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Winding towards the offseason:

Northwest hoops fans likely did not notice the Sonics longest break of the season while focusing on the UW Huskies and Gonzega Bulldogs run to the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA tournament. I will however bet that a number of severely beat up Sonics players noticed and took full advantage of the situation. As Supersonics.com staff reporter Kevin Pelton reported today several Sonics, including second year center Robert Swift needed the break to nurse injuries. In Swift’s case a severely sprained ankle has slowed him for the past several weeks.

As the Sonics get set to resume play tonight against the Sacramento Kings it is time for the die hard fans to turn their attention to the professional ranks once again. Despite the fact that the team is unlikely to muster any type of playoff run there are still several interesting sub-plots yet to be played out this season.

For starters we’ve hit a point in which it is becoming fair to start judging Hill’s coaching staff a bit more critically. While he has coached the team since December there has been virtually no break, or roster continuity in which he could reasonably be expected to imprint his stamp on the team. That may have changed. In addition to a 4 day layoff the team is coming off two straight home games, enough to give them a solid 9 days without travel and actually have their first significant practice time since their mid-season coaching change and trades turned the roster upside down. The final 17 games of the season should allow fans to better evaluate a Bob Hill coached team featuring Chris Wilcox and Earl Watson in prominent roles.

Secondly it seems that the “what will we do next season?” speculation was officially kicked off by the Tacoma News Tribune’s Frank Hughes yesterday in a very good article. Hughes goes into some detail and beats me to the punch a number of times but that won’t stop Sonicscentral from joining in the speculation.

As stated above the final 17 games should give a good indication as to where this team stands in terms of both personnel and coaching. I strongly expect Hill to demonstrate that he deserves to have his contract extended to next year. His steadfast devotion to developing the young guys is in itself reason enough to give him a shot in training camp. Where the team goes from there is a matter for debate.

Overall Outlook:

It is always tough to get a top three pick when there are teams like the Warriors and Hawks in the league. Every year it seems like we find some way to clear up our mess and be better than those poor franchises. This year will be no exception. We finish the season with a relatively well balanced roster, a coach due for some momentum, and will likely creep up to the #9-12 pick yet again.

The Draft:

Prior to the trades for Earl Watson and Chris Wilcox it seemed an absolute no-brainer that the team must use this year’s lottery selection to draft either a PG or a PF. Now, with Watson and Wilcox in the fold it would appear that the team should go the route of best available player, or possibly look for defensive minded shooting guard who can gradually assume Ray Allen’s spot in the rotation as Allen begins to age.

Many speculate that the Sonics will attempt to trade their pick and I believe that it is a likely scenario. If they choose to do so it will not be for a middle of the pack player. Instead look for them to package 2-3 assets in order to land an all-star caliber player. Think along the lines of Johan Petro, The #3 pick in the draft (if they got that pick), and another piece for Chris Bosh. That is the type of move they would consider.

If they do draft look for them to show interest in savvy players such as Adam Morrison and Rudy Gay, or possibly look for defense in players such as Villanova’s Randy Foye or Marcus Williams from UConn. Ideally they may look to UW sensation Brandon Roy who looks to be a perfect fit in addition to having local ties.

Free Agency:

As with the draft it becomes difficult to narrow down one single position which must be filled via free agency. The biggest question the team will face is whether to resign, and at what price to resign power forward Chris Wilcox. Wilcox recently stated a strong desire to return and the feeling appears to be mutual. The team loves his above the rim game and athleticism, something that has been sorely lacking with this team for years. They should however be concerned about his frequently poor effort when it comes to defense and rebounding. More than anything the Supersonics need to continue to add players who are defensive oriented as well as encourage their own players to focus more on that end of the floor. Based on what I’ve seen and heard I expect the team to follow it’s own precedent and offer Wilcox a contract laden with incentives for minutes played, rebounding, and possibly blocked shots. The contract could have a base value somewhere around $4.5 million with 25% incentives (the maximum allowed under collective bargaining) up to $5.7 million.

In addition to Wilcox the team will make every effort to extend the contracts of both Luke Ridnour and Nick Collison. However as a somewhat thrifty organization don’t look for them to break the bank for either player. If either player is looking to receive a contract bigger than the one mentioned for Wilcox they will likely play out their option year and enter restricted free agency next offseason.

There has been some speculation that the Sonics may look to sign a veteran center this offseason to support Johan Petro and Robert Swift. Names mentioned include Lorenzen Wright and Nazr Mohammad but in my opinion those names are higher caliber than we will be looking at. The team loves Robert Swift and certainly likes Johan Petro. Unless one of those two are traded the type of veteran they will look to will be comfortable on the bench the entire game. If he were willing to come here I could see Antonio Davis being that guy. More likely Mikki Moore gets the nod.

Overall:

In general the Sonics will enter the offseason with a number of things going for them. Unlike many other cellar dwellers they have a core group that has shown they can win with tweaking. They have a roster which is balanced and appears significantly improved from the one they started the season with. Lastly they are not overly committed to any poor players. With Danny Fortson entering the final year of his contract the last of the albatross deals has been purged from the roster. Unlike the Golden State Warriors with millions committed to Dunleavy, Richardson, Davis, and Foyle the Sonics will be able to take a patient approach and make changes when it is in their best interest, or retain their players should the price be right. This season would be MUCH worse had they committed heavily to last year’s miracle team.