Beyond Golf — 22 January 2013 by Bob Sherwin
New Sonics wise to hire ex-GM Presti?

Seattle, almost certainly bringing in another NBA franchise ready to play by next season – stolen from Sacramento – can learn much about putting together a successful team from the team that abandoned Seattle five years ago.

The old Sonics – now the Oklahoma City Thunder – did the one thing that made the critical difference in turning around the franchise’s fortunes in just a few seasons – destroy it.

Just rip that roster to shreds. Trade every player of any value for draft choices. Not an headliner, not a shot-maker, not a game-changer should remain. Make the team unwatchable. Make it a laughing stock.

The Thunder created the blueprint for success – with failure. They showed that in order to be really good, as they are now, they had to be really, really bad to get the necessary high draft choices.

Chris Hansen, the money and means behind this grand theft, should come up with one more steal – Thunder GM Sam Presti. He clearly knows talent and how to destroy and rebuild a successful roster in a short time.

My view of this of Sonics’ rebirth is probably different than most fans of the city and the sport. To have a franchise for franchise sake is meaningless. So what? What’s important to me are championships and competitiveness. Sacramento has never had either one. They’ve never won an NBA title in their 28 years in the city. They’ve never even been to the NBA Finals.

Who wants to watch that for the next 28 years?

Competitiveness has been a highly limited element in the NBA for most of its 65 years. It is so hard to build a winner in the NBA. It is so hard to win a championship, unless you’re wearing Lakers or Celtics uniforms. Teams that are so-so for so many seasons could remain in that perpetual state for a century. Some already have gone more than a half century.

Just a handful of teams have won the NBA title since the league was established in 1946-47. In fact, 16 of the 30 teams currently in the NBA have never won a ring. Five current teams have won just one title. Ten teams have never even been part of the Finals.

Since David Stern took over as the NBA Commissioner in 1984, just eight different teams have won the ring. It’s really a Lakers/Celtics thing, embarrassingly so.

The Lakers have been to the NBA finals 30 of the 65 times since 1946-47. That’s 46.2 percent, nearly half. The Celtics have been to the Finals 21 times, 32.3 percent. Between them, they’ve won half the championships, 33 of the 65. They’ve also played each other 12 times in the Finals.

Combined, either the Lakers or the Celtics have reached the NBA Finals 51 times, an amazing 78.5 percent. That’s piggish.

They’ve left just 21.5 percent for the rest of us alone. What’s the chances of the Kings, which hasn’t been to the post-season (doesn’t just about every team get in anymore?) since 2005-06, suddenly catching fire? Pretty much no chance, not in their present state. They’re bad, just not bad enough.

The Kings currently have the ninth worst record in the NBA. That’s unacceptable. Something needs to be done, and quickly. They need to pile up the losses to position themselves for one of elite draft choices, a difference-maker, such as Durant, a Blake Griffin, or a Derrick Rose.

That’s how Oklahoma City did it before leaving Seattle, when it had the perfect storm of disassembling/rebuilding.

When duplicitous owner Clay Bennett purchased the team in 2006 from covetous owner Howard Schultz, the countdown to OKC began. Everyone knew it, or should have. So why did Bennett need to provide a competitive team? He didn’t. That would counter-productive. That would only help attendance. He had his GM Presti devastate the roster in anticipation of enhancing the roster for his eventual OKC patrons.

The team took a dive without anyone blowing a whistle.

Ray Allen was traded to Boston. Rashard Lewis departed as a free agent but Presti managed a sign-and-trade deal with Orlando. The team’s quality and record plunged, greatly improving its draft status.

Presti got extremely lucky when the Sonics ended up with the 2007 No. 2 pick and Portland, with the first pick, took center Greg Odom. Superstar Kevin Durant fell to their hands. Presti took Russell Westbrook in 2008 and James Harden in 2009. He traded Hardin just before the season, which could be his first significant mistake. The jury is still out.

But Presti still the tools for continued success. In the June draft, the Thunder will have three of the first 32 picks.

Sacramento, on the other hand, is at the other end. The Kings owe draft picks for the five years, a testament to how badly managed they’ve been. They have a deal with Cleveland, through 2017. They will ship their first-round pick to the Cavs if it’s outside the top 10. If the Kings finish 11th or better, bye-bye first rounder.

