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Time is running out

Mon., Oct. 22, 2007, midnight

SEATTLE – Kevin Durant refutes the desperate talk here that he is the SuperSonics’ savior as deftly as he launches his smooth jump shot.

“I’m not the only one on the floor playing, you know. I can’t do everything,” the second overall choice in June’s draft said. “So I don’t think it’s all on me. I don’t know why people are saying, ‘Save the organization.’ “

Excuse Durant for being naive. He’s 19 and only been in town a month.

SuperSonics fans are clinging to any form of hope for an NBA franchise in Seattle on the eve of a season that will be unlike any in the team’s 40-year history.

The day of the opener, Oct. 31, is also the deadline owner Clay Bennett has set to either secure a new arena deal or begin relocating Seattle’s oldest professional team to the tycoon’s hometown of Oklahoma City for the 2008-09 season.

Happy Halloween, Seattle fans. Tricks and no treats.

Instead of trumpeting a new era featuring Durant, the team’s most anticipated rookie ever and last season’s national college player of the year at Texas, the Sonics are in federal court with city government.

The team is trying to get permission to have an arbitration panel rule on whether it can buy its way out of the final three years of its KeyArena lease, which NBA commissioner David Stern has called the worst in the league for a team’s revenues. In response, the city has sued the Sonics.

A resolution is expected before year’s end. Bennett has until March 1 to meet a league deadline to file for relocation for the following season.

Seattle appears likely to become the third city to lose its NBA team this decade. Vancouver lost the Grizzlies to Memphis in 2001, a year before the Hornets went from Charlotte to New Orleans. Before that, the league hadn’t had a relocation since the Kings fled Kansas City for Sacramento in 1985.

None of those jilted cities had its team even half as long as Seattle has had the Sonics.

Stern had said this summer he believed that Seattle would find a way to keep the team, which claims the city’s only major pro championship. Gus Williams, Dennis Johnson and Jack Sikma led the team that won it all in 1979.

But this month, Stern sounded far more pessimistic about the Sonics’ future in Seattle.

“There doesn’t seem to be a lot of movement on a new building,” he said. “We always hope that there will be, (but) the team has started litigation.

“Welcome, again, to NBA 101, which is about lawyers. I don’t want to knock lawyers having been one myself, but it’s not at all pleasant. But hopefully, good things will happen once we throw the ball up in the regular season and it will take people’s minds off of some other sidebars.”

Some want to show 11th-hour love to keep the Sonics, even though no viable arena proposal exists to secure the team’s future in the city. Most are apathetic, thanks to the two sports palaces recently built downtown with large public subsidies, for the NFL’s Seahawks and baseball’s Mariners.

Others want to spurn the team to spite Bennett.

Many believe he never intended to keep the Sonics here from the day he bought the team 15 months ago.

Bennett said ticket sales climbed after Durant was drafted but have since dropped, foreshadowing a possible repeat of last season in which the Sonics said they lost $17 million while going 31-51.

As of Thursday, season-ticket packages were available in all price ranges. And Durant’s Seattle debut has gotten a lukewarm response – tickets remain for the home opener Nov. 1 against Phoenix.

The team is giving away more seats than ever. Season-ticket holders have been given eight free tickets each for use at games in November and December.

They got two last season.

“Never in a million years did I envision this would go this long or be this uphill,” said Brian Robinson, a real-estate investor and Sonics season-ticket holder who co-founded Save Our Sonics, a fan organization of about 6,000.

“I want this to be around for my kids to enjoy,” said Robinson, who grew up going to Sonics games with his father.

“I have a 7-year-old son that should be all into the team right now, and we have to worry about this.”

Bennett keeps bemoaning a lack of fervor among Seattle officials and residents to keep the team.

Then again, why should fans spend from $430-$4,730 per season ticket, or from $10-$2,000 per game, on a team that is trying to leave? Why, many ask, should I give a dime to Bennett?

“I would implore them to engage in the basketball,” Bennett said.

“Come have fun. Bring your friends, your family, your business associates.”


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