By RICH MYHRE
SEATTLE – The night passed slowly. It happens that way when you’re not sleeping.
Would there be a telephone call in the morning? Or would there be a coach waiting at the door when he arrived for practice, saying, “David, can we speak with you, please?”
After 14 NBA seasons, David Wingate knows both the good and the bad of the league’s cut-down day. There have been years when his status was rock-solid, allowing him to sleep soundly the night before. And there have been others, like this season, when he was one of several players vying for the few final places on the roster.
Which is why Wingate was awake in his bed through the wee hours Wednesday, wondering if that night would be his last as a member of the Seattle SuperSonics.
He drove nervously to practice Thursday morning. He walked with trepidation through the front door and into the locker room. No news was good news at this point, but still he wondered.
Then, looking around at the other players, Wingate realized who wasn’t there. The missing included Tyson Wheeler, Dickey Simpkins and Eddie Elisma, three of Wingate’s roster rivals.
At that moment, he knew.
On Thursday, the Sonics decided to award their last two roster spots to Wingate and fellow NBA veteran Pervis Ellison. The cuts leave Seattle with 13 players, meaning either Wingate or Ellison will be included on the active roster, with the other likely to start the season on the injured list.
Needless to say, Wingate’s anxiety of Wednesday night gave way to a flood of relief on Thursday morning. “I’m just so happy and fortunate to be here,” he said, grinning broadly.
Wingate, who will turn 37 in December, had two factors in his favor. He is popular with his teammates and coaches. He works diligently in practice, then never grumbles about not getting game minutes. His talents have waned in recent years, but his attitude is still All-Pro.
Also, Wingate is personally close with both Gary Payton and Patrick Ewing, two of Seattle’s stars. The fellow who can keep that pair upbeat through the long NBA season has made a meaningful contribution.
” (Wingate) is just a great glue for any team,” Sonics coach Paul Westphal said. “He keeps guys on the right path, as far as their enthusiasm and working together, and he can still play if we need him to.”
At the start of training camp, Wingate said, Westphal and team president Wally Walker “told me what I had to do to make the team. They said I needed to be ready to practice every day, and to be ready to jump in and play if the opportunity presents itself. If someone gets hurt, I’ll be ready.”
Ellison, meanwhile, joins the Sonics after spending the past six of his 11 NBA seasons with the Boston Celtics. With three rookies already on the roster – Desmond Mason, Ruben Wolkowyski and Olumide Oyedeji – the Sonics opted to fill out their squad with veterans.
“Veterans can add a lot,” Westphal said. “We’re not in the rebuilding mode anymore. We’ve have some real fine young players … and we’ve got some veterans in their prime who are ready to see how good we can be. We’re not really geared to development as much as we are to the immediate days ahead.”
The most surprising cut was Elisma, who had impressed the coaching staff with his hard work and spirited play during training camp. A young forward, Elisma might still be added to the roster in the coming days. The Sonics will probably evaluate the waiver wire before deciding whether to add a 14th player or not.
Another possibility is guard Emanual Davis, who was dealt to the Los Angeles Lakers in the four-team, 12-player trade that brought Patrick Ewing to the Sonics in September. Davis was cut by the Lakers earlier in the week. According to the fine print of the earlier trade, the Sonics would be responsible for Davis’ salary if he was cut before the start of the regular season. Since they will be paying him anyway and since he fit well with the team last season, Walker and Westphal might bring Davis back.
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