Have patience Sonics fans

  • By Larry Henry / Herald Columnist
  • Thursday, June 24, 2004 9:00pm
  • Sports

SEATTLE – Have patience, Sonic fans. Have patience because the kid is young.

Have patience because he still has some growing to do – both physically and in his game. Have patience because he may be a year or two or three from having any kind of impact in the NBA.

Have patience because he has the potential to be a good player.

Have patience because after the Sonics made 18-year-old Robert Swift their first-round pick in the NBA draft Thursday, the phone didn’t stop ringing with other teams apparently interested in making a trade for him.

Have patience because perhaps he’ll turn into the team’s first legitimate center since Jack Sikma.

At 7 feet, Swift is slightly taller than Sikma was when he came into the NBA, and about 55 pounds (255) heavier.

The difference is, Sikma had played four years of college ball. Swift has played four years of high school ball.

Sikma contributed heavily in his first year in the NBA. He doesn’t foresee Swift helping the Sonics that much in his rookie season.

“It will take a while,” Sikma, a Sonics assistant coach, said. “In fairness to him, he’s an 18-year-old young man who has a lot to learn.”

Have patience, Sonic fans. This was a wise choice.

Not that I know much about young Robert Swift.

We are told he has good footwork and good hands. Which already puts him two up on Calvin Booth, one of the three-headed monsters who played center for the Sonics last season.

If he understands the game – and the Sonics say he does – that’ll put him one up on Jerome James.

If he gets to practice on time, that’ll put him two up on James.

If he can get five rebounds a game, that’ll put him ahead of Booth, James and the third member of the Terrible Triumvirate, Vitaly Potapenko.

If. Big word when it comes to a fresh-faced teenager moving from high school to the NBA. From where he was the biggest and strongest player to where he’ll get roughed up every night by bigger, stronger and tougher players.

It comes down to this: boy vs. man. Boy is in for some harsh lessons. Hey, maybe even Shaq was taken to the woodshed once or twice as a youngster.

Look at it this way. The Sonics need a center badly, and have for years. They get a kid they can develop from the ground up, not somebody else’s reject. Sure, it’ll take time. But if he’s willing and eager to learn, the wait’ll be worth it.

The kid is young enough that he probably hasn’t developed any bad habits. “You hope,” Sonics general manager Rick Sund said. “You hope.”

Sund watched him play in a couple of high school all-star games and came away impressed. “What’s great about that is he’s going against Dwight Howard (the No.1 pick in the draft) … he’s going against the top players and he not only held his own, he was probably the best next to Dwight.”

Sund said he’s fundamentally sound. “He keeps his hands up, he has really good hands, he’s got the jump hook, he knows how to play the angles. Most of that stuff I’m talking about are instincts, so if you’re starting with a guy who’s 18 and instinctive, they got a chance.”

The Sonics have centers in their twenties who don’t have instincts.

If it means anything, Lonnie Shelton is big on young Swift. The ex-Sonic’s son played on the same team with him at Bakersfield High School in California.

Shelton was a tough guy. He wouldn’t recommend a kid he perceived as soft.

Tim Grgurich also likes the kid. The ex-Sonic assistant, an excellent teacher who helped Gary Payton develop, has worked with him for two years. “He really felt that this guy would be solid,” Sonics coach Nate McMillan said. “I have a great deal of confidence in coach Grg. Any young player who coach Grg is praising … I believe him.”

The Sonics didn’t have Swift in for a workout – and neither did any other team, apparently on orders from his agent – but they say that’s no big deal. “In individual workouts, you don’t see five-on-five,” Sikma said. “We see two-on-two and most of the time it’s just one-on-one. You try to get a feel to what his nature is.”

Their scouts, of course, saw him. And their coaches watched tapes of him.

What struck Sikma was “he just plays the game the right way.”

The kid is lucky. He’ll learn the NBA game from a man who knew how to play it the right way. He’ll learn it from Jack Sikma.

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