Kevin Pelton, SUPERSONICS.COM
| February 20, 2008
On the eve of the NBA's trade deadline, the Seattle SuperSonics completed a deal with the San Antonio Spurs to add to the team's stockpile of future first-round picks. In exchange for veteran center Kurt Thomas
, the Sonics acquired guard Brent Barry
, center Francisco Elson
and San Antonio's 2009 first-round pick. The deal gives the Sonics a second first-round pick in 2009 to go along with the extra first-round picks in 2008 and 2010 they got from the Phoenix Suns along with Thomas in the deal that brought him to Seattle last July.
After dealing with a hamstring injury early in the season, Thomas quickly claimed the starting center job for the Sonics, starting 39 of the 42 games he played. Thomas averaged 7.5 points and 8.8 rebounds per game, tying for the team lead with Nick Collison in the latter category.
"Robert's a guy that we value. As he comes back from this injury, it will be important to continue to watch him and see how he fits and develops with our group going forward."
Arguably more important were Thomas' contributions off the court, as he helped mentor the young Sonics big man and emerged as a steadying force in the locker room. With Thomas due to become an unrestricted free agent at season's end, however, making a move made sense for the Sonics
"Kurt Thomas is a tremendous professional and a great person," Sonics General Manager Sam Presti said Wednesday night. "He provided strong productivity on the floor and his contributions will be valued. At the same time, we felt like we had to look at this deal and weigh the value of adding an additional first-round pick going forward."
That pick gives the Sonics six first-round picks over the next three drafts, two per year. They will have their own first-round pick in each of those drafts along with the picks acquired in the two Thomas deals. Memphis and New Jersey are the only other teams with as many as five first-round picks in that span. That gives the Sonics front office a chance to be flexible and creative using those picks in continuing to build the team's young core.
"First-round picks certainly add flexibility," said Presti. "We will continue to explore ways to utilize those picks for our ballclub. They can be used in various ways, whether it's to acquire a player in the draft or to use the picks in a trade scenario."
By dealing Thomas, the Sonics will also make room in their frontcourt rotation. With center Robert Swift ready to return to regular action after rehabbing his surgically-repaired right knee, the Sonics suddenly had a crowd up front.
A three-man rotation of Thomas, Nick Collison and Chris Wilcox from early in the season had already swelled to four when Johan Petro's strong play beginning in mid-January forced him into a regular role. With Swift needing to play to get all the way back to full strength and to allow the Sonics to chance to evaluate his progress, something had to give. After the team's practice Wednesday before the deal had been announced, Head Coach P.J. Carlesimo termed trying to use five big men, as he did in Tuesday's win over Memphis, "Impossible."
"This certainly makes it easier for Robert and Johan to get on the floor more consistently," Presti said. "We're excited to continue to watch them grow as players."
Prior to the All-Star break, Carlesimo had declared getting Swift regular minutes one of the priorities over the season's final 30 games.
"We've got to see if Robert and Johan can play together, Robert and Weezy, Robert and Nick," said Carlesimo.
"Robert's a guy that we value," added Presti Wednesday. "As he comes back from this injury, it will be important to continue to watch him and see how he fits and develops with our group going forward."
Petro had already begun to cut into Thomas' minutes with improved consistency in his play over the last month. In his last 10 games, Petro has averaged 6.5 points, 5.1 rebounds and 1.4 blocks despite averaging just over 15 minutes a game. The rest of the way, he will likely get the opportunity to translate that performance into increased playing time.
"Johan has certainly had some nice stretches defensively," said Presti. "He needs to continue to display that. We've been pleased with some of his progress, but our expectations are high for him and he has high expectations for himself. We want to continue to see where his game goes as we go toward the end of the year."
How much Swift and Petro play the rest of the way will depend in large part on how much they take advantage of their opportunity.
"Particularly with Robert, but probably no less so with anyone else, they'll color than that a lot more than I will," Carlesimo said. "It's easy for me to say that, but it's true. If all of a sudden somebody's getting a chance and he really run with it - as Johan did, carving out more minutes recently - he's going to get more minutes and he'll get a chance to maybe be in more situations. If somebody else gets a chance and doesn't really do anything or, worse, even struggles, that's going to color it too."
Like Thomas, both Barry and Elson will become free agents this summer. The deal brings Barry, who has not played since Jan. 24 because of a strained left calf muscle, back to the city where he enjoyed some of his greatest NBA success during a five-season stint with the Sonics from 1999-2004. Now 36, Barry has averaged 7.3 points in 29 games this season, shooting 43.0% from three-point range and 95.0% from the free-throw line.
Elson, who with Barry helped San Antonio win last year's NBA championship, had been playing spot minutes at center for the Spurs. In 41 games, he had averaged 3.5 points and 3.3 rebounds.