New Sonics radio play-by-play broadcaster David Locke is Locked on the Sonics. He'll follow all the news, rumors and more throughout the summer and into the 2006-07 season. Locked on Sonics will be updated regularly, break stories and have audio interviews on the biggest stories. E-mail David your questions at AskLocke@sonics-storm.com

Have the Dunk-O-Meter Ready
Posted on August 15 | permalink


Mission Accomplished. Okay, I should find a different phrase. You get the point - after the fantastic finish to last season the Sonics wanted to reload the same team and let it gel.

With todayís signing of Chris Wilcox, that goal has been attained.

Following last yearís trade deadline, the Sonics were rebuilt. Coach Hill instituted a new defensive philosophy that greatly improved the leagueís worst defensive team. Simultaneously, Hillís open-floor running system took hold on the offensive end of the court with Wilcox converting 68 dunks in 29 games in Seattle. The Sonics won 14 of their final 25 games.

Wilcox was at the core of the running game, averaging 14.1 points and 8.2 rebounds per game after coming to Seattle. Now the Sonics will have an entire training camp with the same unit to build off this success.

The best news of the day is that the contract is for three seasons.

Signing a three-year deal with Wilcox solidifies the Wilcox for Radmanovic trade as a steal. The Sonics traded an unhappy player who was unlikely to be re-signed for a developing, inexperienced athlete who they will now have under contract for three more years - the three years when his skills are most likely to come together into a complete package.

The acquisition of Wilcox is how front offices in any sport are supposed to make deals. Have your scouting department recognize a player that has upside and is being under-utilized. Then find a way to acquire him and let his skills prosper in the new environment. To make it even better, the Sonics traded a player who had maximized his talents and his career path to acquire an up-and-coming talent.

The contract is also a win-win for both sides. For Wilcox, if he continues to show the development he exemplified in the final third of last season, then he will become an NBA All-Star and a free agent at his valueís apex.

Quite frankly, from a Sonics standpoint you canít afford to pay for potential. Wilcox is not entirely refined. He shows flashes of insanity like his 26-point, 23-rebound game against Houston. On the flip side, he has been known to struggle against half-court defensive-minded teams like San Antonio and Memphis.

Athleticism is at the core of Wilcoxís game. Yet last season he showed signs of a consistent 15-footer and a jump hook to the middle of the lane. In the upcoming year, he must develop a stronger array of back-to-the-basket moves and a better handle with the basketball.

The three-year deal also gives the Sonics a roster loaded with assets. The core of the team is established and if Robert Swift and Johan Petro continue to develop along with Wilcox, the club is on the fast track to fantastic.

Simultaneously, if other weaknesses develop the front office has a roster of ten desirable players that they can mix and match with to fill whatever holes develop.

It is for all these reasons that the signing of Wilcox allows the Sonics to propel forward off of last yearís strong finish into a dynamic training camp that is now just six weeks away.

A Week Later
Posted on July 27 | permalink


It has been a little over a week since we were all shocked by the announcement of the sale of the Sonics and Storm to Clay Bennett, Ed Evans and their ownership group. Having digested a week's worth of information, I have decided WE ARE BETTER OFF THAN WE WERE A WEEK AGO.

Follow me on this road and as always let me know what you think by e-mailing me at asklocke@sonics-storm.com.

Status of the Sonics and the Storm last Tuesday morning:

Fact #1 - The Sonics and Storm needed a new or a remodeled arena to stay in the Northwest.
Regardless of how much we all like KeyArena, the reality of the NBA business model is that to maintain solvency and competitiveness in the NBA the organization had to have a new arena arrangement.

Fact #2 - The Key Arena lease runs out in 2010.
Every day we got closer to 2010 without an arena deal we were getting closer to losing our franchise because every day we got closer to 2010 out-of-state buyers' desire to purchase the franchise was increasing.

Fact #3 - The ownership group and the city were at a standstill.
Negotiations were mired. Progress was not being made. A foundation of trust and a true partnership did not exist.

Fact #4 - The ownership's pockets werenít deep enough.
Despite the number of owners the Basketball Club of Seattle had, they didnít have endless pockets. With the accumulated losses of the past seasons and the projected losses in the future with the team in Key Arena, the ownership group didnít have the capability to sink large sums of money into the arena project.

