The man's got wants and needs

The Sonics open a season of discontent, or discontinuance, or something – no one's quite sure, maybe not even the lead owner, Okie Clay Bennett.
The Sonics open a season of discontent, or discontinuance, or something – no one's quite sure, maybe not even the lead owner, Okie Clay Bennett.

Possibly the final season for the "Seattle" SuperSonics dawned (if "dawn" can happen at 8:30 p.m. Mountain Time) on Halloween and, for what it's worth, two truths emerged. One is that P.J. Carlesimo's Sooped-Up Sonics can stay with division opponents, but only for three quarters or so. They succumbed on the mile-high road to a better Denver Nuggets club, 120-103, and face Phoenix in the home opener tonight, Nov. 1.

The second reality is that 19-year-old swing-man-child Kevin Durant, perhaps the greatest draft pick in team history, isn't yet the keenest teen ever to play pro sports for a Seattle franchise. That distinction still goes to (pick one) Ken Griffey Jr. or Alex Rodriguez, depending, one imagines, on which guy puts together the best lifetime stats during his ongoing career.

For now the all-time best at any age ever to get paid for sporting a local pro jersey is - are you ready? - Rickey Henderson (please Google his career stats and accomplishments for proof). The veteran of 92 games during the Mariners 2000 season is worth bringing up if only because the great self-absorbed base-stealer and stellar lead-off guy has something in common with the fellow who may emerge as the region's worst-ever owner.

That's a tough title to claim, what with '90s-era competitors Connivin' Ken Behring (Seahawks) and Jeff "Four-flushin'" Smulyan (Mariners). But it may yet be earned by one Clayton I. Bennett. The current Sonics lead owner seems to perceive anything but the bluest skies he's ever seen for basketball in Seattle, though Oklahoma would be OK. Bennett and his partners, who purchased the franchise last year from a group headed by Starbucks Chief Executive Barista Howard Schultz, would like to buy out the Sonics' contractual KeyArena obligation to the city and move the team after this season. City officials expect the team to stay at least through the lease-agreed 2009-10 season.

One particular quote links best player (Henderson) with worst owner (Bennett). It came during extended contract negotiations back when Henderson's services were still worth having. Asked at a press gathering to clarify his haggling position, the future Hall-of-Famer simultaneously stated the immortal, the obvious, and the unknowable when he answered: "All I'm asking for is what I want."

Bennett's behavior since his group (the apparent billionaire is chair of the Oklahoma City-based Professional Basketball Club) bought the Sonics 15 months ago could be synthesized into a phrase that would sound precisely like the Henderson pronouncement. Clearly, all Bennett is asking for is what he wants. In the vernacular, however, what it is? Does he want to try to make the unworkable - the National Basketball Association, that is - work in Seattle? One doesn't know. He emphatically doesn't want to make it work at KeyArena. Nor does he seem to want it to work in the outer reaches of King County: Renton, Bellevue, etc.

Does he genuinely want to move the club to his beloved but population-challenged Okie home? Dunno. He ain't sayin'. Will he say something Friday, Nov. 2, after the 41-season franchise has had its home opener the night before at the KeyArena Bennett equates with the gym at Baghdad High? Maybe. Months have passed since Bennett set his arbitrary deadline of the knell of midnight on, ominously, Halloween for receiving vaguely defined treats. To forestall his relocation tricks, he wanted concessions (public, private, or both) that would lead to a new Sonics facility guaranteed to make his b-ball group's investment profitable.

The deadline has passed. A comment from Bennett is said to be planned, perhaps appropriately, for the Day of the Dead, as some refer to Nov. 2. Certainly Bennett has had a reaction by now to the Monday, Oct. 29, U.S. District Court decision to deny his group arbitration in its pending legal battle with (the City of) Seattle. The response? Search us. To paraphrase a reporter who attended the Henderson contract-talk press conference: All we know is that all Bennett's asking for is what he wants.

Oh, yeah, and we know that locals who follow the actual team this season may not need to save up for playoff tickets. Veteran mentor Carlesimo may surprise hoops authorities by being author of a middling season. His roster of interchangeable-part players could sneak up on teams if the Northwest Division proves weak.

Unfortunately, Denver looked about as weak as an all-star team, with Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony together averaging 55 points last season; they combined for 57 in the opener. The Sonics will need to make up for scoring lost when Ray Allen (26 points a game) landed in Boston.

High-point guy against Denver was Damien Wilkins with 21. Young Durant had a slow start on offense, winding up seven for 22 for 18 points. Coach Peej evidently wants to emphasize defense this season, meaning, one imagines, holding opponents to fewer than Denver's 120.

Amid the off-court rancor, one wonders whether many will care much about the game itself, much less the fate of the sibling contingent Seattle Storm.

Inevitable speculation already includes bet-hedging conjecture about possibilities of a return of an NBA franchise should Seattle lose the one-time world champs. Even the duplicitous commish David Stern concedes that his fiscally untenable league (NBA for dummies: Tix cost too much because players make too much) always has a surplus of troubled franchises. Maybe a year or so from now Sacramento will lose the Kings. How 'bout King County Kings as an official team name? And why not the Kings? The club already is playing in its fourth town (Rochester to Cincy to K.C. to SchwarzenBurg). Why not five?

In fact, maybe the NBA's lesser franchises, of which there always seem to be about two dozen, could just float around the continent, playing in different cities from year to year the way some players prefer. Heck, Rickey Henderson switched big-league teams 12 times. Who knows? Maybe by 2015 the one-time King County Kings could be playing in Oklahoma City, perhaps with the then 27-year-old Kevin Durant as star player.


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