For Sonics, Anything Is Possible — For Now

By Ted Miller
Updated: October 7, 2007
SEATTLE — Is it possible to consider the Sonics without referencing … that? Can we for a moment declare this an arena-controversy-free zone?

The curiosity over watching Kevin Durant and the new-look Sonics as they opened camp this week felt hopelessly overwhelmed by a dreary resignation that this franchise has one foot out the door.

Still, can we bracket that off, just for a moment, and scratch a basketball itch?

“Take a (maunder fudging) charge!” point guard Earl Watson gently suggested to defensively passive second-year center Mouhamed Sene during a scrimmage Thursday.

A few moments later, Watson would be discussing his offseason obsessions with a reporter: cupcakes followed thereafter by Pilates. If you read Gary Washburn’s story Friday, you know it all makes perfect sense.

And there you have it: An intense NBA training camp with the moments and personalities that make it interesting.

Nick Collison went to Greece this summer — Athens, Santorini and Mykonos. Here’s a guess that was a lot more fun and relaxing than repeatedly banging into Chris Wilcox, battling for position in the paint, as well as to establish a pecking order at power forward.

No more Caesar-short haircut for guard Luke Ridnour. He’s gone surfer frizzy, complete with highlights. Center Robert Swift, whose preseason knee injury started last season’s woes, has transformed from Opie Taylor into a buffed-up Ted Nugent, courtesy of a long red ponytail and a complexity of tattoos up and down his arms.

And, finally, there’s the edgy new coach who’s pure Philadelphia brusque, putting a quick end to a player’s whine about a perceived foul.

“Stop bitching!” barked P.J. Carlesimo.

For a moment, it was all interesting: Meaningful exchanges and so many new faces and possible lineup permutations.

There was no Clay Bennett, no Oklahoma Freaking City. No attempted $450 million fleecing of Seattle.

Here’s a fact, and it’s the only one we have thus far with the Sonics, vintage 2007-08: NBA basketball will be played at KeyArena this season, whether anyone pays attention or not.

It may not be beautiful, playoff basketball. In fact, it won’t be. But it may be interesting.

“The way we’re going to play, nobody knows,” Collison said. “I don’t think even the coaches know. It’s totally wide open.”

Over the previous three-plus seasons, the Sonics were almost entirely about Ray Allen and sidekick Rashard Lewis. Their departures left behind huge production and leadership voids. And something else.

“Every play was set up for those two guys,” Collison said. “And every practice we’d draw up three or four more plays to get those guys the ball. I think everyone feels a little more responsibility now. And I think everyone feels a little more opportunity to step up and do things.”

Wide open? Responsibility? Opportunity? That’s interesting.

Interesting? How about: Is Durant the next Carmelo Anthony? Is rookie forward Jeff Green Durant’s Scottie Pippen? Who’s the point guard: Watson, Ridnour or newbie Delonte West? Is Swift a legit starting center? Are Sene and Johan Petro busts? Will Wilcox and/or Collison break through this season? What can be expected from veteran additions Kurt Thomas and Wally Szczerbiak? Where do Damien Wilkins and Mickael Gelabale fit in?

And don’t forget the transition from run-and-gun and olé defense to hard-nosed, San Antonio Spurs-Northwest.

For those who continue to be interested, there’s a lot of stuff to contemplate.

Moreover, the honeymoon freshness of coaching and general manager changes remains. It’s like the first couple of episodes of “The Real World.” Everyone is still being polite. Carlesimo gave the team “an A-plus for effort, energy and enthusiasm” and said the “level of cooperation is exceptional.”

Well, kumbaya.

In other words, no one has tried to strangle him yet, despite a week of far more demanding practices than the previous two preseasons.

“We’re right on the edge of pushing a little bit too hard,” Carlesimo admitted after a handful of players pulled up lame with minor injuries.

A tighter ship is essential. Sloppy, inconsistent play netted the Sonics 31 wins a year ago. Sure, Allen and Lewis missed 26 and 22 games. respectively, but that’s not the only reason things went splat.

A culture change was needed, so new GM Sam Presti opted to blow the team up and rebuild.

Collison said he already sees a greater attention to detail with the new coaching staff as well as greater accountability.

“No matter how disciplined you are, if you can get away with stuff, you will find out how to do it,” he said. “They’re not letting us get away with as much this year.”

Think Carlesimo’s a taskmaster, Nick? Wait until you see Sonics fans this season.

With Bennett’s so-called “deadline” approaching in just over two weeks, and ownership apparently doing little in terms of reaching out for a compromise solution on housing the franchise, there’s no way the big story will be about what happens on the court.

That will make it hard for the team to generate more than a trickle of enthusiasm, even if they make a surprising push toward respectability.

But, for those who still have a basketball jones, a fairly interesting Sonics squad will be here. At least for one more season.