12 Seattle Supersonics As preparations are made for the Rashard Lewis era, no one expects Gary Payton to go out quietly

October 29, 2001

Their new uniforms are a homage to history, and fans of a certain
age may take one look at the green arc and block lettering across
the chest of the home jerseys and find themselves yearning for
Jack Sikma and Downtown Freddie Brown. The SuperSonics, however,
would like to think they're entering a new era. With owner Howard
Schultz and coach Nate McMillan beginning their first full season
and point guard Gary Payton the only player left from the team
that went to the Finals five years ago, Seattle is in the midst
of a transition game that has nothing to do with its fast break.

Although Payton, 33, returns for his 12th year in Seattle after a
summer of trade rumors that had him headed to Miami, Minnesota,
New York and Sacramento, among other places, the Sonics are
clearly preparing fourth-year forward Rashard Lewis to replace
him as their leading man. The 6'10" Lewis emerged as Seattle's
second-best player last season, and McMillan has gone so far as
to name him co-captain along with Payton, a heavy title to hang
on a quiet 22-year-old who jumped straight from high school to
the pros. "He's one of the best young players in the league and
an important part of this franchise's future," says McMillan,
"and I want him thinking about his responsibility to be one of
our leaders."

McMillan is trying mightily to keep Lewis from being overwhelmed
by expectations, but it's hard to ignore how similar his growth
curve has been to that of Orlando's Tracy McGrady, another
22-year-old who bypassed college. McGrady averaged 15.4 points
and 6.3 rebounds two years ago before having a breakout season
last year that earned him second-team All-NBA status. Lewis isn't
promising such dramatic improvement but thinks he's ready to
carry a heavier load. "I'm ready to have a little bit bigger role
on the court," he says, "and to speak up a little more off the
court."

It can be hard for any Sonic to make himself heard when the
loquacious Payton is around. His trash talk is as pointed as
ever, but the rest of his game has slipped slightly. He has been
as much an irritant as an inspiration during Seattle's last few
mediocre years, criticizing teammates and clashing with
McMillan's predecessor, Paul Westphal. But Payton arrived at
training camp this season showing signs of mellowing, with a kind
word for everyone, including Lewis. "He's grown up," Payton says.
"He knows we need him to produce, and he has the confidence to do
it."

At McMillan's request, Vin Baker relinquished his co-captaincy to
Lewis, but neither Baker nor the Sonics have given up hope that
the 29-year-old will finally reverse the downward spiral that has
taken him from the All-Star team four seasons ago to career lows
of 12.2 points and 5.7 rebounds last year. A summer of
conditioning trimmed about 15 pounds, leaving him roughly 10
pounds heavier than the 250 he weighed at his peak; last year he
came off the bench in 49 of his 76 games, but the plan is for him
to return to the starting lineup.

Schultz invited Baker to spend a day with him at his home in the
Hamptons this summer, and Baker says he came away feeling
reenergized and ready to return to being one of the top big men.
He has talked that talk before, though, with little result.

Despite its high hopes for Lewis, Seattle's immediate fortunes
depend on Payton and Baker. If the latter can get back to
providing double figures in points and rebounds and the former
can remain a happy camper, the Sonics will be in the running for
a playoff spot. If Baker flames out again, though, Seattle will
be overmatched up front, Payton's era of good feeling isn't
likely to last, and both players will likely be back on the
trading block. That would leave Lewis as the core of the team,
and as much as the Sonics are looking forward to their future,
they don't want it to arrive quite that fast.

--P.T.

COLOR PHOTO: ROCKY WIDNER/NBA ENTERTAINMENT HE'S GOT NEXT The blossoming Lewis showed so much promise last year that the Sonics are ready to rebuild around him.

enemy lines
an opposing team's scout sizes up the SuperSonics

"So this is what you do to make your team better: go out and get
Calvin (Toll) Booth? There's no way this team isn't going
down.... The only truly positive thing for them is that with the
new rules Shammond Williams becomes more effective. He's a great
shooter to have on that weak side, with Gary Payton over on the
strong side to draw and kick to him. I see those two in the
lineup a lot together.... The word from Payton is that he's going
to show it with his actions and not his words. That's the great
thing about the off-season--you can just announce you're a
different person, and nobody can say you're wrong. By midseason
he'll be the same old Payton, not practicing, screaming at
everyone else. That said, he still has all the skills, and with
his nemesis, Jason Kidd, gone to the East, he's the elite point
guard in the West.... Vin Baker will be better at a trimmed-down
weight, but he's still more of an Eastern Conference player with
that pound-it style. Payton can run the pick-and-roll, but Baker
has never been the right guy on the other end of it. The only
thing that will keep this team from sinking is if Baker has a
bust-out season, and I don't see it happening.... Brent Barry
will make some standstill shots and create a little, but he won't
defend a lick. He's not a hard worker, and he could get pushed
out by Desmond Mason, who's probably their best overall
athlete.... They have a real good player in Rashard Lewis, and I
like Vladimir Radmanovic a lot. He's like most of those European
guys, who need to bulk up, but he can defend a little."

projected lineup
2000-01 record: 44-38 (fifth in Pacific)
Coach: Nate McMillan (second season with SuperSonics)

STARTERS
PVR* 2000-01 KEY STATS

SF Rashard Lewis 14.8 ppg 6.9 rpg 1.17 spg 48.0 FG% 43.2 3FG%
43
PF Vin Baker 12.2 ppg 5.7 rpg 1.2 apg 0.96 bpg 42.2 FG%
95
C Calvin Booth[1] 5.3 ppg 4.5 rpg 2.02 bpg 47.6 FG% 67.9 FT%
113
SG Brent Barry 8.8 ppg 3.4 apg 1.19 spg 49.4 FG% 47.6 3FG%
115
PG Gary Payton 23.1 ppg 8.1 apg 4.6 rpg 1.61 spg 45.6 FG%
9

BENCH
PVR* 2000-01 KEY STATS

G Desmond Mason 5.9 ppg 3.2 rpg 0.50 spg 43.1 FG% 73.6 FT%
159
G Shammond Williams 6.8 ppg 2.8 apg 1.9 rpg 43.8 FG% 45.9 3FG%
204
F Vladimir Radmanovic 17.2 ppg 7.3 rpg 2.7 apg 55.1 FG% 38.8 FT%
276[1][2]
F-C Predrag Drobnjak 16.7 ppg 6.3 rpg 1.1 apg 60.0 FG% 44.4 3FG%
295[1][3]
C Olumide Oyedeji 1.5 ppg 2.2 rpg 0.33 bpg 48.6 FG% 75.0 FT%
343

[1]New acquisition
(R) Rookie (statistics for final college season)
*PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 117)
[2]Rookie (stats from Yugoslavian League)
[3]Rookie (stats from Turkish League)

"By midseason Payton will be sitting out practice and screaming
at everyone."

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)