When Sonics Assistant Coach Detlef Schrempf left the organization to join the Portland Trail Blazers after the 1999 season the move drew contempt from a large portion of the Seattle fan base.
Schrempf, a former star at the University of Washington and adopted Seattle native had been a popular member of the successful Sonics squads in the mid 90â€™s. His local roots, nice guy persona, and polished game made him a fan favorite while 15 ppg and nearly 8 rebounds a night seemed to make him an easy choice to re-sign.
Then something strange happened:
The team, focused on developing Rashard Lewis for the future and having committed large dollars to forward Vin Baker spurned Shrempf by offering only a 2 year, $2.5 million deal. They argued that at his age it was the best he could do on the open market.
Schrempf in turned spurned the team and signed an offer for slightly less money with the division rival Blazers.
Fans were incensed.
Many directed their anger towards Schrempf, labeling him a turncoat for going to Portland. The vast majority however blamed management, citing reports of contentious negotiations and hard line tactics with the well liked team member. It seemed that the once friendly relationship had deteriorated to open hostility and a lingering sense of animosity.
With Detlef now returned to the Sonics in the role of assistant coach it could be assumed that the two sides have mended the fences. He spent a few minutes with me last week discussing the relationship and its messy end.
â€œI donâ€™t think (the relationship) ever broke. We just went separate ways at that point and thatâ€™s it. There was never really any discussion about who did what.â€ He said.
Keep in mind that Schrempf is a good company guy with no desire to put egg on the face of his current boss and former GM, Wally Walker. As expected he made a solid effort to downplay any conflict at the time of his departure. According to Schrempf the decision to depart to Portland had as much to do with his chance to win a title as it did with economics or conflict.
â€œI thought I had a good opportunity to win a championship down there, and we could have, it just didnâ€™t work out that way. Thatâ€™s how it is. Thatâ€™s how business goes.â€
It is clear however that many of the innuendos made at the time had some merit.
â€œIt wasnâ€™t a good situation.â€ said Schrempf, â€œI didnâ€™t really have any intention of going anywhere but they wanted to go a different direction and thatâ€™s the nature of the business.â€
â€œI didnâ€™t like it. I thought it was handled the wrong way, but thatâ€™s in the past and thereâ€™s no reason to cry about it at this point.â€
Schrempf remained noncommittal about his feelings towards Walker who many characterized as the bad guy in negotiations. I asked Detlef about his relationship with Walker.
â€œNo, we donâ€™t talk.â€ He said, â€œI mean obviously heâ€™s the president and we attend meetings together, whatever.â€
For his part Shrempf clearly believes that the past is in the past and reflected no hard feelings during our conversation. It was very clear that he did not intend to dredge up an old story and he was nothing if not indifferent when answering my questions on the matter.
â€œI mean thatâ€™s five years ago. Thatâ€™s water under the bridge.â€ He answered with an expression that clearly implied â€œWhy are you asking this now?â€
What is important to Sonics fans is that Det the Threat is back representing the green and gold. He obviously did not develop any Black and Red Blazer loyalty during his lackluster couple of years in Portland.
â€œI didnâ€™t really enjoy the two years away.â€ He grinned.
We didnâ€™t enjoy them either Det. Welcome Home!