The franchise formerly known as the Seattle SuperSonics has, as of today, less than three months to get ready for training camp. And that doesn't just mean getting their players in shape and filling out the rest of the roster. It also means ...
5. Deciding who they are. Are they the old Sonics with a new name? (In which case why don't they hyphenate their name like so many married modern couples? They can be the Oklahoma City Sonics-Airmen ... in which case their official car should be a Volvo station wagon with a soccer mom sticker on the back bumper.) Or are they an expansion franchise?
My own feeling is that whatever the Oklahoma team decides to call itself -- and whatever that name becomes, it won't be the Sonics -- it should consider itself a brand new outfit. When you open the media guide to the "History'' section, there should be no mention of what the Sonics did for the last 41 years. Type up a short narrative detailing how the hurricane-displaced Hornets played for a couple of years in Oklahoma City and how they created the appetite for the team moving there now, and leave it at that.
I'm aware that owner Clay Bennett negotiated the rights to the Sonics' history, but what good is to him? It's a stain that only serves to remind everyone of the e-mails and lawsuits and outrage of how he left Seattle behind. It raises the question, Why would anyone leave Seattle to move to a smaller market like Oklahoma City? Under the current circumstances, does he really want to revisit year after year the mess he helped make?
He should view this as an entirely fresh start and honor the fans in Seattle by leaving to them the achievements of the Sonics' 41 years. To this day, I look at what the Baltimore Colts accomplished with Johnny Unitas and their other Hall of Famers, and I still don't know if that history should be associated with the team in Indianapolis. I imagine that the fans in Baltimore see no relationship between the old Colts of Unitas and the new Colts of Peyton Manning; the fans in Baltimore have remarried themselves to their Ravens now. Bennett should leave the past in Seattle and build a new identity for his team in Oklahoma. That will be a big enough job as it is.
4. Finding a gym. On Thursday, general manager Sam Presti was touring Oklahoma City in search of a practice facility for his team with no name. In fact, he's searching for two facilities: an existing building in which the team will practice next season, and then a plot of land where the team will build a permanent facility for future years.
"We need to find a place for our players to play, because they're going to be coming here in a little while,'' said Presti, who called me in between visits to a variety of sites. "The first thing Kevin Durant asked me is, 'Where are we practicing?' Because he wants to work out.''
At 32, Presti is the league's youngest GM. The job was big enough when he was changing over the roster and acquiring draft picks and cap space. Now he's looking for a practice facility. He's also managing the relocation of the players and staff, he's moving the offices from Seattle, and he's still developing the roster while he and his staff search for free agents and scout the summer leagues.
"We're going to a place where they're hungry for basketball,'' Presti said. "We're going to give them a young team that they can get behind. I am excited by that. What we're trying to do here is bigger than basketball. We're moving a franchise in a short amount of time, but we're going to get it done.''
3. Coming up with the new team name. This is a ridiculous exercise in lawyering and marketing and all of the things that traditional fans hate about sports today. I personally have no interest in this topic. All of the good names are already taken. When you start giving teams names like "Devil Rays'' and "Thrashers'' and "Blue Jackets'' -- not to mention naming teams after concepts like the "Wild'' or "Magic,'' or giving them schizophrenic identities like the "Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim'' -- it means there are too many teams.
And don't get me started on how wrong it is to call a team the "Redskins.''
2. Hiring new employees. The basketball people will move, of course; they're used to being traded or fired and looking for new jobs every few years or sooner. But the people who sell tickets and court sponsors and provide customer service will be predominantly new hires. As they should be. This is going to be a new market with entirely different sensibilities from the audience that used to be served by the Sonics.
1. Rehabilitate the image of the owner. This will be the easiest part. As much as Bennett is despised in Seattle, so will he be revered in Oklahoma. They are going to appreciate that he delivered the team to his home state. He'll actually be able to start attending his team's games.
4. Do you think Portland can now enter the playoffs? A young team sometimes needs veteran leadership. As of now, Portland has no veteran.-- Rico Bernal, Philippines
What's the current status of Greg Oden? Is he on schedule to play in the NBA's summer league? Also, how do you see the Trail Blazers using Oden's unique talents this coming year?-- Wade, Carbondale, Ill.
