Thursday, March 8


I’ve had the Utah Jazz on my mind this season.

No, I’m not developing an aversion to carbonated beverages or a predilection to getting a couple more wives. I’m just curious as to why the Jazz have succeeded while the Sonics have floundered.

In 2004-05, the Sonics were the kings of the Northwest Division while Utah sputtered to a 26-56 mark, their worst season since the days of Adrian Dantley. Darrell Griffith, and Rickey Green.

Since then, though, it’s a complete reversal of fortune. The Jazz went 41-41 last year and are on pace to finish 56-26 this year, an amazing turnaround from two years ago. The Sonics, meanwhile, have plummeted from first to worst, seeing their win totals go from 52 to 35 to maybe 33 or 34 this year.

So what gives? What the hell happened that made the Jazz so good and the Sonics so, well, not so good?

Well, maybe it’s a good idea to compare the moves made by Kevin O’Connor and Rick Sund in the last two years, just so we can see what went wrong in Seattle and right in SLC.

Summer, 2005

1. Trade #6 (Martell Webster) and #27 (Linas Kleiza) pick to the Blazers for the #3 pick (Deron Williams). Jazz draft CJ Miles and Robert Whaley in the 2nd round.
2. Trade Raul Lopez to Memphis, Curtis Borchardt to Boston, and Kirk Snyder to New Orleans for Greg Ostertag.
3. Re-signed Keith McLeod.
4. Re-signed Jerry Sloan

1. Hire Bob Weiss
2. Draft Johan Petro, Mickael Gelabale and Lawrence Roberts (later traded to Memphis for cash)
3. Re-sign Ray Allen to long-term deal.
4. Sign Rick Brunson, Vitaly Potapenko, Damien Wilkins, Mikki Moore, Vlad Radmanovic, Flip Murray, and Mateen Cleaves to one-year deals.
5. Extend Nick Collison and Luke Ridnour through 06-07.

In-Season, 2005-06

1. Trade Kris Humphries and Robert Whaley for Rafael Araujo.

1. Fire Bob Weiss; hire Bob Hill
2. Waive Mateen Cleaves, re-sign Cleaves, waive Cleaves, etc.
3. Trade Radmanovic for Chris Wilcox
3. Trade Evans and Potapenko for Earl Watson, Bryon Russell, ’08 2nd-round pick, and cash.
4. Trade Flip Murray for Mike Wilks
5. Waive Brunson; sign Marcus Fizer, waive Fizer; sign Noel Felix, waive Felix.
6. Extend Bob Hill’s deal through 07-08.

Summer, 2006

1. Draft Ronnie Brewer, Paul Milsap, and Dee Brown.
2. Extend Keith McLeod’s deal.
3. Trade Andre Owens, McLeod, and Devin Brown for Derek Fisher
4. Re-sign Matt Harpring
5. Re-sign Jarron Collins

1. Re-sign Chris Wilcox
2. Draft Mohamed Sene, Denham Brown, and Yotam Halperin
3. Trade Mikki Moore for a 2nd-round pick in 09 (NJ)
4. Sign Ridnour and Collison to contract extensions

In-Season, 2006-07

1. Swap 2nd-round picks with Philly in exchange for Alan Henderson’s contract and cash.
2. Waive Alan Henderson.

1. Sign Andre Brown

It’s a lot to digest, especially on the Sonics’ side of things. Does anyone know if Rick Sund’s being paid on a per-transaction basis?

I’ll be honest, wasn’t as down on Sund as most folks coming into the season. His draft record – while abysmal the last couple of years – has been solid taken as a whole. Still, O’Connor has eaten his lunch the past two years, and you can’t blame it all on the new ownership putting a hold on everything.

Just look at the acquisitions: O’Connor looked at his team, saw he needed a point guard and some veteran depth and acquired Deron Williams (17 ppg) and Derek Fisher (10 ppg). Sund looked at his team, saw he needed a veteran back up big man, a backup shooting guard, and a older player to spell Ridnour ... and he picked up a 19-year-old Senegalese center, a 20-year-old French center, and Earl Watson. In other words, he took a lousy situation and made it infinitely worse. When faced with a decision on what coach to hire, he bailed on the decision and asked his players. When he needed to fix his mistake, he hired yet another Sonic assistant (Hill) as a band-aid solution ... then punted on making a serious decision by just renewing Hill’s contract and forcing the team to play for this season, even though the smarter thing would have been to play for next year.