Considering those four facts I think we, Sonics and Storm fans, are lucky that last Tuesdayís press conference didnít take place in 2008 in Oklahoma City, Kansas City or San Jose. Had we stayed on the same course there is a strong likelihood that it could have ended without an arena and an out-of-town buyer would have held the press conference in the Sonics new city.

INSTEAD, WE HAVE A CHANCE TO SAVE OUR TEAMS.

One week later, Facts #1 and #2 are still the same. However, they are at the forefront of fans' and legislators' minds. There is no mystery in what we are confronting. We have to make sure that everyone involved understands how important the Sonics and the Storm are to this community.

We have a chance to show that support. We have a chance to remind everyone of the '79 and '04 Championships that basketball has brought to Seattle. We have a chance to remind everyone how much pride sports can bring to a community. We have a chance to remind them what Ray Allen or Lauren Jackson can do for a young child when they come to their school or open a new court in their neighborhood.

That's exactly what the Save Our Sonics & Storm group is trying to do, and I applaud them for their efforts.

Facts #3 and #4 have changed. We now have an ownership group with a clean slate when dealing with the elected officials. We have an ownership group that sees the tremendous upside to a new arena in a top-15 market in the country. We have an ownership group that has yet to accumulate losses. In addition, they are building relationships from scratch with the key players rather than trying to rebuild or repair relationships.

Most of all, we have an urgency from everyone involved that was had never been established up to this point.

Truly, we were further along in day one under the new ownership group. In one day the new group was able to move Bellevue to the top of the discussion. The Sonics had previously been stuck in a quagmire with the city of Seattle, making any substantial conversation with Bellevue impossible.

One week after the bombshell of the sale, most of the issues are the same, but when you dig a little deeper, maybe we are better as fans. The worst-case scenario is a franchise being sold and immediately moved, leaving you without a chance to show its importance in our community. We have a chance and I am confident we will all win.

Letís show everyone all why the Northwest is a basketball hotbed, why the Northwest has had two first-round draft picks each of the last two years, why the Northwest has had top-10 college basketball on both sides of the state. Why? Because basketball is important and supported in this community.

Taking Ed Evans at His Word
Posted on July 22 | permalink


I have come out of my shell. Sorry for the absence from the blog. The week's events have knocked me off my foundation the same way they did you. However, now it is time to figure out what is going on and what it all means. I have been working the phones, reading everything I can and I am going to do the best I can to share my thoughts and keep you in the loop.

On Friday morning, new Sonics owner Ed Evans spent 20 minutes with Mitch Levy of 950, KJR. Here in New York I listened in via the Internet (click here for the podcast).

For those of you that may have missed the conversation, I thought I would share some of my thoughts. This is a journey that we are going to take together and I will be sharing my thoughts with you throughout the process.

The number one thing that jumped out at me about Ed Evans is that he was straightforward. He wasnít trying to spin. He wasnít hiding things. He answered questions without hiding the answer in big words and complicated sentences that left you feeling like the Coyote in the Roadrunner cartoon. He didnít try to make everything rosy. He was honest and understandable.

I find it interesting that Evans was not a part of the group, led by Clayton Bennett, which was responsible for getting Oklahoma City ready for the Hornets relocation last season. His interests are clearly about owning a professional sports team.

I am getting the vibe that this ownership group is a conglomeration of two different groups, Evans and Bennett, that came together to get into the NBA

Remember Evans was a part of a group that was trying to buy the Washington Nationals and wasnít able to acquire the franchise. He has consistently stated that he wanted in on professional ownership and this was his vehicle. This was a decision about choosing the NBA or not choosing the NBA.

Evans continually mentioned that they wanted into the NBA. He also said that Seattle presented the best opportunity. There were other franchises available; none of them brought what Seattle brings.

This is really important and tells me that he is very interested in getting an arena in Seattle. Follow me on this. Portland and other franchises are for sale. However, none of them have the up side of a top 15 market with a new arena. If they were just looking to move a franchise he could have purchased one of those for less money. However, from a business standpoint there was no opportunity that matches the end result Seattle and a new arena. It blows Portland and the other franchises out of the water.

