Sonics’ new talent seeks winning identity
New coach. New general manager. New leading scorer.
A revamped Seattle SuperSonics team will definitely have a new look this season, hanging their future on 19-year-old rookie Kevin Durant.
And P.J. Carlesimo, hired as the Sonics coach in July, is hoping for a new result – a winning season and a playoff spot. Seattle has had one winning season in the last five.
“We’ve got some good young talent and we’ve got some pieces we have to figure out how to put them together,” Carlesimo said.
Gone are the Sonics’ top two scorers from last season. Ray Allen was traded to Boston on draft day for three players, including No. 5 draft pick Jeff Green. Rashard Lewis signed with Orlando as a free agent.
That’s 48.8 points per game the Sonics will have to replace.
“We have seven guys who can put the ball in the basket,” Sonics guard/forward Damien Wilkins said.
Durant, the No. 2 pick in the draft after being named college player of the year as a freshman, is expected to shoulder much of that scoring load.
Chris Wilcox, the Sonics’ lunch-pail forward who scores on hustle plays, will have to become more of a go-to scorer inside.
“I think I’m going to have to give us more of an inside presence,” said Wilcox, who averaged 13.5 points last season and is the team’s top returning scorer. “I’m going to have to come inside and bang more. That will open it up for guys on the outside shots.”
Durant, Wally Szczerbiak and Delonte West are the Sonics’ 3-point shooters. But Szczerbiak is coming off ankle surgery and there are questions whether he can average 20-plus points again.
After winning just one of its first seven exhibition games, the Sonics are struggling with all the roster and coaching changes in the past year.
“We not only have new guys, we have a whole new coaching staff, a lot of guys trying to adjust,” the Sonics’ Nick Collison said. “It’s taken longer than normal. We only have a few offensive sets in. We usually have a lot more in by now.”
Carlesimo is counting on Collison to fill at center because Robert Swift, Mouhamed Sene and Johan Petro haven’t been consistent. Swift is coming off an ACL tear in his right knee that cost him all last season.
Collison, while at 6-foot-10 is undersized to play center, doesn’t object to playing out of position.
“There’s not a lot of huge centers,” Collison said. “I’ll always have trouble with Yao Ming. But there’s a lot of centers who are screeners, rebounders who don’t shoot a lot. I’m just happy to get on the floor.”
Carlesimo hired Paul Westhead as an assistant coach to help install an uptempo offense. Fast and furious could be the Sonics’ winning pace after finishing 31-51 last season.
“We have to push it,” Wilcox said. “We have guys who can run. We have guys who can push it. We have guys who can get up and down the floor. Our game is to play hard. We’ll have to play harder than the other teams to win.”
Wilkins said this team is suited for run-and-gun.
“We have to play more uptempo,” he said. “We’re athletic. We have a lot of guys who can make plays on the fly. Coach is letting us be creative and play basketball. I’ve never liked walking the ball up court. We’ll get up and down the floor and as long as we take care of the ball.”
Luke Ridnour, back at guard for his fourth season with Seattle, could finally get the freedom to do what he does best – run and freelance. West, picked up in the Allen trade with Boston, is a scorer and passer who could ignite the Sonics offensively.
But Sonics fans are hoping that they’ll get to see this young team mature. Sonics owners have said they’ll move the team if a proposal for a new arena isn’t made before the season begins.
“We can’t worry about that,” Wilkins said. “That’s not something we can control. We’ve just got to go out and play basketball.”