In reviewing both of the GM’s records the past couple of years, you can’t help but come to the conclusion that Sund seems to be constantly putting out fires without really getting to the bottom of why there’s a fire in the first place. Not sure of what to do with all your free agents? Just sign them all to one year deals! Not sure which coach to hire? Promote an assistant!

Can you believe the Sonics have not gone outside the organization for a head coach since Paul Westphal? First Nate, then Weiss, now Hill – all assistants who got promoted because they happened to be in the building.

It’s utterly frustrating, especially when you look at how desperately the Sonics needed someone like Dale Davis to help the young big men, but instead we get Andreas Glyniadakis. The team cries out for someone to come off the bench to spell Ray Allen, but instead we get two SG/SFs who either can’t shoot 3’s or won’t.

The essence of the difference between the two boils down to how the Jazz went after Deron Williams two years ago. O’Connor knew that the #6 and 27 picks weren’t going to make his team a contender, so he dumped them and got the best or second-best young point guard in the league. The Sonics, rather than looking at moving up and getting someone who can help now, have settled on projects in the draft; first Swift, then Petro, then Sene. That’s great if you’re the 1994 Bulls, but the Sonics are a team that needs help now, not 5 years from now.

Not surprisingly, Sund is polishing his resume now, and it’s inconceivable to me that Clay Bennett won’t can him this summer.

Quite frankly, he’d be crazy not to.


Jeff said...

Speaking as a longtime Jazz fan, I am shocked at how the Sonics have played this year (and last year). You guys have always been a great rival. When Seattle made the playoffs 2 years ago, the Sonics seemed to have a solid pair of scorers (Allen/Lewis), a good young point guard (Ridnour) and some decent bigs (Radmanovic/Fortson/Collison) to make them a playoff contender for years to come. I think things went bad for the Sonics last season, when Radmonovic didn't like his role and screwed up team chemistry. Since then, they just can't seem to get the right mix of guys.

While O'Connor gets big props for getting Williams in the fold, he had his share of screw ups in the draft. Since coming on board in 2000, he's wasted late 1st rounders on Raul Lopez, Curtis Borchardt, Sasha Pavlovic, Kirk Snyder and Kris Humphries (probably his worst pair). He also gets points off for giving Gordan Giricek a 4-year deal.

I think the biggest thing he's done was have the foresight to see Mehmet Okur's potential and that Boozer is finally healthy and playing in the perfect system for his skills.

Anonymous said...

I guess the grass is always greener, especially when you're judging your team's GM to another team's. I should also mention that Sund is under a tight contraint this season, and it probably started during the summer when the team got sold. None of us know if there were deals he would have pulled off, but was not allowed to by the new ownership because they were getting everything put into place.

Anonymous said...

Trade up for Williams was the best draft move. But having/using capspace for Boozer and Okur is the main reason they are where they are.

Havent studied in detail what Sonics could have gotten instead of GP expiring contract originally or with money given to re-sign Ray Allen from that open market or sign & trade. But that move was the biggest move. Most say Ray is great, re-signing him was no-brainer but I don't think it is as simple as that. Stepping out of the particular, SG is probably the last place I'd make your biggest paycheck. Having 50% of total payroll in 2 wing players is a big committment and seems to ignore that PG and PF are perhaps the most impactful positions in league today for winning teams. They would arguie they did the best they could to get 2 stars and that 2 stars of any kind is better than not . But sometimes you have to bypass the next best and stay foucsed on the best, maybe build the caproom or get the draft pick that gets you the great decade of basketball PG or PF. The double up at PG and PF with 2 decent guys doesnt strike me as a successful long term strategy. If they are just stepping stones, then there are several big trades in next 18 months.
If the current roster really is seen as a winning design, I disagree and am not impressed with that thinking.

Anonymous said...

I agree with taht comment. My favorite quote regarding salaries came from Bill Veeck,

"It's not the high price of stardom that bothers me, it's the high price of mediocrity."

That sums up the Sonics perfectly. They're paying $12 mil a year for 2 point guards, neither of which are great. To make it worse, they're paying another $13 mil to two PFs, neither of which are great.

How much worse would the Sonics have been if they let Wilcox walk this summer, and just put Collison at PF backed up by Andre Brown/Petro/Swift? Then they could have signed a decent veteran big to play C. I guarantee they wouldn't have been any worse, and they'd have salary flexibility going into the future.

Instead, they're locked into Wilcox for another couple of years, and they're forced to deal either Ridnour or Watson, and they'll probably get $0.85 on the dollar, if they're lucky.

Anonymous said...

