As the Sonics disappointing 2005/2006 season winds down the team finds themselves entering unfamiliar territory. As one of the worst teams in the league the franchise will enter the May 23 draft lottery with a pick that is almost certain to be in the top 7. It will be the highest pick available to the organization since they made Gary Payton the #2 overall choice in 1990.
It may seem like a no-brainer for the team to use this selection to increase their talent base with a young prospect. That decision however may be affected by the current status of a roster which features two stars who want to win now and an almost overabundance of promising youth. The team may have more interest in trading this pick, perhaps packaged with the expiring contract of Danny Fortson and others for a player who can provide more of an immediate impact and set a winning tone for the franchise. This strategy most recently catapulted the Washington Wizards from 25 to 45 wins when they traded the #5 overall pick in the 2004 draft(Devin Harris)along with other players for veteran Antawn Jamison.
While the team is excited about the talent level of recent draft picks Robert Swift, Johan Petro, Nick Collison, and Luke Ridnour they understand that young players nearly always struggle to win games at this level. It faces a dilemma in that its two biggest stars, Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis both have a limited window in which they may be available to lead the Sonics to compete.
For Allen it is a simple problem of age. While he is still playing at an extremely high level Sonics General Manager Rick Sund is a firm believer that players are in the prime of their career between the ages of 26 and 33. In the case of soon to be 31 year old Ray Allen the team is facing a 2 year window in which to build around the all-star before begin to expect a declining level of play.
Lewis on the other hand is just entering his prime years. At age 26 the seven year vet should have nearly 6 years of high level play ahead of him. Unfortunately for the team Lewis has stated publicly that he intends to exercise a player contract option to become an unrestricted free agent at the conclusion of the 06/07 season. While Lewis has expressed a desire to return to Seattle he may be less likely to return if the franchise remains in a rebuilding mode.
With both these players the Sonics will be forced to make a hard decision whether to surround them with veteran talent right now, or hedge their bets with younger players. Should they make a move they would likely attempt to package their high lottery pick, perhaps with several other players in exchange for a player at or near all-star caliber. If not they could draft a guard such as to replace Allen as he begins to age or a small forward such as Gonzegaâ€™s Adam Morrison as insurance if Lewis should decide to move on.
There is even the limited possibility that the Supersonics will attempt to make this a moot point by dealing either Lewis or Allen at or prior to the draft, possibly in exchange for a player who may hit his prime closer to the timelines of youngsters their younger players.
Regardless of the outcome the Sonics find themselves manipulating a tricky puzzle of ages, contracts, skills and positions. As with any decision made regarding NBA personnel there is no one path to success. Whichever option they choose its success or failure will be completely contingent upon the basic talent evaluation of the players involved. In the end talent evaluation is everything in this league. Roster decisions based on age, position, or contract simply cannot overcome poor judgment regarding the players abilities on the court.
What do you think the Sonics should do?