Instead of talking about the game-to-game aspects of the Sonics, let's talk about something just as important, if a bit long-term by nature: The Front Office.
In the last B. Jones entry, I made mention of the front office, and their tendency to screw up a good thing. This has been happening every year, essentially, for a little under a decade. Usually, these developments would be excused under phrases like "we're rebuilding," or "suchandsuch just wanted to leave" (which is the PC way of saying the player has "ego problems", see current treatment of Vlade Radmanovich). This happens with any team, and usually, most are able to balance themselves out and still be contenders. The Sonics (first under Barry Ackerley, and now under Howard Schulz), have fallen prey to the snowball effect.
Starting with the Ackerley firing of Bob Whitsitt, and subsequent hiring of Wally "I Ain't Leaving Until We Suck Mightily Again" Walker, during the Sonics '94-'95 build to their run at the championship season, things haven't been right. As previously stated, I could go on and on about this, so let me keep it to the seminal instance of things getting fucked up: Frank Brickowski.
In the summer of '95, Shawn Kemp had a couple of years left in his contract with the Supes. He was generally happy to be with the team, as they signed him straight out of high school (topic for another entry) in 1989. He had developed well during this time, particularly under George Karl. With Gary Payton at his side, he was half of a particularly energetic and dangerous combination.
Things were looking up, for both Kemp and the Sonics, the summer before things fell apart.
Then two things happened: 1) Walker essentially snubbed Kemp, and 2) he then signed unproven rookie Brickowski to a ridiculous multi-million dollar, multi-year contract.
That second bit really stung Kemp, considering how well he was doing. Though he knew the Sonics couldn't really start talking to him about his contract until the following summer, all he was looking for, essentially, was a confirmation of the work he was doing, and to be assured that when the time came, he'd be taken care of (nudge, wink). Instead, it was later reported, he was told that the Sonics "would see." Not exactly an encouraging tone, especially considering that the Brickowski deal would put the Sonics right up against the salary cap for a few years to come.
As the season wore on, and the Sonics excelled, Kemp was left alone, rarely encouraged, and barely acknowledged by the front office. This, coupled with Kemp's lack of maturity (due to being taken straight out of high school), led to his downfall. He allegedly started drinking excessively, and doing coke, including some nights before greatly important games.
That season ('95 - '96), the Sonics went to the championships against the Bulls. (Brickowski's contribution to the season? Absolutely nothing. Due to injuries and general lack of drive and enthusiasm, this would remain true for however long he lasted in the NBA.) Michael Jordan named Shawn Kemp his greatest fear and a dangerous opponent. The Sonics' two victories in that series were decisive (and the biggest beatings the Bulls ever received in the playoffs), and showed huge potential in the Kemp-Payton duo.
The summer of '96, Kemp is once again given the "we'll see" treatment, he gets upset, and demands to be traded. Walker gets Vince Carter for him. Karl (winningest Sonics coach) can't work with lazy recalcitrant Carter, gets vocal about it, and is fired two seasons later. In preposterous coaching shuffling (Paul Westphal?), Sonics lose momentum and decent, if aging, players.
Years pass, they decide to give Nate McMillan (aka, Mr. Sonic, for his loyalty to the team. He'd played and stayed with the team since going pro, unheard of in modern times) a shot at coaching the now young and inexperienced team. They get rid of Carter, gaining some promising talent, then a couple of years later, they get rid of Gary Payton ("we'll see") along with some defensive talent. This did, however, bring Ray Allen to the team, who shows some chemistry with Rashard Lewis, along with leadership skills. The Sonics make a couple of first round appearances in the playoffs under McMillan.
(So much for not going on and on about this.)
And then came the '04 - '05 season.
McMillan, in the summer of '04, is told "we'll see" by the front office before the last year of his contract. McMillan, who's been around this dance long enough to know, decides to make his last year, with what has been his home for nearly 16 years, shine (and says "fuck you" to management at the same time). He takes a decidedly youthful, energetic if inexperienced team and makes them work
. The Sonics go the furthest they've gone in the playoffs since '96.Now
the front office tries to woo him, but the damage had already been done. McMillan leaves, and takes his unique brand of coaching to NW rivals, the Portland Trailblazers.
I've already posted copiously about the after-effects of this move.
Today, I read on ESPN.com that Rashard Lewis is talking about free-agency, and his possibilities. Note to Sonics front office: In dealing with Lewis and his agent, "we'll see" just won't cut it, assholes.Special to Seahawks fans: Great game yesterday, but way too close for comfort. If the Giants have figured out how to make the offense ineffective...Holgrem needs to come up with something, is all I'm saying.--tbo