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Rotation Changes Coming Swiftly

There is a difference between making constructive changes and just tinkering.

The day before Seattle’s opening night loss to the LA Clippers then head coach Bob Weiss declared “Flip Murray will be given every opportunity to be the backup PG.”

Six quarters and approximately 17 minutes of playing time later Murray was benched for the second half of game two in favor of Mateen Cleaves who had not factored into the rotation at all 72 hours earlier. Cleaves bounced back and forth between a reserve role and the inactive list until he was waived on January third. Murray alternated between the backup point guard and deep bench as Coach Weiss experimented with Damien Wilkens at PG for several games.

That is tinkering. Under Coach Weiss it continued on a nearly daily basis until his dismissal earlier this month.

During replacement coach Bob Hill’s first 8 games the rotation has been remarkably consistent with players inserted only as a result of injuries or missed games. His stated goal is to create a rotation that is essentially “automatic” with player substitutions occurring at set times without dramatic changes on a game by game basis. He has however specifically said that he still has some experimenting to do as he gets a sense of his player’s capabilities and ideal roles.

Now Coach Hill is faced with making the first rotation change since he inserted Johan Petro and Vladi Radmanovic into the starting lineup to begin his tenure. Based on last nights post game comments 20 year old center Robert Swift will likely replace Petro as a starter and PF Nick Collison may start alongside him in place of Radmanovic. In addition guard Damien Wilkens may replace Flip Murray as the primary backup to the PG position.

The difference in this move is that it was not quick, or reactionary. The players had a full 8 games to settle into a rhythm and prove their worth. Swift in particular has simply stepped up his game and earned the position. Radmanovic, Murray and Petro seem worthy of demotions based on inconsistent play.

Handling the egos of professional athletes is delicate work. On one hand players do not respond well to the knowledge that every play is under intense scrutiny and the slightest mistake will result in being pulled from the game. Under these circumstances players tend to press and make mistakes. They do however need to know that hard work and performance will be rewarded and that consistent lack of performance has consequences.

If players cannot show signs of filling a well defined role in a tenth of a season I think it is reasonable and constructive to make a change. Unlike Weiss’ moves I believe this change will be good for the team. Most notably it gives more predominant roles to the teams two best defensive players (Wilkens and Collison) along with their best shot blocking prospect (Swift). A team that has been simply terrible on defense needs this type of move to instill a new mentality and set defensive tone.

This season is rapidly becoming one in which player development will be the primary focus. Giving extended looks to the trio of Swift, Collison, and Wilkens at the expense of free agents Murray, Evans, and Radmanovic makes all the sense in the world. I’m hoping we see it against Toronto on Friday.