Sonics open season with shade of gray

  • RICH MYHRE / Herald Writer
  • Monday, October 30, 2000 9:00pm
  • Sports

By RICH MYHRE

Herald Writer

SEATTLE – Something old, something new.

That expression, used commonly at weddings, helps describe the look to be unveiled by the Seattle SuperSonics as they open the 2000-01 season tonight in Vancouver against the Grizzlies.

The 7:30 p.m. game will mark the Seattle debut of center Patrick Ewing, one of the NBA’s genuine graybeards at age 38. He will be joined in the opening lineup by rookie guard Desmond Mason, who had just entered second grade when Ewing broke into the league in the fall of 1985.

Completing Seattle’s starting five will be guard Gary Payton and forwards Vin Baker and Rashard Lewis, all holdovers from last season’s team. That squad finished with a 45-37 record and a No. 7 finish in the Western Conference, and coach Paul Westphal figures the Sonics should improve on both figures this season.

“This is clearly the best group of players we’ve had since I’ve been here,” said Westphal, who is starting his third season at Seattle’s helm. “We’ve been in the process of trying to change the team because we got old. Well, the team’s been changed now. This is a really good group and we’re anxious to see how good we can be.”

Unlike most NBA teams, which typically use rotations of eight or nine players in the regular season, the Sonics expect to use 10 players most nights. Guard Brent Barry and forward Ruben Patterson, both starters for most of last season, lead the reserve unit. They will be joined by guard Shammond Williams and forward Jelani McCoy, both subs a year ago, and center Ruben Wolkowyski, a 27-year-old free agent signed from his native Argentina.

“I think we’ll be better off later than we are early because we’ve had a lot of changes,” Westphal said. “We have three new starters (Lewis started only the last few weeks of last season) and we’re making the transition from being a small team to a big team.

“But I’m confident we’re ready to go play, and I’m anxious to see where we are now that the games are counting,” he said.

There are, of course, questions about this squad, and most focus on Ewing. At an age when most NBA players are easing off into retirement, he is attempting to rekindle a career after 15 seasons with the New York Knicks. Injuries slowed Ewing over the past three seasons – he missed 88 regular-season games and all of the 1999 NBA Finals with assorted maladies – and his health is a primary concern as Seattle sets out on the league’s arduous six-month campaign.

Westphal knows “there is a perception out there” that Ewing is likely to break down at some point. Yet it’s an opinion Westphal disputes.

“The people that say, ‘It’s not if he breaks down, it’s when he breaks down,’ I don’t think they’re basing that on anything except pure cynicism,” Westphal said. “Robert Parrish played at that age very well. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the same thing. Karl Malone is about the same age as Patrick (Malone is 37) and they’re not holding any fund-raisers for him.

“Patrick’s got sore knees, as would any 38-year-old guy who has played as many minutes as he has. But he’s dealt with those knees for a long time. And the sore knees from time to time haven’t kept him from playing at a high level. … We want to monitor his minutes so we don’t tax his joints. But at the same time, we’re not going into this thinking that he can’t hold up. We expect him to.”

Of all the Sonics, no one may endure greater scrutiny this season than Baker. After struggling each of the past two years, Baker must now adjust his game to the low-post presence of Ewing and to the increasing contributions of Lewis, his fellow forward.

It is Westphal’s belief that Baker has “the toughest job on the team this year because he’s going to have to change his game more than anybody else. I think he can do it, but he’s going to have to play off Patrick a little more, and he’s going to have to up his rebounding, up his shot blocking, and find a way to be effective (offensively).

“I don’t think we’re asking him to do anything he can’t do, anything he can’t flourish at. And if he’s able to make the adjustment to Patrick, than I think we can be a dynamite team,” Westphal said.

Will the Sonics have enough muscle to challenge the Los Angeles Lakers and Portland Trail Blazers for supremacy in the Pacific Division?

Well, if Westphal has a prediction, he’s keeping it his secret for now.

“All I know is that I like our team a lot,” he said. “Everybody in the West is better, too. Now, how much better are we in comparison to the other teams? We’ll find out.

“But I know we have some players that have accomplished things in this league, and yet they still have a lot of basketball left. And we have some young players that are going to accomplish a lot. I think we’re going to be highly competitive and fun to watch, and if we stay healthy we’re not afraid to go play anybody.”

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Sports

Glacier Peak High School graduate Matt King was selected to the U.S. Olympic team in men’s swimming. King was selected as a member of the 400 freestyle relay team. (Matt Riley / University of Virginia athletic communications)
Glacier Peak grad Matt King headed to the Olympics

King was selected in men’s swimming as a member of the 400-meter freestyle relay team.

Logan Gilbert of the Seattle Mariners pitches against the Miami Marlins during the first inning at LoanDepot park on Saturday, June 22, 2024, in Miami. (Megan Briggs / Getty Images)
Gilbert fantastic again, but first-place Mariners falter

Seattle loses two of three against Miami, sees its lead in the AL West drop to six games.

Roe places eighth in women’s 5,000 meters at Olympic trials

The Lake Stevens High School graduate is expected to race again Saturday in the 10,000.

X
Silvertips announce preseason schedule

Everett will play four exhibition games, all at Angel of the Winds Arena.

Last-second TD lifts Wolfpack to first road win

Diondre Borel throws five TD passes, including the game winner, as Washington tops Southwest Kansas.

Amy Yang holds steady to win KPMG Women’s PGA Championship

The South Korean claims the prize at the major tournament played at Sammamish’s Sahalee Country Club.

Glacier Peak’s Karsten Sweum (10) poses for a portrait as The Herald's All-Area Baseball Player of the Year at Glacier Peak High School on Tuesday, June 18, 2024 in Snohomish, Washington. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
2024 Baseball Player of the Year: Glacier Peak’s Karsten Sweum

The smoke-throwing senior left-handed pitcher struck out more than two batters per inning.

Lake Stevens’ Trey Nance deals early in the game during a playoff loss to Bothell on Saturday, May 4, 2024, in Lake Stevens, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
The Herald’s 2024 All-Area baseball team

Editor’s note: The Player of the Year and All-Area teams were chosen… Continue reading

Glacier Peak grad King comes up just short in Olympic bid

King placed third in the men’s 50 freestyle at U.S. Olympic trials, but still could qualify in a relay.

Shorewood senior Isaak Abraham poses for a portrait as The Herald's Boys Soccer Player of the Year at Shorewood High School on Wednesday, June 19, 2024 in Shoreline, Washington. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
2024 Boys Soccer Player of the Year: Shorewood’s Isaak Abraham

The Stormrays senior forward led Shorewood to Wesco 3A/2A and Class 3A District 1 titles.

Everett’s J’aiden Cranwell-Meneses leaves a Monroe defender in the dirt while advancing the ball during a 3A District soccer match on Thursday, May 2, 2024, at Monroe High School in Monroe, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
The Herald’s 2024 All-Area boys soccer team

Editor’s note: The Player of the Year and All-Area teams were chosen… Continue reading

Lake Stevens High School graduate Taylor Roe competes for Oklahoma State University at the 2024 NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships on June 8 in Eugene, Oregon. (Photo courtesy of Oklahoma State University)
Taylor Roe competes at the Olympic trials this weekend

Now that the Lake Stevens H.S. graduate’s decorated college running career is done, the pro ranks are next.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.