SEATTLE – The victories and the accomplishments continue. First a playoff spot, then a 50-win season. And sometime in the next few days the Seattle SuperSonics will surely clinch the Northwest Division title.
With all this good news, it seems the team would hope to have coach Nate McMillan and general manager Rick Sund, both in the final year of their contracts, already signed to long, lucrative extensions.
It has not been for lack of trying, Sonics president Wally Walker said Saturday.
“I’ve chatted with both of them, and both of them are comfortable doing what we said we would do before the season, which is wait until after the season (to begin new contract talks),” Walker said. “They want to focus on the task at hand, and I totally respect that approach.”
Team ownership “would have been happy to have the discussions at any time,” he went on. “I check in with Nate every month and I talk to his agent, and I say we’d be happy to have a discussion. The answer coming back is, ‘Thanks, but let’s just do what we said we were going to do.’ And Rick is the same way.”
McMillan and Sund will essentially be free agents after the season, along with nine of the team’s 14 players. It will be a busy offseason, which is why it would seem to make sense to get McMillan and Sund – particularly Sund, since he will be the one negotiating with free-agent players – taken care of heading into the summer.
And yet both men will be unemployed as of June 30.
For McMillan, some history helps to put this into perspective. A year ago, Seattle was finishing a disappointing 37-45 season, the team’s worst record in nearly two decades. As much as McMillan was unsure if he wanted to coach the team beyond his current contract, the Sonics were equally undecided about having him back.
The irony is that team officials, had they chosen, could have renewed their commitment to McMillan last summer. Instead they opted to wait. Now the organization is ready to talk, but the coach wants to wait.
“I think the organization will be in a good situation at the end of the year to make a decision about what they want to do with everybody,” McMillan said, referring to himself, Sund and the many players who will be free agents. “And I’m OK with that. The organization has been good to me and I thought what they said at the beginning of the year – that we’ll wait until the end of the year to talk – was fair. I can see why they felt that way.
“And now, even though we have accomplished some stuff and done some good things, I’m not running in there (asking for a new contract),” he said.
Certainly McMillan, who is a top candidate for NBA Coach of the Year, and Sund, who could be in the running for Executive of the Year, will have options outside of Seattle at the end of the season. Still, there are good reasons to think both will be back. The Sonics, after all, are a good team that could well get better in the next few years. Also, both men like the Northwest. McMillan, in particular, has deep roots in Seattle after nearly two decades with the franchise.
Yet nothing is for sure until a deal is signed. And that uncertainty hangs over the team, even as the Sonics continue to the end of an already remarkable season.
“I think the team (i.e., the players and coaches) has stepped up and proved itself,” said five-time All-Star guard Ray Allen, one of Seattle’s nine free agents. “I think a lot of these things should be shored up as we’re coming to a close (of the season). We may have to add small things here and there, but we’ve proven we have a successful formula.”
That McMillan and Sund do not have new contracts by now “is very surprising,” Allen said. “Is (the delay) even about us winning? I mean, I know (the organization) wants to win. And when you win, you have to do whatever you can to keep this team together and to build on what we’ve been doing. So there shouldn’t be a question.”
If McMillan does not re-sign with the Sonics, Allen added, “there will be a lot of other coaching vacancies available. He knows he’ll be coaching again next year.”
For Walker, though, the delay means “nothing negative at all.”
McMillan and Sund “have done great jobs, and we’ll talk to them as soon as they want to about their futures here,” he said. “We’re just thrilled with the way things have gone, so we’ll look forward to having that discussion.”