Kevin Pelton, SUPERSONICS.COM
| October 30, 2006
For the third consecutive season, the Seattle SuperSonics kicked off the campaign by holding their Tip-Off Luncheon at the Fairmont Olympic Hotel Monday. The event marked the first appearance in Seattle by Clay Bennett since the sale of the Sonics and Storm to his group, the Professional Basketball Club, LLC, was approved by the NBA's Board of Governors last Tuesday.
"On behalf of my partners, I want to say how very honored we are to assume what we view as the stewardship of this remarkable, important and legendary pro basketball franchise," Bennett said during a brief speech which he concluded by reminding the packed room that the focus is on the Sonics players and coaches.
Rashard Lewis during the Sonics Tip-Off Luncheon.|
The appearance capped a day which saw Bennett begin a four-day trip to Seattle that will begin to define the new ownership group's tenure. The sale of the franchise is scheduled to officially close Tuesday. Earlier Monday, Bennett met with Sonics General Manager Rick Sund.
"I'm getting an information download, understanding the dynamics of the decision-making and really trying to support Rick and Coach (Bob Hill) and help support their vision for this team," explained Bennett following the Tip-Off Luncheon.
"More than anything, I think it was a little bit of - as an owner would want - 'Tell me about the club,'" added Sund. "'What do you think of the players and the chemistry?'
"There's a lot of basketball things that he needs to know from his GM and from his coach - philosophies, visions, where we were a couple of years ago in terms of where our versions were, where we are today, what our vision is for next year - so he has a pretty good feel for, philosophically and strategically, who we are."
Bennett signed off on the extension Sonics point guard Luke Ridnour signed Monday afternoon, but he reiterated that he does not plan to take an active role in personnel decisions.
"My basic philosophy is to support the professional staff that really know what they're doing, understand talent, understand building a team, understand competition and the extraordinary dynamic of salary issues and all the math," said Bennett. "Certainly, our group can evaluate decisions vis-ŗ-vis our vision and our financial perspective, but we will not be involved in making specific decisions relative to players."
In addition to Bennett, the Tip-Off Luncheon featured a Q&A with Sonics Head Coach Bob Hill and players Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis and focused on the Sonics & Storm Foundation's community efforts. All proceeds benefited the Foundation. FSN Northwest Vice President and General Manager Mark Shuken spoke about the importance of the Sonics to the community, as did Sonics President and CEO Wally Walker, who was passionate and candid as he prepares to leave his position when the sale is complete.
Bennett said he has no candidate in mind nor any imminent announcement regarding replacing Walker.
When asked about the progress of the search for a successor to KeyArena, Bennett was extremely positive.
"We're doing a lot of learning, understanding what the elements of the process are and beginning to develop opinions and ideas about how we think we'll frame up the issue," he said. "My experience so far has been very positive, very productive and energizing. I continue to remain encouraged and optimistic."
For now, however, the focus with the Sonics is on the court as the team prepares for Opening Night on Wednesday against Portland (7:00 p.m., , FSN, KTTH 770).
"I have a good feeling about how we're getting started and am looking forward to a good year," said Bennett.
Hill confirmed after practice and again at the Tip-Off Luncheon that he plans to start rookie Mouhamed Sene at center on Opening Night.
Besides center Robert Swift, who is out for the season, everyone else on the Sonics roster participated in Monday's practice. Danny Fortson left early after knocking knees with Chris Wilcox, while Wilcox also sat out the end of the practice after feeling ill. He was able to attend the Tip-Off Luncheon. Kareem Rush, still working back from a partially torn left groin muscle, went throughout practice.
"That was good for Kareem," said Hill. "He's pretty familiar (with the system) for having not been on the floor, so he was fine today."
While the Sonics and Nick Collison had previously decided to table discussions on a contract extension like the one signed by Ridnour, Sund said that he will share Collison's position with Bennett Tuesday in case there is a desire to change course. Tuesday is the last day for 2003 first-round picks to sign extensions.