Kevin Pelton, SUPERSONICS.COM
| Oct. 11, 2004
After his team concluded its final practice before traveling to Anaheim for its preseason opener against the Los Angeles Lakers at The Pond, Seattle SuperSonics Coach Nate McMillan
sounded pleased with where his team is at the conclusion of training camp proper.
Forward Rashard Lewis led the Sonics with an average of 18.9 points per game during last year's preseason.
"I think we've got a lot of things to use, a lot of players to use," McMillan said. "I think we can, at times, if they allow us, we can play 10 players - if we get 10 players to play the way we want to play. I think we've got the guys who can do it, but do they bring it to the floor each and every night and allow me to do that? If we have to go to a seven-, eight-man rotation, we'll do that. We should be able to play 10."
In addition to putting in his offense and defense, McMillan has used the last week to begin looking at which of the 11 or so players who can legitimately make claim to being part of the Sonics rotation when Opening Night rolls around on Nov. 3 will be playing together. That process will only be accelerated during the preseason, when McMillan won't be able to stop the game to teach and it's up to the players to perform.
"I'm looking at different combinations," McMillan said. "The games will help. Right now, it's hard, because I'm really switching lineups and groups every day. Games will help. When we cut down, that will help."
As he said last week when the Sonics began practicing, McMillan will open up with the same starting lineup that took the court when the Sonics concluded 2003-04 in Southern California with a 118-87 win over the Los Angeles Clippers - Luke Ridnour and Ray Allen in the backcourt, Rashard Lewis and Reggie Evans at the forward positions and Vitaly Potapenko at center.
But, McMillan said, he'll switch up point guard, power forward and center throughout the preseason. Also, Allen and Lewis will not play every preseason game to allow McMillan to get a better look at newcomers. Last year, Allen and Lewis each sat out one game as McMillan basically rested one starter a night.
"I want (rookie) Nick (Collison) to get a lot of minutes, Ibo (Kutluay), Luke," said McMillan. "Rashard and Ray, we'll really monitor what they're doing."
McMillan said that Allen and Lewis will play "somewhat" Wednesday, when the Sonics move on to take on the Trail Blazers in Portland, noting that he wants them to see action in at least one back-to-back set (the Sonics play six of their eight preseason games as part of back-to-backs) to prepare them for the same kind of travel during the regular season.
As far as longer-term planning, McMillan envisions two units that are essentially interchangeable, with the exception of Ridnour's unique talents at the point-guard position.
"Whoever Luke is with is going to be faster," McMillan said. "But I think the style of play will be pretty much the same. If you look at Luke - and I'm going with this lineup - Luke, Ray, Rashard and two bigs, it's going to be similar to AD (Antonio Daniels), Flip (Murray), Vlade (Radmanovic) and two bigs. So you can run similar things. I think the intensity should go up, because you're not playing as many minutes."
Arguably the most difficult position to set a rotation at will be power forward, where Collison, Evans and Danny Fortson will see much of their action and Radmanovic is also in the mix for minutes.
"I may not be able to get all of them (in the rotation), if they don't allow me (by adjusting mentally to playing shorter stretches), but if they all are playing well, we can play two power forwards, two centers, and it depends on Vlade," McMillan said. "If Vlade's playing well, he'll be going from three to four some."
Coming Along Nicely
While he's been bothered during camp by minor injuries, including a strained groan that he gutted through during today's practice despite noticeably being affected, rookie center Robert Swift has made a positive impression during his first week in the NBA.
"His poise has impressed me," McMillan said. "He's impressed me with his toughness. He is farther than I thought he would be. He's getting pounded; they're not avoiding him by any means. As a matter of fact, they're using him as a punching bag. His understanding for the game, his feel; the effort is there.
"He wants to learn. He absorbs everything."
After entering training camp thinking, "We're going to be really slow with him," McMillan has gained confidence in Swift and will give him an opportunity on the court during the preseason.
The Sonics traveled to Anaheim without Murray, who is still sidelined by a strained left quad muscle, and forward Galen Young. Young sprained his thumb Saturday, but was able to return to practice the last two days. Radmanovic did not practice during the portion of the session open to the media after injuring his right thigh Sunday, but rode an exercise bike and did make the trip.
McMillan, who watched the Storm beat the Connecticut Sun 67-65 Sunday evening, raved about the performance of Storm guard Betty Lennox, who scored 27 points, before beginning his media session.