Shawn Kemp is gone. Bob Whitsitt is long gone. Is George Karl - the most successful coach in SuperSonics’ history - headed out the door, too?
Kemp, who helped take the Sonics to the NBA Finals two years ago, forced his way out of Seattle by demanding a trade that landed him in Cleveland with a new $107 million contract.
SuperSonics owner Barry Ackerley fired Whitsitt, his president and general manager who was the architect of the Sonics’ successes in the ‘90s, after the 1993-94 season.
Now Karl, in the final year of his contract, could wind up somewhere else. With a coaching record of 323-129 in 5-1/2 seasons, Karl has the highest winning percentage - .715 - of any coach since the Sonics arrived in Seattle in 1967. But Ackerley doesn’t seem interested in keeping his coach and hasn’t offered him a new contract.
The Sonics weren’t a good team during the exhibition season, going 3-5. They looked old and tired - and the regular season hasn’t even begun. With Kemp out of the middle, opponents can concentrate on stopping Payton, their The Sonics are the two-time defending Pacific Division champs coming off a 57-victory season and a franchise-best 64 wins two years ago. Those teams had Kemp’s rebounding and shot-blocking, though.
Replacing Kemp in Seattle’s front line will be Vin Baker, a three-time All-Star power forward in Milwaukee who came to the Sonics in a three-team trade that sent Kemp to the Cavaliers.
The pressure is on the 6-foot-10 Baker, who averaged 21 points for a Bucks’ team that won 33 games last season, to help the Sonics stay among the NBA’s elite clubs.
Karl no longer can rely on Sam Perkins, 36, as a defensive presence in the middle. he will start the regular season with 6-9 Aaron Williams, who played 33 games in Denver and Vancouver last season, as his starting center. Detlef Schrempf and Baker will man the front line and Payton and Hawkins will be the starting guards.
Karl’s reserve minutes will primarily go to Jerome Kersey, Dale Ellis and Greg Anthony.
General manager Wally Walker says Anthony is ahead of Eric Snow in the race to become Payton’s backup. Because the Sonics have 16 players on their roster and must trim it to 15 by Thursday, Walker’s decision likely is going to come down to waiving either Snow or Craig Ehlo, who has missed the past week of preseason with pneumonia.