UPDATE: The Seattle Times has confirmed this story, broken by SC.com more than 4 days ago.
With more than a week gone by since the change of ownership announcement it is time for everybody to put their money where their mouth is.
For the fan that means finding ways to actually channel their angst into action. Fans must conitinue to flood the radio stations, contact local politicians, and remind people that that this is decision that must be based on more than dollars and cents. The community needs to invest in cultural amenities that itâ€™s citizenâ€™s value. If you value professional sports then participate with time or money. For starters simply go to www.saveoursonics.org and register for action alerts.
For the new ownership group stepping up is just as important. New majority owner Clay Bennett made clear in his opening day press conference that he understands that winning, and demonstrating a commitment to winning is crucial for building support in professional athletics. Just as the city has a very short window to show him that we take this matter seriously he has a short window to win over the fan base with his actions, starting with free agent PF Chris Wilcox.
Iâ€™m going to go out on a limb here and bet that Chris Wilcoxâ€™ agent is very much aware that his clients leverage just increased a bit. While the old ownership had already pretty much established their reputation as hard negotiators this new team has a reputation to gain or lose based on this first significant transaction. In the case of the old ownershi soured negotiations with Wilcox would have been bad news, but essentially more of the same. In the case of Clay Bennett and his new ownership group the stakes are much higher.
It would be disastrous if this new ownership fails to come to terms with Wilcox. Should Wilcox elect to accept the teams qualifying offer and enter into free agency next season the fans of this community may in fact write off ownership as unwilling to compete before they have any chance to prove otherwise.
The reasons for and against re-signing Wilcox are becoming very apparent. While attending the Rocky Mountain Review earlier this month it became clear that complaints of Wilcoxâ€™ work ethic are very well justified. Multiple sources including players who had joined Wilcox in previous Clippersâ€™ training camps cited examples of Wilcox clashing with Clippers Head Coach Mike Dunleavy over conditioning related issues. One source went so far as to say that prior to last season Dunleavy had told Wilcox in no uncertain terms that if he reported out of shape for his third consecutive season that the team would not play him. When he reported again with no signs of off season improvement or conditioning the team held to their word and limited him to 13mpg before trading him to Seattle in February. Wilcox has reportedly been out of contact with the team this offseason and the Sonics are leery of investing big money or a long term guarantee into a player who does not show the level commitment this organization expects. Furthermore a significant extension to Wilcox could restrict their ability to come to agreements with Nick Collison and Luke Ridnour, both of whom are notoriously dedicated offseason workers.
Wilcoxâ€™ camp however can point out the obvious PR pitfalls presented should the two fail to come to terms. Also NBA teams continue to set atrocious examples as marginal players such as Nene and Al Harrington both look to be receiving contracts in the range of $10 million per year. Wilcox possesses all the physical tools to be better than either of those players and arguably should be paid on a par with them.
Multiple sources close to the situation indicate that a deal with Wilcox may be in place soon. Prior to the ownership change the Sonics had held firm in their contract offer which was far less than some would expect. It is believed that the 6â€™10 PF has some concerns regarding his reputation around the league and that he is unwilling to take the gamble that he can receive a large contract next season. Since the ownership change every indication I have received points to the fact that the organization does understand the significance of this move from a public relations perspective. While they are hesitant to greatly overpay based solely on fan desires both sides seem to feel that a short term contract can address Wilcoxâ€™ desire to get paid without having long term consequences. Thus the team may be willing to overpay for a 3 year contract, or settle upon a more reasonable 5 year contract in order to get the deal done.
Given that Wilcox was reportedly buckling, and that new management understands the need to retain him it seems very probable that something gets done within the next 10 days. Furthermore yesterdayâ€™s trade of Mikki Moore to New Jersey sends a strong signal to me that the team is confident in its ability to retain Wilcox.
Mikki Moore is a valuable role player who has the ability to step in as needed at either frontcourt position. When he was signed last season many felt that he was brought in to replace the production of Jerome James, lost to the New York Knicks via free agency. That soon proved to be inaccurate as folks within the Sonics have consistently hinted that Moore was at all times considered an insurance policy. The team felt that Nick Collison, Danny Fortson, Vitaly Potapenko, and Robert Swift could replace the meager production of James, and Moore would insure against any of those failing to make an impact.
This season Moore was once again given the opportunity to provide insurance against roster pitfalls. In the event that that the team was unable to resign Wilcox, or that first round pick Mo Sene struggled Moore would be able to step in and fill the final spot in the Sonics frontcourt. By exercising his contract option he received guaranteed money for the season and had the possibility of a role on the team. Given his strong relationship with the team he felt comfortable knowing that, should his role disappear they would move him to a better situation that would afford him playing time.
I do not believe that it is coincidental that Moore was moved during the same week that Wilcoxâ€™ agent reportedly met with the team for further negotiations. It is extremely likely that conversations became such that it was obvious that the team no longer required Chris Wilcox insurance Thus they shipped out the happy Moore for a second round pick in 2009. The Sonics wind up with a minor trade exception and a small but useful asset out of the deal, the Nets receive a very serviceable big man without digging into their mid-level exception, and both the Nets and Moore will be happy that, should he produce this season the team will have mini-bird rights with which to retain him next season. It is a rare deal when every party involved can be labeled a clear winner.