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Practice notes 10.24.05

More information than you probably need...
I just returned from a great afternoon attending my first Sonics practice along with the more “professional” media types. It is my hope that I can offer die-hard fans of the team some insight as to how the players and the organization operate behind the scenes.

First let me say that I come away from practice a bit disappointed in myself. Yet again I was extremely unprepared for how casual of an event this was and was caught of guard by the ease of things. After consulting with the other staff writers I had come to the conclusion that fans wanted an idea of what really happens with the team on a day to day level. I planned on beginning my reports with this “set the stage” feature that focused more on the actual practice experience than player interviews, figuring I would ease my way in and dig into the players when I got a bit more comfortable with the process. As a result I was unprepared for Rashard Lewis and Ray Allen casually walking around and available to talk when the day wrapped up.

As with almost all things there is a lot less glamour in the experience than there is in the fantasy. Media members are allowed to attend only the last half hour of practice which starts “sometime around noon”. Until it starts we huddled in the relatively drab press room with unopened boxes of media guides, miscellaneous storage, and way more chairs than are needed on the average day. There is lots of waiting around and nothing terribly exciting to pass the time. I can't imagine many professional writers fighting for this opportunity in mid-february or for a team with losing expectations. Funny enough this is the same room where the big press conferences occur and I cannot adequately describe how unspectacular it is.

At about 12:30 Sonics PR Director Marc Moquin enters the room, tells us that it is our time and makes an injury update. In this instance Mikki Moore and Vitaly Potapenko were still out and Alex Scales will not practice due to a left ankle sprain on which X-rays were negative.

I was told by beat writer Kevin Pelton that Bob Weiss’ practices are much more entertaining than the former coaching staff who often treated the media to a view of free throw drills or running lines. Rumor has it that some league coaches have a policy of never letting the media see any play at all for fear that some bad news may leak.

In the case of Bob Weiss the media portion of practice nearly always includes a full speed, 5 on 5 scrimmage with former NBA referees calling the game and quite competitive play. Bob Weiss called the shots for the green team while it appeared that Bob Hill was coaching the white squad. Media members watch standing courtside from the corner and frankly it is a great view. I learned more about the team today than I have in a lifetime of television broadcasts. Team President Wally Walker, GM Rick Sund, and Assistant GM Rich Cho watched from the mezzanine level above. I found it interesting that these three were in attendance at a routine Monday practice.

As a veteran of many Supersonics Open Practices I was very pleasantly surprised by the intensity of the scrimmage. These guys went at it hard and wanted to win. In the end a Ray Allen three pointer with 2.8 seconds left tied the game up at 22 and they did not break the tie.

In no particular order here were the entertaining highlights of the scrimmage:

• Detlef Schrempf was in attendance and much more involved than I expected. He looked more like a coach than a casual observer.
• At one point in the practice Ray Allen demonstrated the mentoring we’ve all heard about. I know that Ray has a tendency to call the young players over and give them insightful tips so when he called “Johan, hey Johan!” I listened close for words of wisdom. His comment of “Hey bring more towels. Put them right over there.” Made me smile and rookie Johan Petro rush quickly for some more supplies.
• Practice was highlighted by a great alleyoop from Mateen Cleaves to Robert Swift. Cleaves was pestered in the corner by Flip Murray and just pitched the ball from near the three point line. Swift rose above everybody to slam it down. Two plays later Johan Petro repaid the favor when the defense collapsed on Ray Allen running the baseline. Allen found a cutting Petro for a monster jam.
• Interestingly enough a good chunk of the game featured a green team lineup of Ridnour, Allen, Lewis, Radmanovic, and Johan Petro. Anyone who’s spoken to me recently knows I’m advocating this as the starting lineup for this season. The lineup looked good but Nick Collison was really impressive helping the white squad hold their own.
• Mateen Cleaves, Robert Swift, and Noel Felix all impressed me. Cleaves is playing with a very high level of confidence and Felix just looks like an NBA Player.
• There was lots of emotion. Kicked balls and just a touch of profanity from the intense Flip Murray as well as Mateen Cleaves who didn’t seem to stop talking or cheering once while I was there.
• It was hilarious listening to Flip Murray heckle Ray Allen incessantly during free throws. Ray missed the first shot and Flip let him have it all the way from the other end of the court.

After the scrimmage the team ran lines before breaking practice. Running lines is one of those interesting drills where you can really see who puts in the effort. Robert Swift, Nick Collison, Noel Felix, and Luke Ridnour all deserve some extra credit for actually running to the line while Reggie Evans, Danny Fortson, and most of the rest of the team seem to think it is easier to turn back 4 feet earlier. My suggestion that the media be allowed to point out cheaters was not thought well of.

After practice ends the various media members just pull aside players for personal interviews and/or make arrangements with the PR department to set something up. Most of the team returned the locker room or weight room while Noel Felix and Luke Ridnour worked on jump shots with coaches and Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis had a contest to see who could hit more three pointers while sitting in a chair. They were in good spirits and Lewis won the game.

That’s probably more detail than you’ll ever want to know about practices. Check back often for more updates.