Before he was the only point guard to win the Defensive Player of the Year award, before the record nine All-Defensive First Team, NBA All-Star, and nine All-NBA team selections, before he was "The Glove," he was just the 2nd overall draft pick of the Seattle SuperSonics.
The most memorable era in Seattle basketball history was about to transpire. The arrival of one Mr. Gary Dwayne Payton and the emergence of second-year star Shawn Kemp (15.0 points, 8.4 rebounds) would assure us of that.
Though the 1990-1991 NBA season was Payton’s arrival, his real impact wouldn’t be felt for a few seasons. This team was a team about to define the word "transition."
Mainstays from the mid- to late-eighties like Xavier McDaniel, Dale Ellis, and Olden Polynice were shown the door months into the season. By the trade deadline, the Sonics teams of the eighties and the Sonics team of the nineties were as different as the decades themselves.
The Sonics started the season by adding Payton and trading away a player who would end up being a cog in the Chicago Bulls dynasty wheel, Jud Buechler (a very small cog, but a cog nonetheless).
The season started much like those underachieving teams of the eighties. A 4-7 record, coupled with numerous on- and off-the-court problems (notably with Dale Ellis), sent the X-Man to Phoenix, reuniting him with Tom Chambers, and bringing in guard Eddie Johnson.
Following an equally mediocre 8-8 December and 8-7 January, the final remnants of the Chambers-McDaniel-Ellis era were disbanded when Ellis and Polynice where traded to the Milwaukee Bucks (for Ricky Pierce) and Los Angeles Clippers (for Benoit Benjamin), respectively.
With Payton and Kemp, the Sonics wanted to push reset on the team. Pierce was a scorer in the mold of Ellis; 26-year-old Benjamin was averaging almost 15 points, 12 rebounds, and 2.4 blocks per game (surprisingly being represented by boxing promoter Don King); and Johnson was a scoring wing and ’88-’89 Sixth Man of the Year.
These trades spurred the Sonics to an 18-14 record (0.562 win percentage) afterwards, as opposed to 23-27 (0.460 win percentage) before. Ending the regular season at 41-41, they captured the 8th and final playoff spot.
They lost in the first round, 3-2, to the top-seeded Portland Trail Blazers in a hard fought match up. Nonetheless, a young, hungry roster had been built. Going into the following season, they were positioned to make some real noise in the Western Conference.
The 1990-1991 season started with parking lot fights, DUIs, suspensions of star players, and injuries. It ended with the seeds beginning to sprout of arguably the greatest era in Seattle SuperSonics history.
|STARTER||Gary Payton||Sedale Threatt||Eddie Johnson||Shawn Kemp||Benoit Benjamin|
|ROTATION||Dana Barros||Ricky Pierce||Derrick McKey||Dave Corzine|
|ROTATION||Nate McMillan||Michael Cage||Scott Meents|
*Statistics while with team