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When new Sonic center Frank Brickowski was a Milwaukee Buck, he
once put foot powder in the hair dryer of a teammate who liked
to blow-dry his back after a shower. "The powder went all over
his back--it was great," says Brickowski. "But if you retell that
story, please don't say who the player was. He doesn't know that
I was the one who did it."

We're guessing the victim may just have figured it out. But
Brickowski needn't be reluctant to take responsibility for
practical jokes this season. After the trauma of first-round
playoff losses the last two years, the tightly wound Sonics
should welcome a little locker room levity. Seattle was a house
divided following the loss to the Lakers that ousted the team
from the playoffs last season, with coach George Karl on the
verge of tears as he discussed his shaky job status; Kendall
Gill and Sarunas Marciulionis telling reporters that if Karl
returned, they didn't want to; and Gary Payton blasting
teammates for criticizing Karl.

"Just another day at the office for us," says Payton. "We'll
probably never be the kind of team where everyone's happy and
lovey-dovey all the time. But we've made some changes that
should make things run a little bit smoother this time."

The Sonics are vowing to make a fresh start, with a new place to
play--the 17,100-seat Key Arena--a new logo and uniforms, and a
new attitude. Gill and Marciulionis are gone, Gill to Charlotte
for Hersey Hawkins and David Wingate, and Marciulionis and
forward Byron Houston to Sacramento for Brickowski. But the most
anticipated change, the departure of Karl, never came. He's
back, as confident as ever. "I think the trades that we've made
have cleaned up our attitude a little bit," he says. "We're
going to be very good--again."

He's probably right. The Sonics are still one of the deepest,
most athletic teams in the league, and they appear ready to
surpass the 50-win mark for the fourth straight year. Seattle
can count on several things: Shawn Kemp will be a regular on
nightly highlight films with his spectacular dunks; Detlef
Schrempf, one of the most versatile players in the league, will
do a bit of everything, all of it well; Payton will set the tone
for Seattle's frantic, pressing defense; and Sam Perkins, Nate
McMillan and Vincent Askew will form a solid corps of role

In fact, depth has been the Sonics' greatest strength--as well as
their biggest problem. Karl tends to play everyone but the ball
boys, and players' minutes fluctuate widely from game to game.
It's no surprise that Seattle leads the league in complaints
about playing time, but Karl has no plans to change. "You're
going to see a lot of starting lineups, and you'll see me play
nine or 10 players," he says.

There simply aren't enough minutes to satisfy everyone, and
Karl's players will have to adjust to that fact if the Sonics
are to be anything more than a regular-season flash in the pan.
The burden is squarely on Seattle's young stars, Payton and
Kemp, to set a more mature tone. McMillan resigned his post as
team captain to clear the way for the pair to take over as team
leaders. "Me and Shawn have our part to do, but it's up to
everyone," says Payton. "In the past guys have pointed fingers
at each other when things got tough, instead of looking in the
mirror. That won't happen this season. I think we've grown up."

The Sonics' defense will be weakened slightly by Gill's
departure, but his replacement, Hawkins, should give their
offense a much-needed perimeter threat. Just as importantly, the
soft-spoken Hawkins won't be a locker room headache on a team
that already has enough of them. The same can be said of the
36-year-old Brickowski, an 11-year veteran who is expected to
play behind third-year center Ervin Johnson. "I don't have any
problem not starting," Brickowski says. "When I talked with
George I told him, 'I will never come to you [complaining] about
my minutes.'"

The Sonics are hoping that the combination of Johnson and
Brickowski will finally give them a dependable low-post
presence, the absence of which has contributed greatly to their
recent playoff flameouts. The 6'11" Johnson is a shot blocker
who can run the floor, while the 6'9" Brickowski, who missed
last season with a dislocated right shoulder, is a more clever
player and a better scorer. "He's a good passer and a physical
player," Sonic president Wally Walker says of Brickowski. "We
wanted a veteran, someone who gets respect from the officials,
who knows how to play and understands what we want to do. He's
going to add a lot to this team."

He might even add a little something to the hair dryers.


COLOR PHOTO: MANNY MILLAN The Sonics are counting on a new attitude--and the same spectacular Kemp. [Shawn Kemp ]



PPG (Rank) FG% (Rank)

OFFENSE 110.4 (3) .491 (3)
DEFENSE 102.2 (15) .453 (4)


The Sonics amassed a .732 regular-season winning percentage over
the last two seasons but did not win a playoff series during
that span, which gives them the highest winning percentage over
a two-year period for a team with no postseason success.

Two-Year Playoff Disappointments

W-L Pct.

SuperSonics 1993-95 120-44 .732
Capitols 1946-48 77-31 .713
Bucks 1980-82 115-49 .701
Bucks 1979-81 109-55 .665
Bulls 1970-72 108-56 .659
Bulls 1971-73 108-56 .659
Bullets 1968-70 107-57 .652
Jazz 1988-90 106-58 .646
Trail Blazers 1977-79 103-61 .628


Seattle center Ervin Johnson is a project no longer. The Sonics
have been patient with the 6'11" Johnson, who played no high
school basketball and worked for two years in a Baton Rouge
supermarket before enrolling at the University of New Orleans
when he was 21. But the Seattle coaching staff was impressed
enough by Johnson's strong finish last season to make the
starting center position his to lose. Johnson, entering his
third pro season, doesn't have great offensive skills, but he's
a hard worker whose numbers should improve if only from the
putbacks and fast-break baskets that will come with increased
minutes. "He gives us a confidence that no one else gives us [at
center]," coach George Karl said before last year's playoffs.
"He believes in himself as much as anyone. He knows that if he
busts his butt and fails, that's O.K., but that it won't happen



SF Detlef Schrempf 19.2 ppg 6.2 rpg 52.3 FG%
PF Shawn Kemp 18.7 ppg 10.9 rpg 1.49 bpg
C Ervin Johnson 3.1 ppg 4.5 rpg 1.05 bpg
PG Gary Payton 20.6 ppg 7.1 apg 2.49 spg
SG Hersey Hawkins 14.3 ppg 3.8 rpg 44.0 3FG%


C Sam Perkins 12.7 ppg 4.9 ppg 39.7 3FG%
G-F Nate McMillan 5.2 ppg 5.3 apg 2.06 spg
G-F Vincent Askew 9.9 ppg 2.5 rpg 2.5 apg