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There is good news

The good news is that nobody’s paying any attention.
While the Sonics have stumbled out the gate to a 1-5 start under coach Bob Hill the city’s attention remains firmly focused on the Seattle Seahawks who, with a 20-10 win over the Washington Redskins are now a mere one game away from the Super Bowl. Best yet this weekend we saw losses by both Indianapolis and New England potentially clearing the way for a Seattle/Denver matchup that would completely capture the attention of the city.

Some may call it apathy but I’m putting on the homer glasses and referring to this stretch as an opportunity. The Sonics clearly have wrongs they need to right and a window to do so with somewhat limited attention. If they decide to tear this thing down and start over again I’m voting that they do so on the day prior to the Super Bowl setting up the awesome page D-6 article “Ray Allen traded for expiring contracts and draft picks while remaining Sonics players excited to attend Championship game”

The team has a few things right and a bunch of things wrong. Here’s the way I would approach the next month or so if I was in charge:

Coaching:
Bob Hill may not have many wins but he really seems to be going about this the right way. He has worked the players mercilessly and after Saturday’s loss to the Clippers acknowledged that fatigue, both physical and mental is playing a large role. This is consistent with what we have seen in games. The team has played competitively and aggressively for large stretches but just has not had the legs to sustain any type of runs. Eventually they get ground down into blowouts. Bob Weiss would have scrambled to play every man on the roster to compensate but Hill keeps his rotation consistent and is going to force the players to adjust.

He will offer them some small rests over the next week but is correct in his assessment. Coaches, management, and fans need to evaluate the next several weeks with a grain of salt and understand that the mental toll of the Weiss firing has to be worked out of the system. Between now and the all-star break take solace in spurts of good play and understand that consistency is probably the next step, not the first step. In the meantime go Seahawks.

Reinforce the positives:
Over the last two years the Sonics have been a perfect example that teams are not always the sum of their parts. Last year their team play was significantly higher than the contributions of any individual players. This year it is tough to point to any one or two parts that are underachieving greatly, but the team as a whole is simply not performing. There are several pieces that are actually outperforming expectations and the coaches need to emphasize those players.

The biggest positive right now is Rashard Lewis. This year he is playing at a level above and beyond what I ever expected. He displays an offensive versatility that is stunning and is approaching the level of “unstoppable” when he is on. The new coach seems more committed to feeding Rashard consistently and not allowing him to settle back and taking what comes. It has come to the point that Ray Allen may benefit more by feeding off Rashard than Rashard does feeding off Allen. Lewis is our star. Get him the ball in designed plays more and good things will happen.

Incidentally if I’m in management I start working now on a max level contract extension for Rashard. He’s going to get the money anyway and the uncertainty will just be a distraction.

Steady diet of Bacardi and Coke(my favorite new player nicknames for a long time). If there is any real solace in a terrible season it is that the team has a real chance of entering next season with an extremely solid young core built around Robert Swift, Johan Petro, and a possible lottery pick this year. Add in the fact that they managed not to screw themselves cap-wise this season and have young guys like Damien Wilkens and Mike Gelabele available and we could see a fairly quick turnaround for next year. The key is getting Swift and Petro acclimated to the game. In limited run it appears that what both need is experience and Hill is willing to give it to them.

Get rid of the negatives:
I’m talking about Flip Murray and Vitaly Potapenko here. The team always seems to play one really good quarter and then fall apart. Fatigue is part of it but it is no coincidence that Murray tends to enter the game right when things go to crap. Trade these two spare parts for anything possible and hope that you see dramatically improved chemistry as a result.

Figure out the slumps:
Luke Ridnour, Nick Collison, and Vladi Radmanovic are all playing below expectations. Each one of these guys needs to have get over the hump if we’re going to see any success at all. Most importantly for Collison is to give the guy a defined role. I expect to see him integrated into the offense as a post option over the next couple of weeks.

Deal for Defense:
Teams with glaring deficiencies tend to have those weak spots exploited and that is exactly what is happening to our team. The lack of defensive oriented players, combined with a complete vacuum at backup PG is making it too easy to game plan around our strengths. The Sonics are reportedly very interested in Nuggets PG Earl Watson and if the reported deal is on the table they should take it. I would not hesitate to make any moves available that add defense to our rotation and Watson makes a lot of sense. If he were two inches taller he’d be perfect. Of course if he were two inches taller he’d have been drafted in the lottery and be making $10 million per year by now.

It is encouraging that the teams reported interest revolves around defensive stalwarts like Watson and Ron Artest. Either one would change the nature of the team quite substantially.

So a little over a month from now when the confetti has been swept up and the football frenzy died down there is some hope that the fans will return to find the Sonics with most of their issues settled. At this point I am not sure how important it is that they be in the playoff race at that point, but they need to offer optimism, hope and competitive play along with some intriguing storylines. If they are still losing and have none of the above then we’ll see the football playoffs fade into the baseball preseason and the Sonics will have big problems.