If Evans can get an arena agreement he has a team in a top-15 market with a new arena. There was no other franchise that offered anything close to that possibility.

At the same time if the arena is not built and they donít get cooperation from the government officials then they acquired a franchise whose lease runs out in 2010 and they have the freedom to move the franchise.

One of his points was that he and his group were interested more in control than they were geography. This makes sense since Bennett and his group, which to my understanding Evans was not a part of, had a chance to buy a minority ownership of the New Orleans Hornets. However, they didnít want minority ownership - they wanted complete control.

I love that he said he will not hold any of the negotiations about the arena in the media. He has already met with or talked with the Governor and the mayors of Seattle and Bellevue. The most demonstrative he was in the entire conversation was when he said that no conversations have been held with Oklahoma City or would be until they reached a standstill in Seattle.

This is a great change. Looking back, it was a fateful day in February when Nick Licata made the comments about the Sonics lacking cultural and economic impact. The Sonics ownership lashed out publicly, drawing lines in the sand, and we never recovered.

Evans also mentioned the possibility of NBA expansion going to Oklahoma City, which I never heard before. If Seattle can find an agreement to build an arena and New Orleans is able to sustain an NBA franchise then Oklahoma City would be rewarded in that fashion.

This may be too much of a stretch but if that happens I could envision the two ownership groups separating with Evans staying in Seattle (maybe with the addition of local money) and Bennett and his people owning the expansion franchise in Oklahoma City. A deal like that could only get done from the inside.

This group has a loyalty to Oklahoma City. As owners of an NBA franchise they can become very influential on the expansion process or other franchise relocation, whereas standing on the outside they are at the whim of others. Trust me - great businessmen donít like being at the whim of anyone.

In summation, the impression I was left with was that Ed Evans is a straight shooter. He is not flamboyant or crafty. He wanted very badly to be a professional sports owner. He is an astute business man who sincerely sees Seattle as the best market for success of the Sonics and Storm. This, of course, is if they are able to get an arena agreement.

I am interested in any of your thoughts. Please feel free to email me at AskLocke@sonics-storm.com. I will keep my ears to ground and see what I can find out.

Mid-Level This
Posted on July 17 | permalink


Both SUPERSONICS.COMís Kevin Pelton and ESPNís John Hollinger have recently written about how there may be nothing free about free agency. A little research has shown that after the initial boom of the signing the new players wears off, the on-floor reality can be quite stark.

Hollinger pointed out that nearly half the players who have signed big-number deals over the past two years have busted. Pelton did amazing work on the free agent cost per ďwin over replacement player.Ē He found the unrestricted free agency yielded the least value.

Since those two are much smarter then I am, let me be a little simpler. The advent of the mid-level exception contract has led an incredible amount of free-agent errors over the past few years.

The mid-level contract is the amount of money a team in the NBA can spend on free agent players during the off-season if they are over the salary cap. Agents have done a miraculous job of convincing team after team after team that there player is a ďfull mid-level player.Ē

In turn, over the past few seasons, teams all around the NBA have signed player after player to terrible deals. Part of this is due to evolution of the mid-level deal. From 1998 to 2001, the mid-level deal ranged from 1.75 million to 2.25 million. Since, 2001 the mid-level salary has been 108% of players' average salary.

Here is the breakdown of the past three off-seasons of ďfull mid-levelĒ deals. I gave each deal a plus, minus or a push for the team. Notice how many of these players ended of traded as teams worked to get out from under the bad contract.

Since 2003 Ö

Contracts Team Would Do Again

  • New Jersey signed Alonzo Mourning - only a plus because it ended in Vince Carter.
  • Dallas signed Marquis Daniels - nice player still ended up traded
  • Detroit signed Antonio McDyess - the best move of the group
  • Orlando signed Hedo Turkoglu - 14 points per game. Nice move
  • Kings signed Shareef Abdur-Rahim - good move and he finally won.
  • Wizards signed Antonio Daniels - this one may switch spots.
  • Contracts That Make Teams Look for White-Out

