at least two years away. Harrison bears a striking resemblance to Jerome James.

    Like most teams in the lottery, the Sonics will explore trading this pick. They have enough young players. What they need is a veteran or two to do the dirty work in the paint.

    FREE AGENCY: The Sonics will suffer a major loss in the backcourt if Barry decides to change addresses. Barry is an unrestricted free agent and will try to capitalize on two solid seasons in Seattle with one last contract. There will be major interest from a number of contending teams, and the Sonics sound like they won't be willing to break the bank to keep him.


    Jerome James
    Center
    Seattle SuperSonics
    Profile


    2003-2004 SEASON STATISTICS
    GM PPG RPG APG FG% FT%
    65 5.0 3.5 0.5 .498 .660

    Jerome James has an opt-out clause in his contract, and his agent, Marc Fleisher, has hinted he might use it. James doesn't feel Nate McMillan plays him the right way. If you've seen James play (and we use the term loosely) the last two years, you know why McMillan hasn't wanted to give him minutes.

    James is guaranteed $5.4 million next year. The chances are slim he exceeds or even matches that salary on the open market. Still, if he wants to play next year, a change of scenery is probably the only way. Given his lack of production, the Sonics would welcome the move.

    The Sonics will be just over the cap next season, giving them the financial flexibility to use their mid-level exception if they choose. However, it's unlikely there will be a decent post player on the market willing to settle for that type of salary.

    TRADES: Expect Sund & Co. to be pretty active this summer. The team was patient all year, trying to get a feel for what players like Lewis, Radmanovic and Murray were going to bring to the table. Murray was an early-season revelation. Lewis and Radmanovic had their moments. But all three watched their production plummet when Allen returned from injury.

    Murray's ability to play the point is now in question. Lewis, once again, seems to lack the assertiveness to lead. Radmanovic doesn't appear to have the toughness or willingness to play the four in the league. Or maybe ... it's all Allen's fault. While Allen put up great numbers when he returned, the rest of the team went to hell. Allen's constant bickering with McMillan probably means no one is safe from the trade talk swirling around the Sonics these days.


    Shareef Abdur-Rahim
    Power Forward
    Portland Trail Blazers
    Profile


    2003-2004 SEASON STATISTICS
    GM PPG RPG APG FG% FT%
    85 16.3 7.5 2.0 .475 .869

    What are they going to do? There are already rumblings that the Sonics and Blazers could rekindle talks for Shareef Abdur-Rahim. Rahim is the type of low-post scorer Seattle is looking for. What will it cost them? Reports that Rahim could be involved in a trade straight up for Allen seem a little far fetched. More likely, the Sonics would offer Barry (in a sign-and-trade), Radmanovic, James (just one year left on his deal) and their first-round pick.

    Would the Blazers go for it? They have no use for Abdur-Rahim, and Barry would be a great addition in the backcourt. Radmanovic could find a nice role at the three along with Darius Miles.

    The Blazers won't be the only team they talk to. The Bulls have interest in Allen and Lewis, and have a number of young players like Jamal Crawford and Eddy Curry who the Sonics would have interest in. The Warriors (Jason Richardson, Erick Dampier) and the Rockets (Steve Francis) might also show some serious interest.

    COACHING: McMillan has been at odds with management all year. It's not that they don't get along. It's just that Nate's style of basketball emphasizes defense, grittiness and half-court execution. The players Sund keeps giving him are open-court players who need to run and gun to be successful.

    The two conflicting styles created serious unrest in the locker room. That spilled over to the postseason press conference, in which McMillan complained about Allen and the style of basketball he was being forced to play. McMillan claims he'll be back next season, but clearly the marriage hasn't worked out like everyone had hoped.

    FRONT OFFICE: Sund's name has been floating around for weeks in connection with the Raptors' opening. Why? Is he unhappy in Seattle? Is he on the hot seat? Or is it just another bogus rumor? His vision of a Mavs-like run-and-gun team is at odds with what his coach is trying to do. Does he think McMillan will change his style? Or does he know something we don't? Sund spent the year (rightfully, in my mind) observing the young players and trying to figure out whether they fit with the long-term goals of the team. After a frustrating season, you could make the argument the answer is "no" when it comes to Lewis, Radmanovic and even Allen.

    With the season over, Sund continues to preach patience, but he may no longer have that luxury. One season spent evaluating talent we can buy. Two? He's going to have to make some tough decisions this summer. The good news is he has plenty of assets. Figuring out the right combination (who stays, who goes) will be very tricky. The most likely scenario has Radmanovic being offered in a sign-and-trade package along with Barry and their first-round pick. Will that give them enough back to begin competing with the Western Conference elite? Folks are running out of patience.

    Around the League

    # O'Brien is Sixers' final ultimatum to AI: Allen Iverson made nice at the end of the season, meeting with Sixers GM Billy King and reiterating his desire to stay in Philly and his commitment to play by the rules next season.


