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Original Issue

Ian Thomsen's Fast Break

Teams up for sale usually slash payroll to make their books look attractive topotential buyers. Not so the Sonics, who after a 35-win season will likely addto their $51 million payroll. Seattle has a young, two-deep roster thatincludes athletic centers Robert Swift and Johan Petro, who are ideal forrunning the floor. Further emboldening the Sonics: the midseason acquisitionsof point guard Earl Watson and power forward Chris Wilcox (above), who helpedspark a season-ending 14--11 run. Seattle hopes to keep Wilcox, a restrictedfree agent, and expects to sign 23-year-old swingman Mickael Gelabale ofFrance, a second-round pick in 2005 who spent the last two seasons with RealMadrid. One NBA team recently offered a nonlottery first-round pick for therights to Gelabale. "We can't keep looking toward the future andrebuilding," team president Wally Walker says.

Larry Brown actually did Isiah Thomas (left) a favor by trashing the team'stalent and winning a pitiful 23 games last season before being fired as coachlast Thursday. Brown so lowered the bar that his successor, Thomas, willprobably be deemed a success if the Knicks win 35 to 40 games and make a run atthe No. 8 playoff spot next season--an improvement that's hardly out of thequestion. The Knicks have high-effort players like David Lee and Malik Rose, aswell as athletes who'll thrive in Thomas's up-tempo attack. And love him orloathe him, Stephon Marbury, if he isn't traded, will have a bounce-back yearunder Thomas, who will be far more encouraging than Brown was.

The other bigplus that comes with Brown's departure is that there will no longer be frictionbetween the front office and the coaching staff. Such tension has underminedthe franchise since the late '90s, when then coach Jeff Van Gundy helped forceout G.M. Ernie Grunfeld. Now that Thomas has total control, there will be nointraoffice squabbling over personnel moves. There will also be no excuse foranything less than a dozen more wins.

3 Handicapping the three big names on the market: Allen Iverson? Likely to golater this summer. Jermaine O'Neal? 50-50. Kevin Garnett? Staying put unless hedemands a trade.

2 Needing size upfront as well as salary-cap room to re-sign center Nenad Krstic in 2007, theNets could be forced to deal Richard Jefferson and his $11.2 millionsalary.

1 The Hawks'front office knows it has a year to prove itself before the team's murkyownership situation is resolved. That's why management is interested inacquiring Iverson and not any more long-term projects.