  • Orlando signed Juwan Howard - They traded him to Houston.
  • Lakers signed Gary Payton - NBA version of Dream Team Failed
  • Memphis signed James Posey - Traded to Miami.
  • Minnesota signed Mike Olowokandi - Disastrous. Traded to Boston
  • Chicago signed Scottie Pippen - that tank was empty
  • Warriors signed Derek Fisher - traded him to Utah
  • Lakers signed Vlade Divac - back problems, never played
  • Memphis signed Brian Cardinal - oops, even the Logo misses
  • Philadelphia signed Brian Skinner - worse, they traded him for Webber
  • Sacramento signed Greg Ostertag - what people will do for a big #1
  • Denver signed Earl Watson - traded by trade deadline.
  • Houston signed Stromile Swift - traded on draft day.
  • Knicks signed Jerome James - what people will do for a big #2
  • Get off the Bike, Stop Kicking the Ball
    Posted on July 14 | permalink


    Every scout in the NBA is trying to find the new hotbed of future NBA talent. Over the past several years, people projected it to be South America and Asia. Instead, a country obsessed over bicycles and soccer balls this month is spouting NBA talent.

    This weekís signing of Mike Gelabale added another French player to the Sonics roster that already includes Johan Petro. One of the summer league standouts has been combo guard Patch Morlende, who grew up in Paris.

    The French explosion has come on like a headbutt to the chest. (Sorry I couldnít resist.) Seriously, from 1960 to 1996 the French only qualified for the Olympics once. This yearís 2006 World Championship will be the first time they will participate since 1963.

    In the 2005 European Championships they shocked Spain and Pau Gasol with a 98-68 blowout win for third place.

    Now the French roll out a starting lineup that includes Tony Parker, Boris Diaw, MickaŽl Pietrus and Petro.

    From an NBA standpoint, what jumps out at me is that the French players all seem to vastly supersede their draft projections. Parker was a late first-round pick by the Spurs in 2001 and now may be the best young point guard in the NBA

    Diaw was the 21st pick of the 2003 draft and has reached a level where the Suns considered trading Shawn Marion so they could keep Diaw.

    The Sonics find last year, Johan Petro, fits the mold as well. The 25th pick of the 2005 draft far exceeded expectations and outperformed the players drafted around him.

    Previously, the French presence in the NBA was non-existent. Tariq Abdul-Wahad and Jerome Moiso were the two most prominent Frenchmen to have played in the NBA, but both of those played their college ball in the United States. Ronny Turiaf from Gonzaga and now with the Lakers has followed a similar path.

    According to Sonics Director of Player Personnel, Dave Pendergraft, the influx of the French goes to coaching.

    "They have great coaching at a very early age," he said. "All of them have a strong feel for the game and how it is played."

    The agent for Gelabale, Bouna N'Diaye, has this explanation: "First of all, this country has talent. The mix of communities - from the West Indies, Africa - they are born and raised over there. That mix gives potential over there in France. At the same time, I think basketball programs ran by teams and INSEP - the school where Tony Parker, Boris Diaw and Ronny Turiaf went - we have a very good basketball program."

    N'Diaye also talks about the instinctual feel for the game, "Johan has a good feel for the game - he can pass it, he can shoot it. Then they are just athletes. Athletes plus understanding of the game make NBA players. I think this country has maybe the highest potential in Europe."

    Behind the Scenes on Gelabale
    Posted on July 14 | permalink


    A major component to the Gelabale signing is being overlooked by most everyone. Yes, there is an expectation that he can help the team this year as a complement to Damien Wilkins coming off the bench on the wing. However, the real issue was that it was now or never for the Sonics.

    Gelabale is a hot property in Europe. Two or three of the top European teams were extending substantial offers his direction. Those offers all would have had enormous buyouts and been multi-year deals. If Gelabale had signed one of those contracts, which were likely for more money than what he got from Seattle, then the Sonics would have never seen the bouncing flowing locks of Gelabale on the KeyArena Floor.

    Donít misconstrue what playing in Europe is like. This is not the D-League. These players are driving brand new Land Rovers and living like rock stars. It is not a no-brainer for a kid to leave his homeland and go to the NBA. Notice that Sergei Monia recently went back to Europe, while Luis Scola will likely pass up his NBA opportunity with San Antonio. Another example last year was Fran Vazquez, a lottery pick by the Magic who opted to stay in Spain.

