The last push for respectability.
Tonight we get back our other All-Star to kick off a back to back set with Sacto, and what I cannot help but expect will be an audition for next season and beyond for many key parts of the team. The roughly 40% of the season remaining will be a last push for respectability by the players. In Frank Hughesâ€™ Tribune article this morning, Ray Allen tells how they plan to play to win as many games as possible, and that tanking for draft positioning is a non-factor. He further states that he will be calling out anyone who is not giving up the effort. Of course he is. What else would he say?
I believe the players for the most part have too much pride in their craft and are emotionally invested in their teamâ€™s success. Nobody wants to be a loser or be on a losing team. At most points winning is preferable to losing, and these guys have been experiencing that since they first picked up a ball. However, pro sports are a performance activity. Good intentions, moral victories and just playing hard donâ€™t get it done.
In the NBA we have guaranteed contracts. Ray will be paid to play basketball next year, by Seattle or someone else. The same goes for everyone on the team except Mike Wilks, Danny Fortson and Andre Brown. All of our other players are signed to contracts that extend beyond this season, and unless they are traded, they will be back.
However, another key person does not have a contract for next season: Coach Bob Hill. I have seen most of the games this year, and my opinion if Hill is a mixed bag. I think he seems to be good motivator; he seems able to pull the strings and keep the players tuned in for the most part. It would have been easy for this team to quit on him but I really havenâ€™t seen strong evidence of that. He seems competent in the Xâ€™s and Oâ€™s of the game. I donâ€™t think we have been grossly outcoached in any game. Perhaps a few curious substitutions (or lack thereof), and late game execution have been issues, but Coachâ€™s hands have been somewhat tied with injuries. Hillâ€™s constant rotation juggling has been confusing to me, but I understand he is again both hamstrung by injuries and trying to get a spark. I would like to believe that if we were 10 games over .500 he wouldnâ€™t be changing the lineup because of matchups like he has done several times this year. I think all in all however, Hill has done a somewhat decent job. Few coaches in this league are wizards that continually get teams to over-achieve. In tonightâ€™s matchup with the Kings we get to see another coach who is struggling with the burden of under-performing in the face of higher expectations.
My point in all of this is what are reasonable expectations for the rest of the season with Rashard coming back? We have 33 games left. If we went on a tear and won 70% or 23-10, it would probably give Clay Bennett and the boys in OKC pause and make them rethink the teamâ€™s prospect for next season and beyond. To me, that is highly unlikely. The team wasnâ€™t scaring anybody before Ray and Rashard had their injuries. If we won 60% or 20-13 I would be very surprised. I would consider it a masterful job by the team and coaching staff. Again, I think this is unlikely. How about 18-15 to close out the season? That would be a winning percentage of about 55%, similar to last seasonâ€™s late push after the trades. I can see this as a reasonable expectation with this roster. Nick Collisonâ€™s recent play should be key. One more reliable shooter and post up option in Rashard plus two extra useable bench pieces in Gelabale and Brown should be helpful in this stretch compared to earlier this season.
When it is all said and done, would 55% to close out the season be enough to bring Hill and this staff back next year, perhaps on a one year deal? If I was king for a day I would say no. I think this coach and this roster is a no win situation. However, if Hill can win at a reasonable pace and push this team to respectability in the final 33 games, I would consider him as an option for next season so long as the roster was re-structured. I think the roster as it is currently formulated is a bigger problem than the coach. Just changing the coach without a roster shakeup would do little for the Sonics unless Phil Jackson makes himself available to us. Also, a big roster shakeup and a coaching change in the same off season is a lot for an organization to absorb.
I think these final 33 games will be closely scrutinized by the OKC boys and will probably be the most important stretch of basketball for the Sonics sinceâ€¦well, since last year about this time.