#5 Seattle SuperSonics Is Olden Polynice the remedy for the Sonics' mediocrity in the middle? Just ask him

February 08, 1999

Say this about former Kings center Olden Polynice: He doesn't
waste time making an impression. Though he had just signed a
one-year, $1 million deal with the Sonics earlier in the day, he
jabbered so much at the team's first practice that he made new
teammate Gary Payton look like Harpo Marx. At the end of the
session Polynice proceeded to excoriate his predecessor in the
post, low-scoring, high-earning Jim McIlvaine, who had been
dealt to the Nets the same day. "No offense," said Polynice,
unaware that he'd made a pun, "but last year when that guy was
on the court, Seattle was playing four-on-five. Anything I can
add will be an improvement."

Here's another Olden goldie. When grilled by a local sports-radio
station about his career 56.7% free throw shooting, Polynice made
an on-air pledge: If he didn't shoot at least 75% from the line,
he would donate $25,000 to the Make-A-Wish Foundation. "If you
can't have fun and be yourself at your job, then why do it?" says
the 7-foot, 250-pound Polynice, 34, who spent his first 3 1/2
seasons with Seattle. "When you've been playing for Sacramento
and you come to an organization like this, you get chills."

Still, it was neither Polynice's brutal candor nor his
philanthropic bent that induced the Sonics to sign him. Under
coach George Karl the last seven seasons, Seattle had relied on
athletes who played pressure defense and slid seamlessly among
positions. That system was good for 58 wins a season, but it
invariably broke down in the playoffs. When the Sonics had to
face a team with a dominant center, they were undersized and
outmuscled. Call it Seattle's micro-soft problem. When Paul
Westphal replaced Karl in the off-season, he made shoring up the
middle his No. 1 priority. "We brought in Olden not for his
offense," says Westphal, "but to hold his own against the big
boys."

Otherwise, all the other pieces were in place for a title run.
Payton and Vin Baker rank among the best one-two punches in the
league, and both arrived at camp in superior shape. At forward,
36-year-old Detlef Schrempf remains reliable, and Dale Ellis,
38, led the NBA in three-point shooting last year. As one of the
oldest teams in the league, the Sonics will benefit from a
shortened season. They did add fresh legs, getting Don MacLean
in the McIlvaine trade and signing another Kings refugee, 6'9"
Billy Owens, who will start at off-guard.

Seattle's other significant off-season move was refurbishing the
team plane at an estimated cost of $18 million. The Boeing
727-200 now comes equipped with extra-large leather recliners,
10 televisions and VCRs, three cabins and two galleys. "They say
it can make it to any Eastern Conference city without
refueling," says Polynice. If the Sonics' new center lives up to
his own billing, that feature could prove useful in the
postseason.

--L. Jon Wertheim

COLOR PHOTO: MANNY MILLAN Boiling point On a team loaded with older players, Payton will set a scorching tempo.

PROJECTED LINEUP

Starters PVR* 1997-98 Key Stats

SF Detlef Schrempf 47 15.8 ppg 7.1 rpg 4.4 apg 48.7 FG%
PF Vin Baker 12 19.2 ppg 8.0 rpg 1.05 bpg 54.2 FG%
C Olden Polynice[+] 151 7.9 ppg 6.3 rpg 0.64 bpg 45.9 FG%
SG Billy Owens[+] 161 10.5 ppg 7.5 rpg 2.8 apg 1.19 spg
PG Gary Payton 4 19.2 ppg 8.3 apg 4.6 rpg 2.26 spg

Top Reserves Bench Ranking (out of 29 teams): 17

G Hersey Hawkins 102 10.5 ppg 4.1 rpg 2.7 apg 41.5 3FG%
G-F Dale Ellis 140 11.8 ppg 2.3 rpg 49.7 FG% 46.4 3FG%
C Vladimir
Stepania(R)[+] 243 10.0 ppg 5.7 rpg 44.4 FG% 62.0 FT%

1997-98 Record: 61-21 (tied for first in Pacific)
Coach: Paul Westphal (first season with Sonics)

[+}New acquisition (R) Rookie (1997-98 statistics for Union
Olimpija Ljubljana in Slovenia)
*PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 68)

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)