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Team's Focus Shifts Towards Development

As the team heads into tonight’s game against the Toronto Raptors fans are contemplating potential changes to the lineup as well as the roster. With a record with a record of 2-6 in his first 8 games Coach Bob Hill would obviously like to find a winning formula and has made no secret that he feels the team needs to improve its backup PG position. It does not seem to be a stretch to assume he will lobby GM Rick Sund for some type of personnel move prior to the February 24th trade deadline.

The unasked question surrounding any moves made is whether they should address the deficiencies of this season, or with an eye towards the future. With 3 prominent rotation players entering unrestricted free agency this off season and a record well below .500 it seems natural to devote the remaining 44 games of the season towards developing players who figure to be a part of the future and with an eye on this springs draft. Should the team decided to move that direction it could result in drastically reduced roles for Reggie Evans, Vladi Radmanovic, and Flip Murray.

While you will never hear a coach or player talk about intentionally tanking a season it is clear from team comments that the focus has shifted towards future development possibly at the expense of competitiveness today.

“We’re not winning. When things aren’t going good the way they are then you’ve got to change them.” Hill said.

He acknowledges that the process of making these changes may take some time. The team, he explained needs almost a complete overhaul especially on the defensive end. “Everybody wants instant gratification. I never promised instant gratification.”

“What I’m doing is establishing a philosophy of defense that will help this team, once they understand it, contain the ball better and keep the ball out of the paint better.”

“Most people in the NBA will tell you that it takes a year for players to understand, embrace, and be able to execute a defensive philosophy. I’ve had this job for 8 games.”

While winning remains the primary goal of the team it is obvious that Hill has made it a priority to implement this new attitude. While the organization would never acknowledge that this year has been ceded to a rebuilding mode the coach knows that the limited practice time is going to necessitate making sacrifices during games.

“You have to work on it during the games. Like the Golden State game the other night. We probably should have stopped double teaming them but I wasn’t happy with the rotation so we were working on a defense in the Golden State game, while we were trying to win the game. If you don’t use that time it just sets everything back. That’s what you have to do.”

Furthermore both Hill and Guard Ray Allen acknowledged that as the season goes on the team may need to measure success in areas other than the win/loss column.

“To play Dwayne Wade the way we played him and for them to remember was a victory and we have confidence in that now.” Hill explained when trying to find positives in a 13 point loss to the Miami Heat.

Allen acknowledged that he is beginning to look towards the development of young centers Johan Petro and Robert Swift as motivation for the upcoming games.

“It is exciting to see their development.” He said, “Our biggest minus has probably been around the paint. Teams coming down the lane and just scoring at will. We really didn’t have a big presence around the paint. Having a big down there that’s in the right position is the key.”

The emergence of both Swift and Petro is clearly the story of the season right now. Just like the coaches fans watching the game need to find bright spots to maintain interest and watching “Bacardi and Coke” match up and learn from their competition provides an intriguing storyline.

“When I penetrate on some of the good teams like Bowen in San Antonio or Miami, somebody’s sliding over. You’re going to think twice and its not going to be an easy shot. Teaching (Swift and Petro) those values and having them watch those guys and how they help, how they get in that position is key.” Says Allen.

Despite the team struggling in his early days the coach remains undeterred.

“What’s it been, 2 weeks? It’s hard to explain but you can’t just walk onto a practice court and change everything and expect them to understand.”

The only factor keeping the Sonics hopes alive is the overall terrible play in the NW Division. Despite their 15-23 record they remain only 5 games out of the division lead with 44 games and several inter-division match ups still ahead. It is conceivable that a short run could see them get back into the division race. Still it seems as if the coaches, players, and fans have accepted the fact that the team needs more than a minor run to fix its problems. As they make decisions on the rotation and player acquisitions they should do so with the future firmly in mind.