To say that theSonics played matador defense last season is more than the usual insult tomatadors. Seattle olé'd its way to epic levels of ineptitude, allowing 114.4points per 100 possessions, the third-worst mark ever. But that number wouldhave been higher if not for a team meeting that coach Bob Hill called after thetrade deadline. He told his troops that because they weren't going to make theplayoffs, they had two choices: They could pack it in or start working for thenext season. "To a man, they all chose the second option," says Hill,who was elevated from assistant when Bob Weiss was fired last January. "Ourtraining camp started last year."
Before themeeting, the Sonics went 21--36 and allowed 106.8 points per game; after, theywent 14--11 and allowed 102.9. One of Hill's strategic decisions helped: Heplayed point guard Earl Watson in crunch time. Acquired from the Nuggets in adeadline deal, Watson supplanted Luke Ridnour, who's excellent at running theoffense--they were third in the NBA in points per possession--but sorelylacking at the other end of the floor.
Hill says he hasnot made up his mind who will start this season, but his refusal to endorseRidnour speaks volumes. Ridnour, 25, has a year left on his contract, and if heand the team don't hammer out an extension by Oct. 31, they can't talk againuntil the season is over. Still, Hill's not worried about Ridnour's gettingdistracted by minutes or money. "He's one of those guys you've got to kickout of the gym," says Hill. "And then when you kick him out, he gets inhis car and goes to another gym."
ProjectedStarting Lineup with 2005--06 statistics
Record: 35--47(11th in West)
Points scored: 102.6 (2nd in NBA)
Points allowed: 105.6 (30th)
Coach: Bob Hill
(second season with the Sonics)
An opposing team's scout sizes up the Sonics
I love watchingsmooth shooters like Ray Allen, the way he's so bold with people right in hisface. He'll be able to play for a long time because he doesn't get beat uptaking it to the basket. There will always be a place for a catch-and-shoot guylike him.... They have three young centers, which means one of them is alwaysneeded on the court, and that's not good for their development. It's better tohave veterans up front and one young guy on the bench. Then you can insert himin positive situations so that he experiences success.... I'm not sold onRobert Swift. He has athleticism and spring, but it's going to be at least fouryears until he fills out and is able to assert himself.... Their best defenderup front might be Nick Collison. I wouldn't be surprised if he and Chris Wilcoxshare time at the five spot, which means they might shift Rashard Lewis to thefour occasionally. They're going to have to play Collison and Earl Watson fordefense, and it would help if rookie Micka√´l Gelabale could step in immediatelyto give them some D on the wing.
Ray Allen set aleague record with 269 three-pointers last season (Dennis Scott hit 267 for theMagic in 1995--96) and is now 805 behind Reggie Miller's career mark(2,560).
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