Kevin Pelton, SUPERSONICS.COM
| August 15, 2006
The Seattle SuperSonics achieved their primary goal of the 2006 off-season Tuesday, holding a press conference at The Furtado Center to announce a new three-year contract for restricted free agent forward Chris Wilcox
"I think it's a big day for the Sonics in the sense that it's another young player who has the potential to be with us for a while," said Sonics General Manager Rick Sund. "Also, his style of play is an exciting style of play and that's the way (Coach) Bob (Hill) wants to play. I like the fact that his abilities fit into that. It also gives us some depth at the four spot."
"I think it's a big day for the Sonics in the sense that it's another young player who has the potential to be with us for a while. His style of play is an exciting style of play."
Wilcox came to the Sonics in a trade with the Los Angeles Clippers for forward Vladimir Radmanovic
on Feb. 14, and the deal quickly proved beneficial for both player and team. The Sonics finished the season with a 14-11 stretch over their final 25 games, and Wilcox averaged 14.2 points and 8.7 rebounds per game during that span, establishing himself as a starting NBA power forward.
The new three-year deal gives Wilcox the opportunity to re-enter free agency at age 26. Both player and team hope that will be after Wilcox has continued his development, potentially into an All-Star-caliber player. That's the ability Wilcox has flashed in spurts, including a 26-point, 24-rebound game against the Houston Rockets on April 4 that made Wilcox the first Sonics player since Shawn Kemp more than a decade earlier to record a 20-20 game.
"That was probably one of the things we established early in the negotiations that might make sense for both sides, three years," said Sund. "If you look at Chris, he'll be 24 this season. That takes him to his prime and he's in a situation where he can be a free agent again in three years. It gives him the opportunity for maybe a home-run type of contract and also gives us the flexibility to look at him a little longer. I like players in short-term contracts. I think you have a tendency to keep focused."
"At the end of the three years, I'll be 26, so that will be close to my prime," added Wilcox, "where the game starts slowing down more and I'm more comfortable with the game. I think in three years we'll know where the organization will be and things like that. We put a lot of thought in about the contract and put a lot of things out there to see what would be best for me and the organization."
As the NBA's free-agency period opened in July, the two sides brought different objectives to the negotiating table. However, Sund downplayed this difference.
"I don't think I've ever had any negotiations that didn't start far apart," said Sund. "They all start apart. I know mine do when it comes to me. I think there was a mutual respect that this was the place for Chris. I think that common bond really got both sides to the point that we could find common ground, something that made sense for everybody - for Sonics ownership, for the Sonics organization and for Chris."
With the contract complete, the focus returns to Wilcox's development. Hill regularly emphasized last season after the trade that, before coming to Seattle, Wilcox simply hadn't played many minutes during his post-high school career. Wilcox jumped to the NBA as a lottery pick by the Clippers after just two years at Maryland, averaging only 8.6 minutes per game as a freshman. He then played behind All-Star power forward Elton Brand in Los Angeles, totaling 3,483 minutes in three-plus seasons - a handful more than league leader Gilbert Arenas played in 2005-06 alone (3,384).
"I've been a Chris Wilcox fan for a long time," explained Hill. "I saw him play the summer before his senior year in high school and, from a distance, followed him closely from that point on until we got him. When we got him, personally I was thrilled and I wanted to find out if my thoughts about him were true. We gave him an opportunity and he took full advantage of it. He added so much to our team. He's got enormous potential."
Hill shared that before Wilcox's 20-20 game against the Rockets, player and coach had met a couple of times, with Hill telling his big man he had to average double-figure rebounds to count himself amongst the league's best power forwards. Wilcox went out and got that many and more.
"After he got 24," Hill said, "he walked by me in the locker room and said, 'Is that enough?'"
Watch Chris Wilcox's press conference:|
Also, check out a video featuring highlights from Wilcox's first half-season in the Green and Gold:
After the press conference, Sonics radio play-by-play broadcaster David Locke chatted one-on-one with player and coach:
Wilcox has spent the summer working out in Houston with former NBA coach John Lucas (like Wilcox a Terrapin), primarily focusing on adding to his repertoire in the low post.
"I've been working on all parts of my game," he said. "Mostly in the off-season, you don't work on your defense as much. Right now I'm just trying to get better in the post, my go-to moves."
While it's difficult to work on right now, Wilcox has made improving his defense a priority. His shot-blocking did not improve along with his scoring and rebounding average when he began playing more minutes with the Sonics.
"I think for me (my improvement) will be work on the defensive end, to get more blocked shots, to be more of an enforcer," Wilcox said, drawing a Cheshire Cat grin from Hill, seated next to him at the dais. "This season I think I'm going to be able to block more shots. Last season I got away from that a little bit. It will help to have me contesting more shots and creating fast-break situations."
Wilcox's primary goals, however, relate not to his own performance but helping the Sonics build on their strong finish to last season and make the playoffs.
"Whether the numbers match it or not, I'm going to go out there and play hard," he said. "Hopefully we can win games. If we win games and my numbers drop, I don't mind that at all, as long as we're winning games. Our goal this year is to make the playoffs, and that's what we're looking forward to."
While it will take a team effort for the Sonics to make the postseason, with a new contract will come higher expectations for Wilcox.
"As we were walking down the stairs, I said, 'Now I can expect 15 points and 10 rebounds' - I didn't even throw in blocked shots," said Hill. "I think if he's used to the system and we have a really good camp and good exhibition season (he'll be fine)."