    Allen Iverson
    Shooting Guard
    Philadelphia 76ers
    Profile


    2003-2004 SEASON STATISTICS
    GM PPG RPG APG FG% FT%
    48 26.4 3.7 6.8 .387 .745
    King's quick hire of Jim O'Brien is his insurance policy. Iverson, who over the space of one year has killed three coaches -- Larry Brown, Randy Ayers and now Chris Ford -- won't be killing a fourth. At least not in Philly.

    O'Brien said all the right things in his press conference Wednesday. He said he wanted to coach Iverson. In fact, he insisted on it before he'd agree to join the Sixers.

    "When you're dealing with somebody like Allen, I really wanted to be as close to 100 percent sure as I possibly could that I'd be coaching him," O'Brien said. "Billy obviously makes those decisions, but I wanted Billy to understand what I thought of Allen."

    Later, O'Brien expanded on that thought by saying: "When you're the franchise player, the team has succeeded, and now you lose, you're going to get hit [with criticism and speculation]; the coach is going to get hit. I'm sure he expects that. [But] that was then. Give any new coach a chance to wipe the slate clean."

    "He said to me, 'If I'm going to take this job, I want to have the chance to coach Allen Iverson,' " King said. "He said, 'I think he's one of the best offensive players, and an underrated defensive player. You don't get players like that, and I think I can win with him.' I don't think it was a [hiring] condition, but he made his point clear what he would like."

    O'Brien appears, on paper, to be the perfect fit for the job. He'll ask his team to give its all on defense. In return, he'll let players do pretty much whatever they want on offense. Both roles should fit the Sixers. The team has a number of very capable defenders, including Iverson, Eric Snow and Samuel Dalembert. Sources claim they are eyeing Stanford small forward Josh Childress, in part, because of his 7-foot wingspan and ability to guard multiple positions. The team also has one very creative scorer who is at his best when he's improvising on the floor. After watching O'Brien let Antoine Walker and Paul Pierce jack up shots in Boston the past few years, the O'Brien-Iverson combo should be a match made in heaven.

    However, should Iverson stumble again, it won't be O'Brien packing his bags. Iverson has earned one last reprieve. If he wants to stay in Philly, he'll play by O'Brien's rules. If he doesn't ... pack your bags AI.

    # Bass, Floyd getting kicked to the curb? The Hornets are on the verge of an embarrassing first-round ouster. The team has the second-worst home attendance record in the league. Players are fighting with each other. Jamal Mashburn is threatening to retire. All is not well in New Orleans at the moment.

    Owner George Shinn said Wednesday that first-year coach Tim Floyd may not be back next season. ''The decision hasn't been made," Shinn told the Miami Herald. "At the end of each season we evaluate everybody. Tim is a wonderful person. We'll have to wait and see. If we win a couple rounds, that might answer the question."

    Floyd's players have refused to give him a vote of confidence, "We're a veteran squad," Darrell Armstrong told reporters last week. "We already know a lot. I think he's still learning us more than we're learning him. That's how I look at it. As a coach, you have to learn your team, have to learn your players."

    Floyd isn't the only one in the hot seat. Sources claim Shinn also has lost patience with GM Bob Bass. The team hasn't drafted particularly well in recent years and looks stagnant. The team, despite being in New Orleans just two years, also isn't drawing fans. If the Hornets are eliminated quickly this year, Shinn may look for a new GM to shake things up. The new guy would bring in a new head coach, remake the roster and start winning some fans. With the team heading to the Western Conference next year, something's got to happen to shake things up.

    The speculation about Bass' future is running so hot right now that a handful of candidates for the Raptors head job are quietly rethinking whether they want to head north of the border. Not only are several of the candidates concerned with how the process is being run (no one likes to be part of a cattle call -- especially if you already have a good job), they also believe the Hornets may present a better chance to win.

    # Celtics get break in Baker deal: On Monday we discussed how the Celtics would be forced to spread Vin Baker's buyout number over the course of the final two seasons of his contract. That's how it usually works. However, Insider learned Wednesday that the league will allow Boston to spread Baker's deal over the next three seasons -- something of an unprecedented move. Those same sources claim Baker's buyout number was around $15 million. That means the Celtics will add $5 million to their books over each of the next three seasons, giving them a payroll of around $52 million or $53 million next year -- still about $7 million over the projected $45 million cap.

    # The Zeke watch: This is a day late (I didn't write on Wednesday), but how about all the face-time Isiah Thomas is getting on national TV these day? It was tough not to notice that every time the Knicks made a bone-headed play in Game 2 against the Nets, the camera cut to Thomas, who has a bad habit of always standing in one of the corridors directly in front of a camera.

    Stephon Marbury makes a turnover? Cut to Zeke looking like his dog just got run over. Penny Hardaway shoots an airball? Switch to a close-up of Thomas with tears welling up in his eyes.

    My question is, why doesn't Thomas go take a seat in his luxury box? The camera can't pan to him every play if he was up there. Wait ... I think I just answered my own question.

  2. #2
    Member Ragnar's Avatar
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    Default Re: 4-22-04

    Beat me by 10 seconds! Thanks for always posting these.
    I always want to read them so when I can find them I post them. I figure a lot of other people want to see them too.

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