    Therefore, the behind-the-scenes story to the Gelabale signing is there was an incredible amount of urgency confronting the Sonics to get the deal completed. In addition, they signed him to a very good contract for a player that could contribute this season.

    First Look at Sene
    Posted on July 10 | permalink


    Robert Swift caught the pass mid-lane on the left block on what turned out to be the final play of the scrimmage last Friday. Swift made his favorite move - a turnaround jumper over his right shoulder. As Swift turned, he suddenly realized that he was going to have change the arc of his shot. He put a deeper contour in his back, but there was nothing he could do to get the ball over the outstretched reach of Mouhamed Sene.

    The final play of the scrimmage exemplified what was strikingly obvious throughout; Sene is long, amazingly long, almost inconceivably long.

    After the game broke up, I chatted with Swift and Noel Felix. Both had huge, wide open, stunned eyes as they said, "He is long, the longest I have played."

    "No one affects that shot except Sene," added Swift.

    MORE FIRST LOOK
    Tonight at 10 p.m. on FSN Live, get an exclusive look at Sene and the Sonics other 2006 draft picks (Denham Brown and Yotam Halperin) in action during their first workouts at The Furtado Center and hear Head Coach Bob Hillís take on their progress and potential. Itís only on FSN Live.
    Throughout the scrimmage, which included Swift, Felix, Nick Collison, Denham Brown, Yotam Halperin and Patch Morlende, Sene's strengths made it obvious why the Sonics drafted him with the 10th pick.

    On one play, Halperin got free on a gorgeous backdoor cut and rose up on the right side for what seemed to be an uncontested layup until Sene came from the left side to send the shot against the green pads on The Furtado Center's wall.

    Seneís most impressive play of the day was when he was defending a pick-and-roll on the left wing. The ballhandler went from the wing to the baseline off a Swift pick. Sene slid down and cut off the path of the dribbler and, when the pass went back to Swift, he was able to recover in time to eliminate any driving angles for Swift.

    That is big-time agility for a big man. Both his length and his surprising quickness made the play possible.

    Seneís length is so awe-striking it is hard to notice anything else. Couple his length with his quickness and it makes him seem even longer. He was surprisingly quick going from block to block defensively. On more than on occasion he was waiting for a rebound on one side of the rim, but was able to corral it on the other side.

    The block of Swift on the final play is equally important to mention, because it exemplifies a competitive streak that has been obvious to anyone who has seen Sene. Sene was gassed by the end of the Friday scrimmage. Combine almost 20 workouts before the draft and travel to each of those with the four days of work Bob Hill has put Sene through and Sene had very little energy left. Yet when it came to the play that was going to decide the scrimmage he went toe to toe with Swift with every ounce of energy he had left.

    As I mentioned, watching Sene made it obvious why the Sonics took their third straight 7-footer with the 10th pick of the draft. He brings an element that neither Swift nor Johan Petro have. The comparisons to Dikembe Mutombo arenít far-fetched, but Sene can run swiftly, which Mutombo never could. Not only will he be a great shot-blocker and defensive force, with more experience and strength he could be a 10 rebound a night player.

    Watching him also made it clear why in a weak draft he was available at #10.

    Sene is not flawless; instead he is still flaw-filled. He brings the ball too low on his rebounds and the quick hands of the NBA will take advantage. The four times he caught the ball on the offensive end in the block and put the ball on the floor, it is was a turnover. He is fouling too much. Twice he goaltended on follow shots that arenít goaltending in the international game. Finally, on occasion he looked surprised by the speed with which a play got to the rim.

    I knew going into The Furtado Center that Sene was long. I had no idea how long until I saw him and I was most surprised by how quickly he can get from side to side. When he stands next to Robert Swift he almost seems taller. Despite Swift having a bigger base, Sene plays bigger, grabbing rebounds higher, affecting more shots and covering more space.

    A few other observations while watching the Sonics first-round pick for the first time. He surprised me with a pretty consistent 15 foot jumper. Unofficially, he hit about 5-of-9 from 13 to 16 feet. His shot release is from above his forehead and therefore unblockable.

