In the middle of a year to forget

  • By Eric D. Williams The News Tribune
  • Saturday, January 26, 2008 10:10pm
  • SportsSports

Who knew rebuilding would be this ugly?

The Seattle SuperSonics started the season with an eight-game losing streak, and are currently mired in a franchise-record, 13-game slide.

At 9-34, the Sonics are on pace for the worst record in the team’s 41-year history.

The cornerstone of the franchise, Seattle rookie Kevin Durant, has performed like a 19-year-old superstar in the making – tantalizingly electric in one breath and spectacularly awful in another.

With Sonics management focused on evaluating the team’s roster, there’s been rumblings among veterans over playing time and the lack of clearly defined roles. Wally Szczerbiak and Damien Wilkins, battling for playing time at the stacked wing position, have said they would be amenable to a trade. Some players have complained about first-year P.J. Carlesimo’s abrasive coaching style.

Morale is low and if the team doesn’t get a win soon expect some fireworks in the near future.

Add to that the fact the Sonics could be in Oklahoma City next year, and it’s understandable a disenchanted, apathetic fan base has stayed away from KeyArena in droves.

Yet, talk to Seattle general manager Sam Presti about how he sees the Sonics as still being on course — all part of building a consistent, playoff-caliber team that will compete over the long haul.

“Certainly it’s not easy when you’re going through tough stretches like we’re going through,” Presti said. “But it really does force us to come together and hone in on the things that are important to our team, and to what is going to allow us to work our way out of some of those tough stretches.”

Presti points to young teams like Portland in the Western Conference and Toronto in the Eastern Conferences as examples of organizations that are now reaping the rewards of a diligent, three-to-four year rebuilding effort.

And Seattle is positioning itself for similar success. The Sonics are playing rookies Durant and Jeff Green together as much as possible to build chemistry,

“There’s going to be stretches where they are getting better and breaking new ground,” Presti said about Durant and Green. “And there’s going to be some nights where they struggle a little bit.

“I think how they respond to those things and how they work through and learn will mean a lot, not only to them individually but to our team. Our expectation for them is that they continue to put in great effort, accept coaching and work to make the team better.”

Seattle will add another lottery pick to the mix next season. The Sonics have several draft picks over the next three years.

And two years from now, at the end of the 2009-10 campaign the Sonics will be well under the salary cap with just $22.6 million in player salaries committed to their books, allowing them to go after an impact player in free agency to add to its young nucleus.

Players currently on the roster like Nick Collison, Szczerbiak, Kurt Thomas, Earl Watson and Chris Wilcox have proven they could be pieces of the puzzle in the team’s future.

But will Carlesimo be around to coach this team when the Sonics are on the upswing? Carlesimo’s sometimes-grating personality wore out his welcome in stops in Portland and Golden State. And the grinding it takes to get the Sonics back to being a competitive team will take its toll on the players over the next couple years.

However, Presti said Carlesimo has set the right tone for the players so far this season.

“Being a head coach in the NBA is a tough job,” Presti said. “And I think P.J. has definitely done a good job of emphasizing the defensive end of the floor, and emphasizing the fact that we want our teams to play hard and play together. Being consistent with those things will be a very important factor to how we improve as a team.”

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