Sonics About To Begin What Could Be Last Season In Seattle

Saturday, October 20th 2007, 1:27 pm
By: News On 6

SEATTLE (AP) _ Kevin Durant refutes the desperate talk here that he is the SuperSonics' savior as deftly as he launches his smooth jump shot.

``I'm not the only one on the floor playing, you know. I can't do everything,'' the second overall choice in June's draft said. ``So I don't think it's all on me. I don't know why people are saying, 'Save the organization.'''

Excuse Durant for being naive. He's 19 and only been in town a month.

SuperSonics fans are clinging to any form of hope for an NBA franchise in Seattle on the eve of a season that will be unlike any in the team's 40-year history.

The day of the opener, Oct. 31, is also the deadline owner Clay Bennett has set to either secure a new arena deal or begin relocating Seattle's oldest professional team to the tycoon's hometown of Oklahoma City for the 2008-09 season.

Happy Halloween, Seattle fans. Tricks and no treats.

Instead of trumpeting a new era featuring Durant, the team's most anticipated rookie ever and last season's national college player of the year at Texas, the Sonics are in federal court with city government.

The team is trying to get permission to have an arbitration panel rule on whether it can buy its way out of the final three years of its KeyArena lease, which NBA commissioner David Stern has called the worst in the league for a team's revenues. In response, the city has sued the Sonics.

A resolution is expected before year's end. Bennett has until March 1 to meet a league deadline to file for relocation for the following season.

Seattle appears likely to become the third city to lose its NBA team this decade. Vancouver lost the Grizzlies to Memphis in 2001, a year before the Hornets went from Charlotte to New Orleans. Before that, the league hadn't had a relocation since the Kings fled Kansas City for Sacramento in 1985.

None of those jilted cities had its team even half as long as Seattle has had the Sonics.

Stern had said this summer he believed that Seattle would find a way to keep the team, which claims the city's only major pro championship. Gus Williams, Dennis Johnson and Jack Sikma won it all in 1979.

But this month, Stern sounded far more pessimistic about the Sonics' future in Seattle.

``There doesn't seem to be a lot of movement on a new building,'' he said. ``We always hope that there will be, (but) the team has started litigation.

``Welcome, again, to NBA 101, which is about lawyers. I don't want to knock lawyers having been one myself, but it's not at all pleasant. But hopefully, good things will happen once we throw the ball up in the regular season and it will take people's minds off of some other sidebars.''

Not likely in Seattle.

Some want to show 11th-hour love to keep the Sonics, even though no viable arena proposal exists to secure the team's future in the city. Most are apathetic, thanks to the two sports palaces recently built downtown with large public subsidies, for the NFL's Seahawks and baseball's Mariners.

The rest want to spurn the team to spite Bennett. Many believe he never intended to keep the Sonics here from the day he bought the team 15 months ago.

Bennett said ticket sales climbed after Durant was drafted but have since dropped, foreshadowing a possible repeat of last season in which the Sonics said they lost $17 million while going 31-51. As of Thursday, season-ticket packages were available in all price ranges. And Durant's Seattle debut has gotten a lukewarm response _ tickets remain for the home opener Nov. 1 against Phoenix.

The team is giving away more seats than ever. Season-ticket holders have been given eight free tickets each for use at games in November and December. They got two last season.

``Never in a million years did I envision this would go this long or be this uphill,'' said Brian Robinson, a real-estate investor and Sonics season-ticket holder who co-founded Save Our Sonics, a fan organization of about 6,000.

``I want this to be around for my kids to enjoy,'' said Robinson, who grew up going to Sonics games with his father. ``I have a 7-year-old son that should be all into the team right now, and we have to worry about this.''

Bennett keeps bemoaning a lack of fervor among Seattle officials and residents to keep the team.

Then again, why should fans spend from $430-$4,730 per season ticket, or from $10-$2,000 per game, on a team that is trying to leave? Why, many ask, should I give a dime to Bennett?

``I would implore them to engage in the basketball,'' Bennett said. ``Come have fun. Bring your friends, your family, your business associates.''

Veteran forward Nick Collison says he loves Seattle and feels the fans' frustrations. He also acknowledges this is going to be one weird season.

``I guess I understand if they are upset about some of the stuff that's gone on. But for now, we're here,'' he said. ``You don't know what the future will hold, but come on out and watch basketball. ... If we play well, then we'll be fun to watch. And people will come out.''

The Sonics player with the closest ties to region is starting point guard Luke Ridnour, who grew up in Washington and starred at the University of Oregon.

Entering his fifth season, he is currently the longest tenured Sonic. Whether he's at the gym, the grocery store or just with friends, the questions are the same.

``Yeah, every single day. It's not 'How's practice going?' It's 'Are you guys leaving?''' Ridnour said.

``This is a city that has had basketball here forever. It's been a great basketball city. Me being from here, obviously it's a great situation. And you definitely want to be around.''

Call Ridnour a native optimist.

``I think we're going to be here,'' he said. ``I think there will always be Sonics basketball here.''

Collison was born in Iowa and starred at Kansas. He would seem to be the most amenable of the Sonics to a move to the heartland.

``Nah, not really. This is my home now. I love it out here,'' said the newly married Collison. ``I've been here four years now. So I'm not looking forward to leaving. Hopefully, they'll find a way to get it done here. That would be my preference.''

Robinson's too.

``Clay Bennett may own the title to the team,'' Robinson said, ``but this team is part of the fabric of the community.''

He remains hopeful that Stern will step in to broker an arena deal. Maybe one that would require more of the Sonics' cash and less than the $400 million in public money that Bennett proposed in April during a failed arena presentation to the state Legislature.

``David Stern is not going to waste Kevin Durant's first three years in a litigious situation,'' Robinson said.

He sounded more hopeful than convinced.