The club has similar obligation to New York in 2014, a second-round pick, to Toronto in 2014, a second-round pick, to Boston in 2015, a second-round pick, to New Orleans in 2016, a second-round pick, and to Boston in 2017, a second-round pick. And you wonder how the Celtics can sustain success? They poach on the draft picks of the downtrodden.

Demolition of the roster is the key to the turnaround. Just don’t give a crap about today’s product; focus on tomorrow’s roster. It takes two or three years of high draft choices and a little luck to break into the Laker/Celtic plateau.

The Bulls put together their six titles in similar fashion. They got a huge break in the 1984 draft when Portland took center Sam Bowie and the Bulls jumped on Michael Jordan. Seattle, of all teams, provided Chicago with Scottie Pippen in a 1987 draft-day trade. The Bulls then built the team around those two.

Miami built its championship team last year a little differently, but it still revolved around acquiring major talent, in their case, instantly. Instead of draft choices, the Heat went with free agents, signing LeBron James and Chris Bosh to join Dwayne Wade. Even so, it still took the trio a second season together before they could win the title.

The secret is out in Sacramento. They’re gone and only diehards and sentimentalists would want to see games the rest of this season. It’s going to be pitiful. You won’t find a nationally televised Kings game the rest of the season. So let the blood-letting begin.

There are two problems for the Hansen group, however. One, he doesn’t have as much time as Bennett had to force the collapse. There is little time to lose, to lose. Presti spun his treachery over a couple seasons while the team still played in Seattle. The fans and the product didn’t matter at the time. The Kings have just a three-month lifespan then everything’s shipped north.

Two, there are few Kings players of value – not like a Ray Allen – who would bring in a lottery draft pick in return. There are even fewer players to keep. DeMarcus Cousins has some value but he’s a knucklehead. Anyone want him? For anything?

Tyreke Evans had a real good rookie season two years ago but his numbers have declined each year. Still, he may be worth keeping, as is Isaiah Thomas, a second-year guard from Seattle and the University of Washington. Jimmer Fredette is a ‘name’ without the numbers.

The Kings likely will finish with a top 10 pick, putting off sending their first-rounder to Cleveland for at least another year. That’s a good start. Another high pick brought in with a trade would be beneficial, especially with plenty of underclassmen – and some talented seniors – expected in this year’s college draft.

Just do it. Just tank it. Give the house-cleaning orders Hansen. Time’s running short. The trading deadline is Feb. 21. Learn from the original Sonics, and it’s not like Presti and the Sonics got any reprimands from the league for their obvious roster dismantling. The precedent has been set. The all-mighty Stern can’t touch this.

 

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Bob Sherwin

Bob grew up in Cleveland, an underdog city with perennial underdog teams, and that gave him an appreciation and an affinity for the grinders in golf, guys such as Rocco Mediate, Jhonattan Vegas and star-crossed John Daly. This is the 46th year for Bob as a sportswriter, the first 34 working for newspapers throughout the west, Tucson (Daily Star), San Francisco (Examiner) and Seattle (Times), and the past 10 years as a freelancer. He has covered just about every sport, including golf tournaments, Tucson Open, Bing Crosby/AT&T Pro-Am, the 1998 PGA Championship, the 2010 U.S. Senior Open, the 2010 U.S. Amateur the 2015 U.S. Open and the annual Champions Tour Boeing Classic. He also writes articles for golf magazines. For most of his 20 years at the Seattle Times his primary beat was the Mariners. He then picked up Washington men's basketball in the winter. He also was the beat writer for the Sonics, including 1996 when they played the Bulls for the NBA title. After a lifetime hacking on public courses, he finally gave in and joined a country club in 2011, the Members Club of Aldarra near Seattle. Despite (or perhaps because) of his 14 handicap, he won the 'Super Senior'' (65 and older) championship in 2017. He has a pair of aces – 37 years apart – and in 2009 came agonizingly close to his ultimate golf goal of scoring in the 70s when he finished with an even 80. He lives in Seattle, and spends part of his winters in Marco Island, Fla.

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