So I struggled for a while with a decision about whether to put this out here. On one hand it is the type of pure speculative gossip that drives message boards and will be fun for everybody. On the other hand it is very speculative, impossible to confirm, and optimistic. I worry about maintaining journalistic integrity and also how to find the correct balance of keeping people positive without losing the sense of crisis that will be necessary for we the fans to make a difference in keeping our team. Here goes...
First of all we must again encourage readers to register at www.saveoursonics.org. We will be looking for both donations and volunteers to kick off the movement at the Storm game on July 28 and encourage anybody with talents such as web-design, legal, management, or public/political relations experience to let us know if you are willing to help.
While I have a solid source on this chain of events it is essentially impossible to confirm and therefore I must stress that at this point it should be considered speculative and for discussion purposes only. I am seeking additional confirmation out of New Orleans and will advise if I can get anything at that time.
Setting the background a bit let me say that the number one issue affecting the Seattle SuperSonics potential move is the situation regarding the New Orleans Hornets. The league has maintained a strong committment to returning to New Orleans after they were devastated by Hurrican Katrina but it seems that on a common sense level the city is very unlikely to be a major market anytime soon. The current population of New Orleans is less than 1/3 of the pre-Katrina levels, in the range of 250,000 people.
The big questions are will the Hornets attempt to move to Oklahoma City full time and if so will their request be approved? According to a source with close ties to New Orleans the league was sent a fax on July 18th by Hornets owner George Shinn requesting to begin discussions relating to a permanent move to Oklahoma City. This would cooincide with a recent change in public stance from Shinn who has been steadfast in his intent to return to New Orleans but recently stated bluntly that the move must be successful from a financial perspective if they are to return.
â€œI canâ€™t begin to predict whatâ€™s going to happen down the road,â€ Shinn told ESPN in a recent interview â€œThis doesnâ€™t change my desires or anything.
â€œAre we going back to New Orleans? I canâ€™t answer that question. This team is New Orleansâ€™ team to lose. Our plans are to go back.
â€œBut if we canâ€™t, then I become a free agent, and this is a great market. I would be foolish to turn my back on it.â€
Here is where the conspiracy theory really starts to heat up. The same source who advises about the mystery fax believes that the dynamics changes within the last couple of months because Shinn feels that his move is almost guaranteed to be approved. Apperently Shinn had a "favor incurred" by Indiana Pacers ownership. The Pacers owners, we were advised and confirmed, are senior members of the league's relocation committee and will be key players in approving or disproving any franchise movement. We were told that with a little research we would easily locate the source of this favor and the timing would make some sense.
So with a bit of research we noted that the NOK Hornets, who had reached a verbal agreement to land Indiana Pacers forward Peja Stojakavich during free agency negotiations made a sudden change of plans to acquire Peja via a sign and trade. This move, consumated merely for the draft rights to Andrew Betts gave the Indiana Pacers a $7.5 million trade exception, the largest in league history, and will greatly affect the Pacers ability to rebuild their roster in this offseason.
With a little bit of "fill in the blanks" some of the more questionable aspects of the Sonics ownership change start to come into focus. Specifically the timing of the move which strikes me as odd. The team was still involved in negotiations with the city and also announced the move a mere one day before begining seat assignments for season ticket holders. Their entire PR and coaching staff were on site at the Rocky Mountain Review and media was caught completely off guard. The thought here is that Shinn's actions forced the Bennett group to become more assertive in their efforts to acquire an NBA team and pushed the timetable up. Should Shinn fail in his effort to land OK City they will have an option in hand, but should he be successful they will at least have ownership of an NBA team which has been a long term desire. If they do believe that Shinn will ultimately find a way to remain in Oklahoma it behooves them to have an arena deal worked out with Seattle before it becomes public knowledge that OK City is no longer an option for them. Simply put they have a hammer in negotiations and they need to use it before it disappears.
Multiple people associated with the Sonics and area politics have also contacted me to advise that they are very suprised at how serious talks with Bellevue have been in a very short period of time. Bellevue city leaders had little desire to become the city that stole the team from Seattle, but are much more enthused at the prospect of saving the Sonics for the region. My optimism is extremely guarded but most people covering this issue seem to be more confident today that the team could find a home in the area than they were upon announcement of the sale. We will wait and see as more develops.