Powering Forward
Thousands of miles apart, Sonics forwards Reggie Evans and Vladimir Radmanovic got the news on June 26 – the team had used its first pick of the 2003 Draft, number twelve overall, on Nick Collison. That the Sonics would take a player who played power forward, the position Evans and Radmanovic combined to fill last season, was not a shock – particularly for Radmanovic, who had been working out in Seattle while the team went through its final pre-Draft preparations. Still, it had to bother them, right?

A restricted free agent, Evans would like to return to the Sonics.
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Absolutely not, both players insisted Tuesday after taking part in a morning practice with other players preparing for the Sonics summer league team. Radmanovic described his mood after the pick as “normal”, and went on to add, “I’m not afraid about that. I think my minutes depend on how I’m playing, not what other guys are here.”

While Radmanovic’s reaction received the most attention after his agent, David Bauman, expressed concern about the possibility of the Sonics drafting a power forward, the position is Evans’ to lose. It was he who started 60 games at the position last year as a rookie. “I didn’t really think anything of it,” Evans said. “I was happy for (Collison), because that’s a big moment for him. I’m at the point right now where I have to focus on my own strengths.”

The best sign of how the players have responded is the fact that both were in Seattle. Radmanovic is playing with the Sonics summer-league team despite finishing as the Sonics fourth-leading scorer last season at a tick over 10 points per game. He has been in town for the past three weeks, working out for the team every day before being slowed recently by a throat infection. Evans flew in from his off-season home in Florida on Monday to take part in pre-summer-league practices. Because he is a restricted free agent, Evans will not play with the Sonics summer-league team, but his presence still shows his desire to improve – and stay in Seattle.

“This is where I want to be at,” Evans said. “I don't want to play for (anybody) else because the coaching staff, they're real cool. The teammates, they're real cool and they made me feel real comfortable. And the fans make me feel real comfortable. You look at all three points right there, it's a perfect fit for me still.” Evans hasn’t been a major part of the negotiating process with the Sonics, preferring to leave that in the hands of his new agent, Dan Fegan. “I let them do negotiations, I do the basketball. Let them do the talking, I just do the playing,” Evans said.

As he waits for a new deal, Evans has been playing regularly with a familiar name to sports fans. “A lot of us meet up at Roy Jones’ house,” Evans explained, referring to the WBA heavyweight champion boxer who is currently playing basketball in the USBL. “We go there and we get a lot of good runs in.” Evans says he is continuing to work on his shooting ability after a rookie season that saw him make 47.1% of his shots, but average just 3.2 points per game.

Shooting certainly isn’t what Radmanovic is looking to improve by staying in Seattle and playing in the summer league this off-season. The third-year forward from Yugoslavia is known as one of the league’s best outside shooters. After playing mostly off the ball during his first two seasons, spotting up on the perimeter, Radmanovic is trying to improve his ability to play with the ball.

“I’m going to try to do all the things (the coaches) need,” Radmanovic said. “Play with the ball, because most of the last two years I was an off-the-ball guy. I’m trying now to develop that kind of game. Be more creative, do something more with the ball, try to make some shots, try to find open guys.” Radmanovic put the lessons into action during the Sonics open scrimmage on Tuesday night, several times passing up a shot on the perimeter in an attempt to drive the lane.

Radmanovic is looking to broaden his game this season.
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The idea to play in summer league was Radmanovic’s, something he said he’d been thinking about since the middle of last season. “I talked to the coaches, told them I’d like to play summer league, and they said it was a good idea.” He played with the Sonics in both the Southern California Summer Pro League (which they are playing in this year) and the Shaw’s Pro Summer League (receiving votes for All-League team after tying for fifth in the league with 16.3 points per game) in 2001 before staying home in Yugoslavia last year to play for his national team in the World Basketball Championships.

Radmanovic feels playing in Seattle and with the Sonics summer-league team will be better for him than playing overseas. “It’s better to be here than to be away, because every coach likes to have a player near him,” Radmanovic says, adding, “I didn’t come here just to do it for the coaches. I came here to do it for myself and for the best for my team.”

Another valuable experience for Radmanovic during the summer will be playing alongside Collison. Sonics assistant Dean Demopoulos, who is running the summer-league team, has indicated that the two will be playing together regularly, both with Collison at center and Radmanovic at power forward and Collison at power forward and Radmanovic at small forward. This, along with Collison’s skill set, leads Radmanovic to believe they can complement each other. “I watched the guy in the (NCAA) Finals and I liked the way he was playing, Radmanovic says. “He’s a tough guy, playing a lot under the basket, and that’s what this team needs. He’s going to help a lot.”

For the summer, Radmanovic is sporting what he jokingly calls his “summer-league look” – his black hair braided and hanging down, a la Latrell Sprewell, and a full beard. He’s also dropped a little weight, thanks to his illness, and doesn’t plan to bulk up beyond the 230 pounds he carried last season.

Evans’ and Radmanovic’s presence in Seattle made one thing very clear. If Evans is back next season, there will be a fierce battle for playing time at power forward between the holdovers and Collison. The result should be improvement by all three players and a stronger Sonics team.