    Sene caught the ball below his sight line, which some bigs are not able to do. His low-block footwork needs to develop - he ended up on the floor on three occasions.

    I left The Furtado Center with my first question answered. Did the draft pick make sense? The answer was unquestionably yes. Sene has a special skill set that a team is not going to get unless it loses 60 games and wins the lottery or pays $60 million.

    At the same time, I couldnít tell how soon until Sene will be able to adapt to the NBA game. Part of me thinks he could play 10 minutes a night right now and if he does that for a while, those minutes will increase in a hurry. On the other hand, it takes an awful lot to be a 10 minute a night player when you are as young as Sene.

    Training camp in October will begin to answer that question, but the combination of length, quickness and competitiveness is a really good start.

    Big Ben's a Bull
    Posted on July 3 | permalink


    The big man of free agency is moving teams. Sources inside the NBA are confirming that Ben Wallace will become a member of the Chicago Bulls. The word is the starting year of the contract could be as high as $14 million.

    I am not convinced this will make as big an impact as everyone believes. Last season the Bulls were the 6th best defensive team in the NBA without Wallace. However, they were the 6th worst offensive team and this move didnít improve them in that category. Where Wallace will help is he is the best offensive rebounder in the NBA and the Bulls were in the bottom ten in offensive rebounding percentage. Yet, if he is replacing Tyson Chandler it may not be that big a dividend, because Chandler was the #1 per minute rebounder in the NBA last season.

    Now the dominos will start to fall. The Pistons will need to replace Wallace with another big man. The rumored name around the NBA is Nazr Mohammed. Last season, Mohammed averaged 6 points and 5 rebounds, but only played 15 minutes in the entire San Antonio v. Dallas series. It is anticipated that he could receive the full mid-level exception. Atlanta is also a player for Mohammed and could give him more than the mid-level. It is remarkable what people will pay for a 7 footer.

    Joel Przybilla, who averaged 6 points and 7 rebounds for the Blazers, is the other name mentioned to fill Wallaceís spot. Portland has already offered the full mid level, but word around the league is Atlanta is willing to give him more.

    Sonics PerspectiveThis eliminates the #1 under the salary cap suitor for Chris Wilcox. The Sonics and Wilcox had their initial meetings pre the 4th of July. The market for power forwards has not been jumping. Whereas, the centers are flying off the shelves.

    Wilcox Negotiations Moving Along
    Posted on July 3 | permalink


    Today is a big day in the Sonics quest to re-sign Chris Wilcox. First, the team and Wilcox representatives are meeting today to see if they can find a common ground. Second, some of the free agent landscape is shifting its out.

    As always seems to be the case, each side of the Wilcox negotiations will be sighting newly signed deals to back their argument. From the Sonics perspective, the Vlade Radmanovic deal at the mid-level exception is a good barometer. The Wilcox camp will surely be quoting the shocking deal the Nuggets gave NenÍ.

    The other factor pushing the Sonics and Wilcox together is the Ben Wallace negotiations. Wallace is the first domino that needs to fall. The Pistons have made an initial offer. According to the Detroit Free Press it is a four-year deal worth 48 million, but it has been superseded by the Chicago Bulls, who are reportedly started the conversations at 52 million over four years.

    The Bulls are one of six NBA teams that opened free agency with cap room. Along with the Bulls, the Hawks, the Hornets, the Clippers, the Bobcats and the Raptors are the other teams with cap space.

    This is important because teams without cap space canít offer Wilcox anything more than the mid-level exception. These other teams can exceed the mid-level with their available cap space.

    However, logic shows that most of these teams are not in the market for a power forward. The Hawks just drafted Shelden Williams. The Hornets have used their cap space on Peja Stojakovic and have a young emerging player in David West. The Clippers obviously are not in the market for Wilcox, having traded him at the deadline. The Raptors are set with the brilliant Chris Bosh and the Bobcats have Emeka Okafor and Sean May.

    Therefore, the key team to watch is the Chicago Bulls. The Bulls have set their sights on Ben Wallace and are rumored to have Joel Przybilla as their second choice.

    Przybilla has been contacted by the Spurs and the Cavaliers, amongst others.

