The disheveled looks on the faces of the Seattle SuperSonics after their overtime loss in Phoenix Friday night told the real meaning of the FINE EFFORT. They are unbalanced, confused down the stretch of big games, and not at all secure with where they’re headed this season.
Is there an answer?
Maybe not. Perhaps they don’t have the mental or physical edge to get through the Western Conference this season.
There is a strong indication that former assistant Tim Grgurich, who resigned from UNLV, could return as a coaching consultant in April and for the playoffs. Grg, who bolted during training camp to become head coach at UNLV, got sick at UNLV from exhaustion and the realization the NCAA had found wrongdoings again this summer, before Grg even was aware Rollie Massimino was about to be booted.
But Grg probably won’t be of much help to the Sonics this year.
The physical problems are obvious. The team has a soft low-post defense, and rebounding is lacking because the Sonics made a big mistake not fighting to re-sign Michael Cage, who is serving exactly that purpose for the surprising Cleveland Cavaliers. With the lip service that Ervin Johnson would get Cage’s minutes, Sonics coach George Karl obviously gave up on Johnson after he proved to be foul-prone and incapable of fitting in offensively during the exhibition season.
And as for Bill Cartwright, are they seriously considering him as a player of 15-20 minutes in the playoffs? It’s a reach. The reality is, they could get away with Cage being a forward playing center, because he rebounded and defended with big men as a resolute tough guy. Sam Perkins is a forward playing center. His 11 rebounds over the past three games tells you why Shawn Kemp is struggling inside. He has zero help. And while Kemp struggles, Gary Payton and Detlef Schrempf are playing superbly, but they need more to win the West.
Once again, they need some serious help from Kendall Gill. It won’t happen because Karl won’t let it. If Gill lets loose with a couple of bad shots in the second half - generally because he’s become so insecure spectacular plays seem necessary in his own mind - he’s gone for the rest of the game. It happened against Charlotte. Again against Phoenix.
Although Karl denies it, using Gill’s distracted defensive focus as an excuse, he’s showing up Gill and the organization because they refused to trade Gill for Clyde Drexler or anyone else. On the heels of Karl’s remarks that official Ted Bernhardt should be shot after the loss to Charlotte, it’s tough to get a grip on where Karl’s coming from.
The guess here is this is just the residual effect of the organization not supporting him in personnel decisions, the absence of general manager Bob Whitsitt and Grgurich’s flight. Maybe the return of Grg would settle him down. Something is needed fast, because deep down in the recesses of Karl’s furrowing brow - and he may not even admit it to himself - he would love to be fired by owner Barry Ackerley at the end of this season with a compromising settlement for the approximate $1.5 million left on his guaranteed contract.
You just have to wonder if the players are paying for it right now.