By Mike Sherman
The Sonics’ lottery luck couldn’t have been better. They are guaranteed to get either Greg Oden or former Texas star Kevin Durant. And with the No. 2 pick instead of No. 1, they will never be second-guessed for who they take. Perfect.
Our columnist Berry Tramel says NBA fans in OKC will remember this day. I think he’s right, but what none of us — not Berry, Lenny Wilkens, not Clay Bennett, not David Stern, Bill Gates or Mick Cornett — know for sure is exactly how it will be remembered.
Is this the day Oklahoma City fell in love with a Longhorn who will make all its NBA dreams come true? Or is this the day that Durant saved the Sonics for Seattle?
Who knows? We really can’t even be sure when we’ll know.
A couple weeks ago I thought there was a slight chance Sonics chairman Clay Bennett and his OKC-based partners could still move the team to the Ford Center in time for the start of the 2007-08 season. Now I say fat chance.
Getting the No. 2 pick and Durant — Portland takes Oden at No. 1; bank on it — almost guarantees that the lobbying effort for a new arena in the Puget Sound goes into overtime.
It’s the first positive news story for that franchise since the Sonics made the playoffs in the 2005-2006 season. It gives Bennett something to talk about other than an arena. Durant will sell some tickets. He’ll generate some excitement and revenue. Why wouldn’t the Sonics stay in Seattle at least one more season and see where all this leads?
By Mike Sherman
Here’s a scenario for the NBA-fixated fans of Oklahoma to stew over Tuesday as they count down the hours before the NBA Draft lottery (7:30 p.m., ESPN).
The Sonics’ future home could hinge on ping-pong balls. At least that’s the theory advanced in this column by the Seattle Times’ Jerry Brewer.
What if he’s right? What if getting one of the top two picks is the only thing that could keep the Sonics from moving, possibly to Oklahoma City (though as I write this a colleague emails me a report that Sonics owner Clay Bennett will consider Kansas City).
The theory that Greg Oden or Kevin Durant could save the Sonics for Seattle goes like this:
The Sonics, who have an 18 percent chance of getting one of the top two picks, get lucky but not outrageously lucky (the last two teams to draft No. 1 — Toronto and Milwaukee — had only an 18 percent and 13 percent chances of finishing in the top 2). They draft Oden or Durant, who immediately transform the franchise and the voting public, which rises up and passes a referendum to spend $200 million or so on a new arena in Renton.
Basketball in Greater Seattle is saved and Oklahoma City turns to who? The Memphis Grizzlies? The Cavalry of the CBA?
Some of that sounds like the stuff of fairy tales, sure. But Seattle sports fans remember the time Ken Griffey’s slide — and the Angels’ dive — saved the Mariners.
In the summer of 1995, Griffey was injured — isn’t he always? — and the Mariners were 13 games out of first place. They appeared to be headed out of town. Not that anyone cared. Attendance was dismal at the Kingdome, a mausoleum the team was desperate to abandon, even if it meant bolting Seattle.
Then the Angels choked, the Mariners rallied and Griffey slid home with the winning run in a one-game playoff against the Angels to win the AL West title. The Mariners went to the playoffs for the first time in franchise history, even beat the Yankees in the first round. The fans who jumped on the bandwagon rally support for a new stadium. Safeco Field is built, and the Mariners remain in Seattle.
Which is probably the biggest reason the Sonics won’t. The good folks of Washington appear to be weary of paying for stadiums for millionare athletes and billionaire owners. But let’s not wake Jerry Brewer from his sweet dream just yet.
If it’s really possible that getting Oden or Durant could trigger a chain reaction that Saves Their Sonics and convinces Citizens for More Important Things there really aren’t more important things, what are the NBA-starved folks in the OKC to think about as they ponder pingpong balls?
Should they hope the Sonics come out fourth or fifth in the NBA Draft Lottery and a month later draft Florida center Joakim Noah and his lame hairdo, jump shot and dance moves, thereby scaring off the last remaining Sonics fans and sealing their farewell to the great Northwest?
Only if you believe if fairy tales.
Bet I know which way Oklahoma City’s most leveraged NBA fans are rooting.
By Mike Sherman
So tell me again what Jai Lucas did that’s so wrong.
Explain to me how waiting for a better deal wasn’t one of the most brilliant moves by a recruit in years.
Fine, tell me you’re upset that the prized point guard didn’t sign with OSU or OU. That’s understandable. Just don’t tell me that Lucas strung the Sooners and Cowboys along. Don’t tell me his decision to wait and wait and wait and wait until he finally committed to Florida on Monday was motivated by some craving for attention.
ESPN analyst Jay Bilas did exactly that in his Insider blog on espn.com, saying “If you wait this long to make a decision, there is something wrong with you.”
Bilas is a bright guy, an attorney who you have to believe took an economics course or five at Duke. Maybe he forgot how the laws of supply and demand work. But as The Oklahoman’s Andrea Cohen points out here, Jai Lucas certainly hasn’t.
Advised by a savy father who played and coached in the NBA, Lucas stayed in the game long enough to be the last of two McDonald’s All-Americans still at the table, long enough to see everyone else’s cards.
Seems like a lifetime ago when Lucas narrowed his finalists to OU, OSU, Maryland and Kentucky. That was way back in the fall and three of the four (OU knew it was in for a tough season) seemed bonafide.
Maybe waiting was Lucas’ way of calling their bluff. From where he was sitting, here’s what those teams were holding:
OU missed the postseason for the first time in 25 seasons.
OSU won its first 11, lost 8 of its last 11, missed the NCAAs for the second straight year and didn’t show up for an NIT opener at home with Marist. Not long after that, assistant coach Jimmy Williams, a Lucas family friend and a key figure in his recruitment, left the staff.
Kentucky bowed out of in the first round of the NCAA, then coach who recruited him, Tubby Smith, bolted Lexington for Minnesota.
And Maryland? His father’s alma mater capped another uninspiring season by falling to Butler in the round of 32.
Sure all four teams offered Lucas the chance to swoop in and play the savior. Maybe someone told him he could do the same for the two-time defending national champions.
That someone was likely his father, John Lucas Jr. who has a decent track record as a career counselor. That post-Baylor fiasco transfer to OSU turned out pretty well for John Lucas III and the Cowboys (All-American honors, Final Four trip, NBA career).
In the end, old man Lucas’ connections had to help and probably led him to believe Florida junior point guard Taurean Green was headed to the NBA. Then Green signs with an agent, and 10 days later Jai Lucas is a Gator.
And he’s going to be a good one if he can handle the pressure of the SEC half as well as he played the recruiting game.