General Manager, Coach And Franchise's Future All In Question For Sonics

Thursday, April 19th 2007, 7:59 pm
By: News On 6

SEATTLE (AP) -- SuperSonics owner Clay Bennett said he will likely decide by week's end whether he will fire coach Bob Hill or general manager Rick Sund after Seattle's worst season in 21 years.

Then there's Bennett's failed attempt at a new $500 million arena in the Seattle area. The likelihood he will move the team after next season. All-Star Ray Allen in a pair of walking boots from surgery to both ankles that cost the Sonics' 26 points per game for the final month of a 31-51 season defined by injuries and erratic play.

Oh, and the probable free agency in July of Rashard Lewis, the team's second-leading scorer.

Other than that, here comes a ho-hum offseason for the Sonics.

"We're so much right now in uncertain times," Allen said, even before the likelihood of the team moving 12 months from now. "Everyone is to blame when you don't win ... We just weren't good enough. That involves each one of us. Nobody should walk away from this feeling like they did a good job."

Including Hill or Sund, apparently.

Given repeated chances to give one or both votes of confidence the last half of the season, Bennett instead has repeated a "we'll evaluate" refrain.

That re-evaluation has largely happened.

"We've gone through this process and have made some decisions. We'll make some announcements, I think, soon," Bennett said this week from New York.

Bennett was attending an NBA board of governors meeting Thursday and Friday. The expectation is either Hill or Sund, or both, may be unemployed soon. Bennett said, "We will get together at the end of the week," to decide whether to bring in his own people to run the team for next season.

Sund, who began his NBA management career in the mid-1970s with the Milwaukee Bucks, was hired under previous ownership in 2001 by Wally Walker.

Hill, a former coach in New York, Indiana and San Antonio just finished his first full season coaching the Sonics. The team picked up his one-year contract option at the end of last season, which began with Hill as an assistant to Bob Weiss. Hill replaced the fired Weiss on Jan. 3, 2006, and finished last season 22-30.

This season is the fourth in five years that the former Western Conference power has missed the playoffs. A franchise record 15-game road losing streak stretched from Thanksgiving to nearly Valentine's Day and guaranteed Seattle its highest draft pick since 1990 when it took Gary Payton with the second overall pick. There is a one-in-five chance that pick will be a No. 1 or No. 2 in the draft lottery.

Injuries hampered Seattle, beginning in October. Robert Swift, expected to be Seattle's starting center, was lost for the season during an exhibition game. Allen was bothered by bone spurs in his ankles for much of the season and missed the final 16 games after having surgery.

Lewis also missed 22 games in the middle of the season with a hand injury, and now must be convinced to return to the only team he's ever played for. Lewis is opting out of the final two years of his contract, leaving behind $21 million, and becoming a free agent.

"I excited where I stand in the NBA and what teams are going to come after me," Lewis said Thursday as he left the Sonics' downtown practice facility for perhaps the final time.

But Lewis said he will give Seattle every chance to match the top offer he gets.

"Just out of respect for Seattle," he said. "I've been here eight, nine years. They brought me into the NBA. I'll always want to give them that first chance."

But will Bennett take it? He says he will lose $20 million from his first season owning the team -- and that was when there was still a realistic chance the team would stay in Seattle for a while.

"It's hard to invest significantly in a business that is losing so much money," the Oklahoma City business leader said.

Hill sees hope in his team having a per-game differential of just three points with opponents despite the franchise's worst record since 1985-86. Allen has little reservation that with the right pieces -- and merely a normal amount of health -- the Sonics can be 51-31 instead.

"I think it's in good hands," Allen said. "We've got good, young, talented guys and that's always a sign of good things to come, and something you want to be a part of."

Still, no matter the talent on the floor, any improvement the Sonics make next year to their dismal 2006-07 record may be completely overshadowed by the lamest of lame-duck seasons. The Washington state Legislature balked at moving forward on a bill that would have given $300 million toward Bennett's proposed arena. Bennett countered by saying next year might be the Sonics' last in Seattle.

Lewis may not even last that long.

"Winning is the number one thing for every player in the NBA," he said. "Everybody wants to win. I want to get that ring. That's my goal, to win the championship."