Retaining Lewis for longer makes sense on its own but if Ray stays that means re-affirming half of salary to 2 wings and that hasnt been a strong strategy for past 5 seasons.

I'd have moved Allen already because this team isnt a deep playoff threat next year or probably the one after and his window for playoff differencemaking is closing though his normal stats may last longer.

If they stick with Ray & Rashard they need more penetration from PG (like Daniels provided) and more interior clogging/intimidation/shotblocking/or effective help defense

04-05 Nate ball, slow pace and lineup balances worked. Nothing else as, they cant run run like Phoenix and the defense isnt passable for doing that. How many times do they trot out that model before they admit it has failed?

Anonymous said...

What is the best they can get for Wilcox/Watson and perhaps minor others? I'd shop that package and many others everywhere.

I dont consider any current Sonic bedrock essential, but might say keep Lewis and Collison and build from there.

Anonymous said...

If they retain Lewis then one of the SG/PG probably should be a defensive stopper. If they retain Lewis/Allen it has to be at PG.

If they make Collison a building block, the main guy next to him should be better than him.

Anonymous said...

I think everyone agrees the Sonics have to improve in one or both of these areas:

1. Point guard
2. Center

I don't think they can contend for the playoffs next year without getting a veteran, respected player in one of those positions. Since they seem so set on Swift at C, it seems like PG is the way to go.

The only problem is that means dealing Ridnour and Watson, most likely Rid. I can see Watson coming off the bench behind somebody he respects, but Rid would be devastated, IMO.

Anonymous said...

Ridnour hasnt been the same since demotion, ball change. Watson is evidence that a couple of bad months can happen and you proabbly have to ride it out but will Ridnour show any bounceback in March/April? What will he bring in November, clean slate mind? Hopefully this season doesnt linger.The season finish for both would affect evaluation of how to go forward. Exit interviews and summer communication will be important.

Anonymous said...

The PG problems are pretty bad, especially given the amount of money we're paying Watson, Ridnour being a former 1st-round draft pick, and the recent and somewhat ridiculous addition of Wilks. None of these guys has the ability to really lead the Sonics to any sort of sustainable success.

Thankfully, the Sonics have some trade bait, but the question is - are we already in the middle of the rebuilding process, or are we needing to start from scratch? A good part of me is tilting towards the latter.

Anonymous said...

Just recently PG became the position at which the sonics are most outscored at, replacing C aided by Collison's good run.

If they stick with Ray & Rashard I think they have to try hard for a third star- make overpaying 3-1 offers (including a draft pick) to Detroit, NJ and San Antonio for Billups, Kidd or Parker. No other Sonic currently ranks much above PER15 so you could try to backfill close to as good as they have now.

Or make a big offer for Okafor, Granger, J Oneal or Big Z.


Anonymous said...

I agree; the Sonics need to make a big move to bolster their lineup. Dangling their #1 pick would be a good start ...

Anonymous said...

If they can't turn a pile of decent stuff into a third star (and it is hard to do, though not impossible as some teams might want the parts depending on their rebuild situation), then it is continue as is at the top or trade a star.

If they keep Ray and the recent bone spur information probably raises that from the 80+% I'd guess Sund has since he picked him to even higher (as offers will now be fewer and for less) then sign & trade Lewis is a main way to get a different look and possibly a different future. I think Sonics will evaluate those options carefully. If they werent planning on doing so, then not extending Lewis earlier when he might have done it or would have given a stronger signal for a deadline trade was mismanagement. But will any sign & trade for Lewis include a star? equal to or potentially equal to him? probably not. his poor defense will affect how much folks will offer. probably teams will offer 2-3 lesser things for Lewis. But Sonics probably should review those packages carefully. Some or at least on e of them might be part of changing onto a .500+ / playoff path. Basing future playoff playoff hopes soley on internal development seems overoptimistic, but that is what they have done til now so I dont expect them to change unless the management and management perspective changes.

If Lenny is an important player is he privately satisifed with the talent or not? I can't read his style or his acumen very well.

Anonymous said...

I assume Lenny would value defensive performance higher than recently but how much would he give up for it and where would he target it?


Anonymous said...

Should have said it earlier but good article Pete.

Another comparison could be done with Lakers. They moved from Kobe/Shaq combo to Kobe/Lamar. They added K Brown (somewhat a vet by the clock) and later young Bynum. young Farmar and Turiaf but also vets off bench Evans and Radmanovic. They have sort of blended actions for now with actions for a long term future pretty well.