|Will lottery luck change Sonics' future in Seattle?|
|Written by Admin|
|Wednesday, 23 May 2007 21:35|
Yet the dynamic Texas Longhorns forward and likely No. 2 pick in next month's NBA draft is already - probably unwittingly - assuming the role of potential savior for the Sonics' dead-end, 2007-08 season.
``This is potentially a franchise-changing (event),'' Sonics president of basketball operations Lenny Wilkens said after his team won the second pick in the NBA's draft lottery to presumably land Durant. Portland is expected to take center Greg Oden with the first overall pick.
Oden and Durant are considered the only two can't-miss prospects in the June 28 draft. They are the best of the first prodigies forced into college for one year by a new NBA rule prohibiting high schoolers from jumping straight into the league.
Sonics CEO Danny Barth said a ``transformation is already beginning'' because of Durant's expected arrival.
Bryan Byrnes, the team's senior vice president of sales and marketing, said late Wednesday afternoon that the Sonics had sold about 100 new full-season ticket packages and dozens more partial-season plans since Tuesday night's lottery jackpot.
That's remarkable for a team that's in another playoff-free May after its worst season in 21 years.
Oh, it has also fired its coach and general manager, had its new arena plan fail and is trying to maintain interest in Seattle while courting Kansas City, Oklahoma City and perhaps any other city with a new building to be its new home after next season. After 40 years in the Northwest, the Sonics are only committed to play one more season here.
``The sales volume and call volume the last 24 hours is somewhat unprecedented,'' Byrnes said, knowing his job just improved from mission impossible.
``It's a gift from the basketball gods.''
But will that gift save the Sonics in Seattle?
Durant was the first freshman in NCAA history to win player of the year honors. The 6-foot-9 forward led the Big 12 with 25.8 points and 11.1 rebounds per game this past season, and was the AP national player of the year.
Seattle's NBA fans now have hope that his likely arrival on a team that already has All-Star shooter Ray Allen coming off ankle surgery and slashing Rashard Lewis - if the Sonics re-sign the free agent this summer - will spark local investors to emerge with new alternatives for a new arena.
Owner Clay Bennett's plan for the public to fund nearly $300 million of a $500 million suburban arena in Renton, Wash., died in the state Legislature last month without even making it to a vote. Bennett has since sought new homes for the team across the country.
When Wilkens called the lottery luck ``potentially a franchise-changing'' event, he didn't just mean improving from last season's 31-51 train wreck of a season. Suddenly, the Sonics are an attractive destination for potential new GMs and coaches. And perhaps key Seattle figures - at least those with the money and power to broker big deals here - are suddenly more motivated to keep a more attractive team.
None have stepped up yet. But Durant won't potentially become a Sonic for another month.
``We needed a boost in Seattle,'' Wilkens said. ``I think this is a big plus for the franchise right now. It's a step in right direction. It keeps all the issues alive. If you are trying to get something done with a building, you want to keep people talking. This is a plus for us.''
He said Bennett, who this week told Kansas City civic leaders he's studying bringing the Sonics there, had this reaction to the lottery: ``He's very pleased, very excited about it. I think it's a big plus for him and us and the franchise as well.''
Bennett is going to have to pay about $1 million more per season to his top draft pick at No. 2 than he would have had the Sonics stayed at No. 5, the position they would have had based on won-lost record alone. NBA salaries are slotted per the league's collective bargaining agreement. The second pick next month will receive $3,476,000 in his first contract year and $3,736,700 in his second. Both of those years are guaranteed. The Sonics will have a team option for a third year at $3,997,400.
Where they'll be playing in those second and third seasons remains a mystery. But Seattle may now be an option again, thanks to Durant and the lottery's little white balls.
``We've been talking for quite a while that we've been hoping for a tipping point,'' Byrnes said. ``Yesterday it showed up - in the form of ping pong balls.''