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Wednesday, July 19, 2006
How will sale of Sonics impact staff? Stay tuned

Associated Press

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 Orleans.

But he didn't mention any Sonics players by name. Not even All-Star guard Ray Allen, the current cornerstone of Bennett's new franchise.

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 term."

Wilcox's agent, Jeff Fried, said Wednesday that negotiations will resume next week, after the two sides allow the "dust to settle."

"I'm certainly affected, meaning Chris is," Fried said of the sale.

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 soul."

"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," Walker said.

"This is such a critical year in the history of the franchise."

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 names.

"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 players."

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."