It’s somewhat surprising considering he’s coaching a young team coming off two straight losing seasons, but one of PJ Carlesimo’s biggest problems this season may be how to divide up the minutes amongst his charges.
After all, a team which struggles to win has one or two decent players and a host of scrubs, so distributing minutes isn’t so difficult. But look at the competition at each of the positions:
C – Kurt Thomas, Bob Swift, Johan Petro, Mo Sene. Obviously, Swift and Thomas are the upper-class in this group, but Petro is at least as talented as most of the backup centers in the league, and Sene has potential. In a perfect world, the Sonics would have two or three guys competing for minutes, and either a rookie or a older player who would have to be content with sitting. But sitting Petro or Sene all season isn’t a great idea. Unfortunately, it may have to be the option PJ takes, unless GM Sam Presti manages to nab a draft pick for either Sene (possible) or Petro (more likely).
PF – Chris Wilcox, Nick Collison. Carlesimo admitted to the beat reporters (from Eric Williams at TNT: “Carlesimo said it’s a tough situation for both players because he believes that each player deserves more than 24 minutes each.”) this isn’t an easy situion. The key to the whole thing may be this quote from Carlesimo, also from Williams’ story: “There’s not enough minutes there for the two of them unless we give one of them time at (center), and I don’t want to do that initially.” The key word being, initially. To my way of thinking, Swift is going to miss at least a quarter of the season with injury-related problems, and that leaves a big hole for Collison to fill. Don’t forget, also, that Jeff Green would normally get more than a few minutes here.
SF – Jeff Green, Wally Szczerbiak, Damien Wilkins, Mickael Gelabale, Kevin Durant. Phew, that’s a lot of names. How do you divvy up 48 minutes into four or five guys (four, if KD takes up residence full-time a SG)? The key will be the fact that SF and SG are interchangeable positions in this new NBA era. Just because Durant starts at SG doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll be a SG for all 30-odd minutes he’s on the court. Same with Wilkins or Wally W. However, someone is going to suffer and that someone appears to be Gelabale. Luckily for Gelly, he’s backing up one of the most injury-prone guys around in Szczerbiak.
SG – Kevin Durant, Delonte West, Damien Wilkins. Wilkins has looked solid so far in the pre-season, but West and Durant are two of the best players on the team, if not the two best. D-West will likely spend 5-10 minutes a night playing point guard, and Wilkins could be ameliorated with splitting his time between SG and SF. It’s still a crowded spot, though.
PG – Earl Watson, Luke Ridnour, Delonte West. The mother of all distribution problems for this team. Watson and Ridnour had trouble sharing the starting spot last year, and while they’ve said the right things so far, if this team gets off to a crappy start (and that’s entirely possible when you look at the November schedule, which calls for a five-game road trip and home games against Phoenix, Utah, Detroit, New Jersey, and San Antonio), the good ship Point Guard may begin to spring a leak.
The bottom line is that this is a year of transition for the Sonics, and it seems more and more likely that the new management wants to spend the regular season as an extended exhibition for the future of this franchise. Watson or Ridnour? Wait and see how it plays out; heck, OJ Mayo might the actual answer rather than either of those two guys. Can Green hack it as a starting 3? Well, we’ve got five months to figure that out. Is Swift ready to contribute 8-10 points and the same amount of rebounds on a nightly basis? Again, check back at the end of the year.
Honestly, that’s the best way to approach it, and as a Sonic fan you have to have some reassurance knowing that Rick Sund or Wally Walker aren’t the ones driving the ship anymore. Presti – at least so far – has been all aces on his decision-making, and knowing he’s the one deciding which players are the ones to keep makes this Sonic fan feel much better.