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Trade Makes Sonics Better

Good riddance.

Shawn Kemp is gone. Gone to the only kind of team he cared about. The team, whatever team, with enough cap room to give him the tens of millions of dollars he felt he deserved.

Kemp was traded to Cleveland Thursday. Cleveland, Vancouver, Dallas. It didn’t matter to him as long as they could fit him under their cap.

He got what he wanted.

Out of Seattle.

Kemp went to the Cavaliers in a three-way deal with Milwaukee that sent Vin Baker to Seattle.

It was a swap of All-Star power forwards. It was the best deal the Sonics could have made.

“I think, in a lot of ways, our mental health got better today,” Sonic coach George Karl said at Thursday night’s press conference. “Our focus got better today. Our commitment got better today. We got a great player that we’ve got to shape into a solid personality on this team.

“We couldn’t live with what was happening last year. We had to move forward with Shawn. Make him happy. Make him feel a major respect that he obviously was having trouble feeling. Or we had to move forward and trade him.”

Goodbye. Good riddance.

Last summer, after unloading more than $130 million on Gary Payton and Jim McIlvaine, Sonics president Wally Walker and player personnel director Billy McKinney flew to Los Angeles, hoping to head off disaster.

They knew about the fragility of Kemp’s ego. They knew if they didn’t act quickly they could be staring down the barrel of a protracted pout.

They were concerned how Kemp would take the news of the signings. He would do the math. Match his $27 million against Payton’s $80 million. There could be problems.

The meeting happened. They thought they had an understanding with Kemp.

They didn’t.

“That’s been frustrating to me,” Walker said.

Kemp held out during training camp. Karl gave his tacit endorsement. Assistant coach Tim Grgurich held private workouts with Kemp. The players said all the right things, making Kemp’s holdout feel comfortable.

When he returned, he was welcomed back. He said he was rejuvenated. It lasted maybe a month. Then he slid deeper and deeper into the hole he dug himself.

He was late for dozens of practices and planes. It got so bad in April that Karl wanted to suspend him. Kemp’s teammates - Gary Payton, David Wingate, Sam Perkins - argued against it. They won.

“The guys not only stood up for Shawn, they stood up for me,” Karl said. “The way it was handled was a very impressive dialogue of different characters in a very intense situation. I’ll always remember that.

“Yeah, I might have lost my control, or my cool a little bit. It was an impressive interchanging of respect among a lot of people. They fought a long time for Shawn.”

And he stabbed them in the back, going to ESPN in June with his trade demands without talking to them first.

“We said it early in the summer, to the point that everybody was getting sick of it,” Walker said. “‘If there are issues with Shawn that we can talk about, let’s try to get them out there on the table. Get them out there. We’ll do our best to resolve them.’ “But we never had that kind of dialogue, that kind of communication. In light of that, I don’t think there was any way to resolve it.”

And now Kemp is gone.

Good riddance.

“I never understood why the whole thing broke up,” Karl said. “There is a confusion and disappointment over why. Maybe someday Shawn and I can sit down, and drink some beers and talk about it. I didn’t get it this summer, or understand what was going on.

“I don’t think we all understood everything. And maybe we weren’t meant to understand everything. Maybe that was Shawn’s desire.”

Kemp has gone to the Cleveland Cavaliers, where he won’t be burdened by such things as playoff series that run into June and mess with his summers. His table won’t be crowded with championship runs and victory parades.

In Cleveland, he’ll get all the filthy lucre the salary cap prevented the Sonics from giving him. Kemp is about money, not championships.

“Getting the cloud away from us and moving forward is something that, in the next few days will be very refreshing and very exciting,” Karl said.

Baker, who can become a free agent in two seasons, is the anti-Kemp. He wants to win.

“There are very few players in basketball who can score 20 (points) and 10 (rebounds),” Karl said. “Shawn Kemp is one of those players and, I think, Vin Baker is one of them. Shawn’s probably better in the paint and Vinnie’s probably better shooting the ball.

“Vinnie’s probably a better passer and Shawn’s probably a better runner. Vinnie’s an All-Star. Now can we make him an All-Star that plays on a championship team? Can we make him an All-Star that’s responsible for 55 or 60 wins a season? These are our goals. These are our challenges.”

Shawn Kemp will put up his numbers in Cleveland, but the Cavaliers won’t win.

Cleveland isn’t better because of this trade. Seattle is.