Health permitting, the Blazers will add two ready-to-play rookies to a rotation that managed 41 wins last season. Oden will improve the team defensively at the very least, and the Euroleague experience of Rudy Fernandez will enable him to contribute on the wing next season. While it will be difficult for a young team like the Blazers to reach the 50-win threshold of the Western Conference playoffs, at least they continue to add talent while rivals like the Warriors and Clippers were weakened by free-agent departures this week. Plus, Brandon Roy plays like an experienced star. One way or another, they'll acquire an older difference-maker to round out the team in a year or two.
As for Oden, he has never been planning to participate in summer league. He is on target to return to the court in September and to participate in training camp. The Blazers have so much young talent already that they won't need him to be a scorer as a rookie, and so he'll be allowed to work his way into the team at his own pace.
3. What do you think of the NBA's hiring of a retired U.S. Army Major General to head its officials? The guy has no experience with the NBA or officiating, and his qualifications go as far as leading in the reconstruction of Iraq. This looks like a PR move at best to make the NBA look like it's trying to get a handle on the officiating situation. I don't see the fit.-- Chad Josselyn, Palm Coast, Fla.
The hiring of Ronald Johnson to the new position of senior VP for referee operations is a welcome admission that the NBA has mismanaged its referees. My impression, based on the league's response to the Tim Donaghy scandal, was that the league had been treating the news of a referee's unlawful relationship with sports gamblers as a public-relations scandal more so than as a symptom of deep problems. This is a league that had been bragging about how it had improved its authority over the referees, only to learn from the FBI that one of its more highly ranked referees was a crook ... after which the NBA too quickly tried to assure us that Donaghy was the only felon among the referees. The only verifiable truth therein was that the league had no credibility to make such a claim.
It's good news that the NBA hired an outsider to inspect its organization of referees from top to bottom. To bring in another basketball guy for this job would have been a superficial response to a potentially mortal issue.
It's going to be interesting to watch for wholesale changes in the NBA's administration of the referees. The hiring of Johnson suggests that the league was seeking an entirely new perspective on officiating. Will that perspective lead to a new structure? It should, but don't take for granted that it will. And, in all fairness, don't expect improvements to be made quickly, either. Johnson has to be given time to learn the good and the bad of the current system before he can formulate and -- hardest of all -- execute a new relationship between the NBA and its referees.
2. As a Sixers fan, I'm thrilled by the acquisition of Elton Brand. My question is how the Sixers can fill their other hole (a shooter off the bench). Who could the Sixers go after to fill this role?-- Adam, Philadelphia
They have no space to sign another free agent, so they'll have to trade for one. But it needs to be a shooter who has the makings of other skills -- defense especially.
The next phase for the 76ers will be to change the way they defend. They like to scramble the game to create turnovers and a quickened tempo, but the elite playoff teams will always defeat that strategy. The Sixers need to establish a strong man-to-man defense with an ability to play half-court offense if they ever want the signing of Brand to lead to real contention. While they need shooting, the shooter they acquire must be able to contribute athletically at both ends of the floor.
Anyway you look at it, whether it's adding perimeter shooting, developing their young players or improving their fundamentals defensively and in the half court, the 76ers need to be given at least a couple of years to turn the acquisition of Brand into a deep playoff run.
1. Do we yet understand what thorn drove Baron Davis to bolt the Warriors as he did? And didn't he learn anything from KG? Being a big fish in a stagnant pond is a draaaag, man.-- Keith Sutton, Winnipeg, Manitoba
He wanted the security of a guaranteed five-year deal (which the Warriors weren't going to give him), he wanted to play with an All-Star in Brand and he wanted to return to his hometown of Los Angeles, where he'd be in the mix of the movie business in which he is dabbling as a young producer. (I shake my head at some of the facts I find myself typing about this league.) Davis still has two of those three attributes working for him. Brand will be missed, but Davis has the five lucrative years in his pocket, and it isn't his fault that Brand bolted. The laudable intention was to join a team that had a chance to contend, before Philadelphia lured Brand away.
