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A must win?

With the Sonics well out of the playoff race, and just 10 games remaining, the focus of the balance of the schedule inevitably becomes about development and evaluation.

We have a very young roster with five first round draft picks (including Nick Collison) from the last four drafts. Each of these players has strengths and weaknesses in their games that need to be refined. The coaching and commitment they receive both now and in the off season will be foundational for Seattle to progress; these same five, plus Rashard Lewis are also in the queue for new contracts or extensions within the next few years. Will all of these guys still be here in three years?

The aspect of evaluation is also necessary for the reversal of Seattle’s fortunes. Each of these players, plus the rest of the roster are being scrutinized every time they step on the court; that is just the nature of the NBA. This team has some tough decisions to make based on the roster as it now stands. We have a high first round draft pick and two second round picks in this coming draft; last year’s second rounder Michael Gelabale is bound to be in the mix as well. This draft looks on the surface to be somewhat weak as drafts go, but a top 7 or 8 pick would be our highest draft pick in 19 years! Should the team add four young players to a very young roster? Should they work a trade and consolidate?

Coach Hill is also being evaluated. Is he the right man for the job going forward? In my mind, he seems to be a breath of fresh air, and a very capable coach given the talent, but this is just my perception. He has the endorsement of our two best players for next year; but so did Bob Weiss last year.

Along this journey of development and evaluation in these last 10 games, those of us diehard sonic fans also want to see wins in the win column( except for the few that want us to lose enough to ensure a great draft pick). We want our players to develop, gain confidence and experience, AND ALSO WIN games. We want our cake and to eat it too.

For these reasons I’m convinced that tonight’s game against Portland is really a “must win” game. After two great wins against playoff teams last week, the Sonics followed up with a horrible showing in Houston against an injury riddled Rockets team out of the playoffs. This was followed by a loss to the hated Lakers on national television. Both games were winnable, and these last two teams were less adept than the previous two.

It may seem odd to call tonight’s game a “must win” when you evaluate our respective win/loss records, but this game has “important” written all over it. Of course Nate McMillan is coming to the Key to face his old team; but Portland is a mess. They have lost 10 in a row, they are in last place in the division, and there is continual friction in the locker room. Seattle just cannot hang its hat on next year, if this year winds down with another game like the one in Houston. Seattle needs to come out and play with heart and tenacity.

With the focus of development and an eye for evaluation for next year and beyond, this game may very well be one of the most significant, defining contests of the year; a “must win”.