Wednesday, July 19, 2006
How will sale of Sonics impact staff? Stay tuned
SEATTLE -- During the approximately 10 minutes that Clay
Bennett spoke publicly after the announcement that his group had
bought the Seattle SuperSonics, the Oklahoma City businessman
mentioned the team's "storied" four-decade NBA history.
He called it a great team and described Seattle as "one of the
great American cities."
He later talked of Chris Paul, the star player of his adopted
Hornets -- the team Bennett attracted to Oklahoma City to play home
games last season and next, after Hurricane Katrina devastated New
But he didn't mention any Sonics players by name. Not even
All-Star guard Ray Allen, the current cornerstone of Bennett's new
Unlike outgoing team majority owner Howard Schultz, in-limbo
team president Wally Walker and others atop the team's executive
chain who may have negotiated with Bennett, other Sonics'
basketball people said they hadn't spoken with Bennett before he
became their new boss on Tuesday.
General manager Rick Sund was called away from the Sonics'
summer league team in Salt Lake City to be on hand for the sale
announcement. There, he saw Bennett for the first time.
All Seattle's players know of Bennett is what they are seeing
and reading of him from media coverage of his purchase.
How will this all affect this season's Sonics on the court?
Sund said he sees no changes in the team's daily basketball
operations. That includes contract negotiations -- the main one
being the team's stalled talks with restricted free-agent Chris
Wilcox on a multiyear deal.
"I don't think it really affects us, in the short term," Sund
said. "In the long term, who knows? Who ever knows in the long
Wilcox's agent, Jeff Fried, said Wednesday that negotiations
will resume next week, after the two sides allow the "dust to
"I'm certainly affected, meaning Chris is," Fried said of the
Sund doesn't appear to be affected, for now. He has two years
remaining on a contract extension he signed before last season.
As for coach Bob Hill, in April the Sonics exercised their
option on the coach's contract for the 2006-'07 season.
Bennett said Walker, the team's chief executive under Schultz,
will stay in his president's job at least through the coming
season. That coincides with Bennett's 12-month deadline to get a
new arena in the Seattle area before he would consider a
contractual option to move the team to Oklahoma.
Walker was the team's general manager for seven years before
moving up to CEO and onto the team's board of directors in 2001. He
currently oversees all basketball operations.
Walker didn't sound as sure as Bennett about his immediate
future on Tuesday.
"I'll help. Or I'll go away, if that helps," Walker said,
calling the Sonics more than an investment and his "heart and
"After 14 years, maybe it's time for my exile," he said.
Then there's this trick: Trying to sell tickets for what many in
Seattle already see as a lame-duck season that begins in November.
"We've talked about it as a group. And there is a concern,"
"This is such a critical year in the history of the
When Bennett was asked Tuesday how he was going to market his
new team, which may or may not be on its way to Oklahoma City, to
people with whom he has zero connection, he again did not name
"One thing is there is a commitment to the team, to the
athletes, to the personalities, to the coaching staff, to the
community," he said.
"I hope the fans continue to support these remarkable
And he added, with a smile, "One thing we're certainly
committed to is winning. It's been my experience that winning
translates into fan interest."