Kevin Pelton, SUPERSONICS.COM
| October 27, 2006
After learning this morning that center Robert Swift
will miss the 2006-07 season after tearing his right ACL, Seattle SuperSonics Coach Bob Hill
must choose a new starter on the middle. As of right now, it appears that player will be rookie first-round pick Mouhamed Sene
. Sene started Thursday's preseason finale against Golden State and had six points, six rebounds and three blocks in 16 active minutes.
"I don't know yet, but I'm leaning towards going ahead and starting Mo," Hill said after a relatively light practice on Friday morning. "Last night, I thought he did fine. He really did fine. In the second rotation, he did very well. He forgot a couple of plays, but defensively he ran the floor. He gets it in around the basket, he's going to make those short jumpshots and certainly the dunk. Then the second rotation he started blocking shots, so that's a good sign.
"I don't know yet, but I'm leaning towards going ahead and starting Mo. Last night, I thought he did fine."
"I think that's how I'll go, but I'm not 100%."
Before securing the starting spot, Swift had been battling with second-year center Johan Petro. While Petro will likely play the most minutes of any player at center, Hill likes his fit right now with the team's second unit, which put three players in double-figures scoring in each of the team's last two games. Petro was one of those three players on Thursday, scoring 16 points in 33 minutes of action.
"The chemistry with that second unit is so good that I don't want to disrupt that," said Hill. "Johan, I thought, last night played one of the best offensive games I've ever seen him play. He led the break one time, was making his jumpshot. He was very active - he had eight or nine deflections himself. He's got to rebound the ball better."
Petro's willingness to come off the bench makes starting Sene a possibility.
"I'm happy with any kind of situation, because I still play," Petro said. "I know what I have to do when I'm on the court, and that's fine with me."
A year ago, it was Petro who was in the position of being the surprise Opening Night starter as a rookie expected to play a limited role. In that game, Petro had eight points and five minutes in 12 minutes of action. Despite the similar experience, Petro doesn't see the need to advise Sene on what to expect.
"He's going to try to do everything the coach is going to ask him to do," said Petro, "so I don't think I have to tell him anything."
While Sene is probably not yet ready to play against the league's elite centers, Portland's Joel Przybilla is not a major post threat, which will play into Hill's final decision on whether to start Sene.
"I think he can match up with Przybilla okay," said Hill. "Przybilla's not a big, big part of their offense - they run offense through him - so I think Mo can play him, and that's part of my decision to start him. He can run with Przybilla and they don't throw him the ball much in the low post. If they were to start a smaller lineup, I don't know, I still might start him.
"One thing I know about Mo, when I put him in the game, he's going to play really hard. He's going to get up and down the floor and he's going to try to block shots and he's going to rebound his position. He'll anchor the defense from that standpoint. I'm not worried about him. I think he's better with the starters than he would be with the second unit, so that's part of that decision also."
A little more than a minute into Wednesday's preseason game with Sacramento, Swift went to the sideline near the Sonics bench trying to save a loose ball. Teammates and coaches say Swift hyperextended his right knee, and he limped off holding it. On Thursday afternoon, Swift underwent an MRI, and on Friday Sonics doctors concluded his ACL is torn, requiring surgery and ending his season. Hill had yet to talk to Swift after the diagnosis, though they chatted on Thursday.
"When I talked to him, I said, 'No matter what this injury is, we're all going to support you and we'll get you back on the court,'" Hill said. "Being 20 years old is going to help him in that regard, because he still has a lot of years to play basketball."
Swift faces a challenging rehab after the surgery, but he'll have his teammates and the coaching staff behind him.
"We've been through this in all the years I've been in it many, many times, and the hardest part is the rehab," said Hill. "It's hard and it's long. It gets boring and monotonous and your leg gets sore and there's apathy. You've just got to persevere. If his attitude about the rehab is like his attitude after the season, he'll be fire. We're all going to support him and he'll be right here with us every day. He's earned that. He's earned the right for us to do everything we can to help him."
Earl Watson, who did not play Thursday night after losing a tooth and having a second cracked in half during the fourth quarter on Wednesday, was on the sidelines but did not practice. After a second incident of tooth trauma during the month - he had a tooth knocked out during training camp - Watson plans to get more protection.
"Earl's okay," Hill said. "I think he's going to get a mouthpiece. He's got temp teeth in there right now and he's got to go back today to get it finalized and get fitted for a mouthpiece."
Kareem Rush was able to return to practice Friday, though the Sonics only had limited contact. It was his most extensive action since re-aggravating his partially torn left groin on Oct. 17.
"He's going to be with us when we start the season," said Hill in his most certain declaration about the team's roster. "We'll have to evaluate him in games now, or if tomorrow he can practice - we'll go live tomorrow. We'll watch him carefully. His injury is real; it's just one of those that is slow-healing. There's really not a lot you can do with it."
Asked whether he expected to have the current 15-player roster on Opening Night, Hill answered, "I would think so." The final decision will not be made until next Monday, when Professional Basketball Club Chairman Clay Bennett meets with Sonics General Manager Rick Sund.