3. Chris Duhon to the Knicks (two years, $11 million). This makes sense on a number of levels. With a two-year deal, Duhon provides a short-term answer to the Knicks' needs at point guard while coming off the cap in time for 2010, when LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh can become free agents. By promising him an opportunity to start, the Knicks were able to not only lure Duhon away from other long-term offers but also to hasten their divorce from Stephon Marbury, who probably wouldn't be interested in coming off the bench as he plays for a new contract. Odds are that Marbury will be bought out or dealt, but even if he returns for a final season, it will be with the knowledge that it's not about him anymore. For the short term, at least, it's about players like Duhon as the Knicks undertake the baby steps of their new era.
2. Ronny Turiaf to the Warriors (four years, $17 million). The Lakers may yet decide to match the offer for the restricted free agent, even though the luxury tax will double his cost to Los Angeles. Implicit in the Warriors' offer is their belief that Turiaf will be too expensive for L.A. to keep.
"Does the money make sense for the Warriors? That's free agency,'' a rival team executive said. "By rule, you don't pay a restricted free agent what he's worth; you pay him more than he's worth, because otherwise his team will say, 'Thanks a lot!' and match the offer sheet. If you don't overpay, you don't get him.
"But the thing about a front-line guy who plays as hard as Turiaf does every night is that he can be a little bit overpaid and still be moved [in two or three years]. He's a high-energy guy who is physical and productive; he's not a long-minute guy, you're not going to throw ball to him in the post and ask him to score for you, but he's a great seventh or eighth man as a front-line player. Those guys are always at a premium.''
1. Andrew Bogut extended by the Bucks (five years, $60 million). Bogut could make as much as $72.5 million, but the bonuses are difficult to reach and if he winds up making the All-NBA team or leading Milwaukee to the Finals, then the Bucks will be happy to pay the extra amount. The Bucks are quietly confident that new coach Scott Skiles will raise the production of players like Bogut, which could have increased his value as a top restricted free agent next summer. The smart play is to sign good players preemptively, much as the Wizards did by agreeing to a four-year, $50 million extension with Antawn Jamison before the free-agent period began; otherwise, he would have been tempted by a much bigger offer from the Clippers in their need to replace Elton Brand.
2. The Spurs. Having paid 27-year-old former Wizards guard Roger Mason $7 million for two years, San Antonio is one or two more complementary moves away from contending for another championship next season. Do they make another run at acquiring J.R. Smith?
Bruce Bowen, Fabricio Oberto and Jacque Vaughn are the only role players under contract who are older than 31; Ian Mahinmi (21) and Matt Bonner (28) could have meaningful roles. The Celtics just won a championship with Ray Allen at 32, Kevin Garnett at 31 and Paul Pierce at 30. By comparison, the Spurs aren't too old at all -- Tim Duncan is 32, Manu Ginobili is 30 and Tony Parker is 26. Bring in another lively body or two to fill in around them and they could be celebrating title No. 5.
1. The Pistons. Who knows when it will happen? But someday the Pistons will pull off a bold move to unload one or more of their household names. Remember that Detroit president Joe Dumars had been targeting Rasheed Wallace for almost a year before landing him in 2004. No doubt he has targeted several possible trade candidates and is patiently waiting for circumstances at those franchises to change to his benefit.
A lot has been made of the expensive free-agent moves of recent days, but none of them will influence the championship in a meaningful way. The Spurs and Pistons remain very close to winning another championship, as do the Lakers, Hornets and other teams who have been quiet thus far. The 2008-09 championship will be affected by the bargain signings of the next month more so than by the high-profile moves of the past week.
1. Ron Artest to the Lakers. I'm not vouching for the rumors or even suggesting that the Lakers are serious about trading for him. I'm saying that it's a move everyone can agree on: Lakers fans will hope that Artest can provide the defense, toughness and big playmaking needed in support of Kobe Bryant; Lakers haters will hope that Artest destabilizes a franchise that was volatile one year ago. Coach Phil Jackson had terrific success in rehabbing the career of Dennis Rodman with the Bulls, but this would be an entirely different kettle of fish, with high levels of mercury and latent piranha-like traits. I thought nonetheless that the Nuggets should have traded for Artest at the deadline last season, and I think the Lakers should try to get him now. He's a risk worth taking.