    The Sonics remain committed to bringing Wilcox back to Seattle and Wilcox embraced his opportunity with the Sonics last season. Moreover, when I spoke with Wilcox last season he was ecstatic about the Sonics coaching staff and the instruction he was receiving that improved his game.

    A Free Agent Flurry
    Posted on July 2 | permalink


    Free agency is upon us. At Locked on Sonics, exclusive to SUPERSONICS.COM, we will break down the moves, keep an eye on developing stories, break stories as we did on draft day and keep a Sonics perspective on all moves.

    The number one Sonics issue is Chris Wilcox and the ability to re-sign him. The Sonics and Wilcox have already begun conversations. Wilcox is a restricted free agent, allowing the Sonics to match any offer that he receives. More importantly, the Sonics are very interested in signing Wilcox and having him be a cornerstone to Bob Hillís 2006-07 Sonics.

    July 1st kicked off free agency and, before anyone could blink, all of the prognostications and expectations of the free agency season were gone. Some of it was good news for the Sonics. LetĎs break down the moves.

    1. Peja Stojakovic leaves Indiana to sign with the New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets
    2. Another strong player moves west. This is a stinging blow to the Pacers, who gave up Ron Artest to get Stojakovic and now have nothing in return. The Hornets are making a big buzz with this move. Chris Paul is the franchise and David West is a nice post player. Complimenting those two with Stojakovic is a big-time move.

      Last year's Hornets team ranked 26th in the NBA Offensive Rating. Moreover, NO/Oklahoma City had the worst effective field-goal percentage of any team in the NBA. This was largely because Desmond Mason started at small forward and he had one of the worst offensive season of any player in the NBA. To add Stojakovic in that role is an enormous upgrade.

      The next move for the Pacers will be very interesting. Will this force them to move Jermaine OíNeal and start a full rebuilding process? The packages for OíNeal could be very impressive around the league. There is no 20-point, 10-rebound post in the NBA and OíNeal is really close.

      Sonics Perspective: This is really good news on the Chris Wilcox front because it eliminates a team with cap room from the Wilcox bidding. Having a non-playoff team in the West get stronger only makes the Sonics quest back to the playoffs even tougher. The Sonics have been very active in the trade market. Will they get involved for OíNeal if he is put on the trade block?

    3. Radmanovic - same building, different locker room
    4. Vlade has signed a full mid-level deal with the Lakers, leaving the Clippers. This is a nice save on a year-long disastrous free agency for Vlade.

      Interestingly, last season most of the players who signed for the full mid-level were huge disappointments or have already been traded (see Earl Watson, Stromile Swift, Marko Jaric and others).

      Sonics Perspective: My reaction may be the most telling statement about Vladeís lack of development in the past seasons. I think he changes the Lakers minimally and if that is their big off-season move then I donít see them as a dramatically different team.

    5. Clippers re-tool with Tim Thomas and Sam Cassell
    6. The Clippers replaced Vlade with Tim Thomas and have signed Cassell to a two-year deal. For the Clippers, Thomas may be an upgrade from Radmanovic. Re-signing Cassell was a no-brainer.

      If Sam I Am returns to play like he did last season, the Clippers will be a force again. However, Cassell has a history of playing brilliantly in contract years and then slipping a bit in a non-contract season. On the other hand, Cassell is on the top of my list of the leagueís most underrated players. Every team he has played with wins and every superstar he plays with has their best season.

      Sonics Perspective: The Clippers are a force in the West. Phoenix gets weaker by losing Thomas and that is the price they paid for not moving Shawn Marion. It will be the first of numerous losses for the Suns in the next few seasons due to their financial restraints.

    7. Bucks trade T.J. Ford to Raptors for Charlie Villanueva
    8. I like this deal a lot for the Bucks. T.J. Ford is a fast and exciting player, but he is not a good shooter and he's very small on the defensive end. With Mo Williams and Charlie Bell, the Bucks didnít lose anything at the point by trading Ford.

      The Raptors may loose Mike James to free agency. Therefore, they needed to add a point guard to compliment Jose Calderon. It is too hard to evaluate the Raptors until they have completed all of their deals.

      Sonics Perspective: Irrelevant.