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What is going wrong?

So much for writing feel good pieces about Danny Fortson and Reggie Evans this week…

While I had planned on some editorial pieces about the great personalities of both those guys the teams pathetic showing over the last two nights warrants a longer and more critical look at the team.

Early losses are nothing new for this team. We have a startling tradition of losing to the Clippers on opening night and last year experienced a 30 point blowout before going onto a 17 and 3 start.

Even in that context the last two games, as well as the season opener have some really disturbing trends.

It’s the Offense Stupid

It is hard to come off back to back games in which you allow the opposition to score 206 points and not say that lousy defense cost you the game. It is even harder when that team has the defensive reputation of the Sonics.

So maybe you'll disagree with me when I say that defense has not been the problem. The Sonics have struggled a bit with defensive execution, but not with defensive intensity early in games. In my opinion the defensive emphasis of camp has shown clearly as the team, notably Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis have come out of the gate ready to defend and working hard on that end of the floor. It is the offensive problems that have caused the defense to break as the game goes on. The team simply has to work too hard scoring, gets worn down, and then starts to gamble to catch up when the score gets away from them.

For the last several years this team has been known as a sweet shooting team with an abundance of offensive talent. Still it seems as if each year we lose a piece to that puzzle and expect another player to step up and fill the void. First it was Brent Barry, then last season Antonio Daniels. The assumption was that Flip Murray, Vladi Radmanovic, Luke Ridnour, and Nick Collison would mature as scorers to fill the void.

So far this season none of those players have been an effective scorer. In fact Murray, Radmanovic, and Ridnour have been flat out terrible. Murray and Radmanovic hit double figure scoring for the first time yesterday only during garbage time with a terrible combined 11 for 26 shooting night. Neither was impressive in any way.

I hate repeating mantra’s that are being spouted by the coaches and every paper on the planet but this team needs a third scorer. More than that it needs an offense in which the third through sixth scorers can function efficiently in support of the teams two stars. It would be great if a third scorer steps up and contributes a consistent 15 points a night, but it is not enough. We also need a combination of guys like Nick Collison and Ridnour to step up and contribute 12 points on a regular basis. If the team learns how to score again they will right this ship quickly.

Get to the Point!

So much of the blame for this start has been heaped at the feet of Vladi Radmanovic and Flip Murray that we tend to forget that one of the most likable and hardest working members of the team is the guy who’s responsible for getting the offense going. When an offense bogs down I think you have to look at the point guard and Luke Ridnour has been terrible. He has not been able to score or to initiate the offense. Most surprisingly the PG who is considered a speedster and an excellent passer has been completely unable to lead any fast breaks and has forced the coaching staff to slow down the offense to the point where it simply creeps along.

Ridnour’s poor play is in probably the reason I remain optimistic about this team’s ability to get its act together. Frankly I can’t possibly imagine Luke not being able to turn it around. He is by far the hardest worker at any practice and a player whose pride will not let him suffer through an entire season at this level. While there are some doubts as to Radmanovic and Murray’s ability to turn it around I am almost certain that Ridnour will do so. Look for him to go on a real tear sometime in the coming weeks.

If I had to name one reason why we are unable to score it would be Ridnour. The ball always moves through him.

Coaching 101

I am not going to go into another rant about the terrible substitution patterns being displayed by head coach Bob Weiss. I will simply say that right now I am very disappointed with him and place a large amount of the blame squarely on his shoulders. In an earlier column I took some heat for referring to his rotational juggling as a failure but I won’t back off that comment.

One of the key components of last year’s squad was a lack of excuses. Roles were established and players rolled out to either perform or not perform. If key players failed to perform there was little room for complaining Professional athletes are like children in that they will latch onto any potential excuse that is provided for them. Coaches have a responsibility to anticipate these excuses and take steps to remove them before they can be exploited. In this case the team knew in advance that they had several players in contract years and should have anticipated the problems they are encountering with Radmanovic. By juggling his minutes the way they have they provided him with a perfect excuse to blame the coaches rather than his own poor play early.

I could go on at length about the ever changing roles of players and what a toll it takes on the team. Suffice to say that I don’t know how Flip Murray could be promised an opportunity, then benched after a game and a half, and then reinserted into the lineup one game later. I don’t know how Danny Fortson puts together a game 2 that could almost be referred to as dominant but then sees 11 and 12 minutes of action in the next two games. I don’t understand how Reggie Evans can have plays called for him in the post but Nick Collison does not. I don’t understand the roll of Vitaly Potapenko, Danny Fortson, Radmanovic, Damien Wilkens, or Murray at all. I JUST DON”T UNDERSTAND!
If I feel this level of frustration then imagine what the players are going through.