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Time for a Shakeup?

This morning the Tacoma News Tribune’s Frank Hughes wrote an excellent piece summarizing the growing possibility for a shakeup of the Sonics roster. While Frank beat me to the punch a bit he did set the table nicely for a Sonicscentral.com follow up that can be a bit more speculative because frankly we don’t have an editor, don’t get paid, and publish on the internet. Nothing gathers responses on the internet better than speculation and conspiracy theories.

As Hughes points out this team appears to be on the verge of a major shakeup. Despite Friday’s win in Portland the team has not displayed the consistency or intensity necessary to win on a regular basis. If the season ended today they would be out of the playoffs. Change could occur either in the coaching staff or the players, several of whom are eligible to be traded this week.

Over the last couple of weeks I have asked several members of the team their opinions on whether a shakeup was necessary. Most were obviously noncommittal and kept their answers extremely politically correct:

“No, we just need to get into our rhythm and stay in our rhythm.” Replied Head coach Bob Weiss who likely would be the leading candidate for any type of shakeup on the coaching front. Weiss is well liked within the organization but has only one additional year guaranteed on his contract. My bet is that the organization will not make a move with Weiss during the season. If the team continues to struggle the team will make some personnel moves and allow Weiss to remain as a lame duck before he is quietly let go next offseason.

“I don’t know, that’s for you to decide.” Replied star SG Ray Allen.

Thank you Ray I will.

This team needs a shakeup in the worst way. Over the last several years they have set up a repetitive pattern of stocking their roster with depth and versatility. Each year they add one or two players who clearly have the ability to play the game, but compete with each other for minutes and roles. Last year that plan worked to perfection as players stepped up their games and maintained great attitudes under head coach Nate MacMillan. This year the balance has shifted and the quantity of rotation caliber players, combined with the quirky rotations of Bob Weiss have resulted in any unhealthy type of competition. Each positive game for Reggie Evans comes at the expense of Vladi Radmanovic; each solid day by Vitaly Potapenko eats into the productivity of Nick Collison. As the games pile up the team is unable to build upon their various assets to collectively improve.

The formula is eerily reminiscent of the 2004-2005 Memphis Grizzlies who came off a 50 win 2003 season to stumble out of the gate in 2004. Although the Grizzlies recovered to finish with 45 wins that season was clearly a disappointment and the team went on to completely retool last summer. The fact that the Grizzlies are currently sitting at 14 and 8 this season should be reason for some optimism.

To avoid a complete disaster this season the team needs to identify the pieces they wish to build around, and receive some value for their redundant pieces. This task will be extremely difficult as the primary players involved, Radmanovic, Flip Murray, and Reggie Evans all have veto power over any trades and will lose their ability to negotiate large contracts should they approve a trade to a team over the salary cap.

Radmanovic appears to be the key figure in any roster overhaul. It is my feeling that his DNPCD in Friday’s game essentially signals the end of his days as a Sonic. Vladi makes a solid effort to say and do the right things but in the end his ego will not tolerate zero minute games without causing some type of trouble. Either the team will trade him somewhere with his approval or they will make another trade to open up minutes and give him a substantial role.

As a conspiracy theorist I found it odd that the day after Vladi was held from a game it was reported that the New Jersey Nets had been in contact with his agent seeking approval for a trade. Is it too much to speculate that the teams had agreed to some type of move that required Vladi’s approval? It is hard to imagine what the Nets have that the Sonics want but frankly a trade of Vladi for simply an expiring contract and a pick may be the best the team can do.

For his part Radmanovic publicly claims to be oblivious to the situation.

“If somebody calls and tells you you’re traded there’s nothing you can do…I don’t think about it and I don’t think there’s any other player in this league who does think about it.” said Radmanovic who obviously doesn’t know many other players.

The Sonics have been linked to rumors regarding the Indiana Pacers Ron Artest with multiple sources reporting conversations between the two teams. Artest publicly demanded, and then recanted a trade from Indiana and the team will be moving him. In this mornings NY Post the Sonics, along with the Wizards, Nuggets, Warriors, and Timberwolves are listed as the teams most ardently pursuing Artest. Should the Sonics decide to make a move for the troubled all-star it would dramatically change the nature of the team with an infusion of defense and attitude that they have been lacking. It would also go against managements strong preference to load the team with good character guys and players who have avoided legal trouble in their past.

So where will this all wind up? It seems likely to me that the team may be poised to make several moves in the coming month and shake things up dramatically. If they do not the potential for internal dissent is likely to grow on a daily basis.