Thursday, June 10, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
Sonics might be looking to deal top pick
By Percy Allen
Seattle Times staff reporter
CHICAGO — The evaluation process, which began three weeks ago and will conclude seconds before Seattle selects in the June 24 NBA draft, has yet to unearth a player the Sonics feel comfortable selecting at No. 12 overall.
In part, that is why they have flown the coaching staff and various front-office and scouting personnel to Chicago, where they will sit in the stands at Moody Bible Institute and take notes on the 60 prospects.
It's an exhaustive search that begins with drills in the morning and several games in the afternoon and early evening.
But because most of the best players participate in only physical testing and interviews while skipping scrimmages, the Sonics are unlikely to find their guy this week and are more apt to discover players they might choose with their two second-round picks.
There is, however, another incentive to being at the camp, general manager Rick Sund noted days before leaving for Chicago.
"With everybody being there, all of the league's GMs and coaches, there's going to be some talk about all sorts of possibilities," he said. "A lot of talk started after the draft lottery two weeks ago, and it's only going to pick up."
Seattle, which has sought a prominent power forward the past two years, figures to be among the teams seeking to make a deal that involves either its draft picks, players or both.
With last year's top pick, Nick Collison, returning — he missed the past season because of two shoulder surgeries — the Sonics have committed to a young power forward.
"We're not married to our pick," Sund said. "With Nick coming back, we have the flexibility to move our pick. We've added so much youth to our team that you have to look at how viable would it be to add another young player.
"We've got a lot of options. We can trade the pick. Move the pick, whether that means going back or trying to move up higher. Draft for a specific area where we need help. Take the best player. Or take a big (player). A lot of that depends on the expansion draft."
Each team can protect eight players off its 2003-04 roster, including restricted free agents, and must submit its list before tomorrow's deadline.
Charlotte, the NBA's newest franchise, must select a minimum of 14 players from NBA rosters in the expansion draft, which will be held June 22, or June 23 if the NBA Finals is extended to a seventh game.
Seattle is expected to protect Ray Allen, Rashard Lewis, Collison, Luke Ridnour, Vladimir Radmanovic, Ronald Murray and Antonio Daniels.
The Sonics will likely expose Richie Frahm and Calvin Booth and must decide between Reggie Evans, Vitaly Potapenko and Jerome James for the eighth protected spot.
Bernie Bickerstaff, the Bobcats' general manager and coach, has said he's looking for young, athletic players with modest contracts in the expansion draft, so it would seem unlikely that Charlotte would select any Sonics.
The bigger question facing Seattle is whether Sund and coach Nate McMillan, both in the last years of their contracts, plan to tweak the current model or perform a major reconstruction of personnel.
In the days after the 37-45 season, McMillan said he favored returning most of the team. Sund said: "I don't want to do a deal just to do a deal," but insisted he'll explore a major trade.
Early speculation fueled by Internet reports had the Sonics linked with Portland in a trade involving Ray Allen and Shareef Abdur-Rahim.
Citing team policy, Sund declined to comment on the rumor. Team sources, however, said the report was bogus. Portland is shopping Abdur-Rahim, but it appears the Sonics are unwilling to part with Allen and are working toward an extension that both sides believe will be completed before training camp.
"I want to be and I expect to be in Seattle," Allen said weeks ago. "That's my intention."
Excluding Allen, Seattle's top trade assets include Lewis, Radmanovic and Murray. A combination of those players might be enough to convince Portland to deal Abdur-Rahim or Indiana to trade Al Harrington.
The Los Angeles Clippers, who have the second overall pick and need a point guard, are reportedly shopping Chris Wilcox, and Memphis' Pau Gasol may be available for the right price.
The top free-agent power forward is Kenyon Martin, but he's too costly for the Sonics, who are over the projected $45 million salary cap and have only the mid-level and million-dollar exceptions.
Even the likes of Stromile Swift may be too expensive for Seattle if it hopes to re-sign unrestricted free agent Brent Barry.
Although there is large amount of underclassmen who have made themselves available for the draft, most won't be able to help a team right away.
"It's a very good draft," Sund said. "A draft, however, in which the immediate contribution from these players won't be seen next year. More down the line. It's getting closer and closer to baseball. We're drafting younger kids who need to develop and mature."
If the Sonics keep the No. 12 pick, many NBA sources believe they will use it on a small forward who would replace free agent Ansu Sesay and back up Lewis.
"The pick itself is not going to be a make or break for us," Sund said. "We think the team can make the playoffs next year. The playoffs are our goal. We think we can get there with everybody we had last year, because they are a year older."