Next up: The Seattle (for now) Sonics
Where they are now: The Sonics are in an interesting position. They have a decent amount of talent, but it does not necessarily fit together perfectly. Also of note is their ownership/location format. It is abundantly clear that Clay Bennett wants to move the team from Seattle to Oklahoma City, which seems like it may not affect the make-up of the team or the personnel goals, but upon further review could end up being a factor. By all accounts, their centerpiece is Kevin Durant. While I am not as sold on Durant’s all-around game as others (specifically his rebounding), he is an undeniable talent and appears to have the right mental makeup to be an impact player who continually refines his game and aspires to have team success. Much like Greg Oden and Brandon Roy in Portland, you can build a team around Kevin Durant’s personality and mentality. It’s also key to note that Durant is a pure Small Forward, though he could slide to the 4 from time to time with the right talent around him. They also have another rookie contributor in Jeff Green who has a compelling game, though I do not like how he fits with Durant in large spans of time. The other talent they have is either raw (Johan Petro, Saer Sene) or in a different age group (the Collison, Ridnour, Watson, Wilcox group). What’s so striking about the Sonics is that all of their players with long-term commitments have talent and trade value, which makes things much easier from a long-term prospective.
The Timetable of Contention: The core of Durant, Green, and possibly Delonte West will take at least 2-3 years to develop and gel. Also, that fits very well within their salary structure, so a timetable beginning with the 2011-2012 season and continuing for 4-5 years after that (potentially more if they get depth and another significant talent).
How to Utilize that Timetable: Working around that timetable produces some interesting possibilities. The best year for the Sonics to get cap space is after the 2008-2009 season, when Chris Wilcox comes off the books. The only contracts that extend beyond that point are the current rookies and the trio of Collison, Ridnour, and Earl Watson. Not only are all three of those guys movable, working quickly allows them to get players who expire after next year, which is a much less valuable commodity than immediately expiring deals. One of the most logical trade partners is Cleveland, who has Eric Snow and Donyell Marshall (among others) coming off the books. Considering they’ll still have Hughes, Lebron, and Big Z under contract, it seems inevitable they won’t be able to use any money that comes off the books. The only downside to working with them is that their cupboard is almost bare in terms of young talent and draft picks. That said, other teams make a ton of sense for those guys. Assuming they can move all of those players, the Sonics would only have around $25m committed to the cap, and that includes draftees this year and next within reason. As such, they would have the chance to add a significant contributor through free agency (probably with either a guy like Okafor if he signs a qualifying offer or a player in the next class such as Rudy Gay and Ronnie Brewer) as well as their picks.
Implementation: The easiest way to think about the Sonics’ situation is to look first at what they do have long term. Assuming they keep Jeff Green, they have the SF position set, with Durant getting starter minutes and sliding over to the 4 for about 10 MPG. Other than that, their talent within the timetable is limited to potentially Delonte West as a combo guard off the bench and Saer Sene as the 5th big. As such, they have to fill the rest of their spots via the draft and free agency. The two most important positions for any team to fill are PG and C, so the Sonics should start there. The ideal fit in the current draft is Brook Lopez, because he can play either the PF or C depending on what other talent they get in the next few years, and he also plays C well enough to pair with Durant when he slides over to PF. Because of Sam Presti’s brilliant move to get a first from the Suns for eating Kurt Thomas’ expiring contract, they also have the Suns’ pick, which should be somewhere around 25. They should use that spot to move up and get one of the cluster of PG’s that are all about the same in terms of draft stock in Darren Collison, Ty Lawson, and DJ Augustin. I see Collison as the best fit, because of his great speed and D. The Sonics also have a ton of 2nd round picks, and they should use some as part of the ammo to move up in the draft (think Collison, Suns’ pick, and a 2nd or two for the Bulls’ late lotto pick and a 2009 expiring). The others should be used to get a solid stash of European guys and a boom/bust player or two. One interesting point with the Sonics is that they have the potential to either go fast and small (Durant/Lopez at the 4/5) or slower and big (KD/BL at the 3/4). One guy the Sonics should definitely consider in the second round is Lorenzo Mata-Real of UCLA. He’s not a player most teams would think about drafting because of his limited upside, but he is an amazing character guy who could be invaluable for practice and contribute defense and rebounding as a utility big when players are injured.
As far as the SG position goes, what would be ideal is a guy who can defend his own position well (since the PG and Durant can handle their spots) and contribute in the mid-range game. This could either be filled with a college player like Russell Westbrook or a current pro like Andre Iguodala who they could get with 2009 cap space. Delonte West does not have the versatility for this kind of team, but he has value to be moved in a sign and trade that either nets the Sonics a developmental SG or draft picks. At the starting C spot, it’d be best to get either a steady rebounder who can also block shots like DaSagana Diop or a finesse face-up type who lets Lopez play more of the central D spot like Ryan Anderson. Better yet would be getting one of those guys through FA and the other in the 2009 draft to run a big rotation of them, Lopez, and Durant/Mata-Real in spurts. They should fill the other spots with a few veterans signed to relatively short contracts so they can mentor but don’t handicap the team’s ability to procure a big talent, including a legit shooter. Ideally, they could find a combo guard who is big enough to defend the 2 playing with the point but could also play PG in backup minutes (like Westbrook or Javaris Crittenton), but they could just go with reliable backup SG and PG spots independently.
- Trade Nick Collison, Delonte West, Johan Petro, and the Suns’ 1st to the Bulls for Thabo Sefolosha, Chris Duhon, Adrian Griffin, Demetris Nichols, and the Bulls’ 2008 1st. (Works in Trade Machine)
- Trade Earl Watson and a 2nd round pick to the Charlotte Bobcats for Adam Morrison and Ryan Hollins (Works in Trade Machine)
- Trade Luke Ridnour, Damien Wilkins, Robert Swift, and Mickael Gelabale to the Orlando Magic for Carlos Arroyo (then re-signing him), Pat Garrity, and Keyon Dooling (Works in Trade Machine)
- Draft Brook Lopez and Darren Collison in the 2008 Draft 1st Round
- Draft Nikola Pekovic, Lorenzo Mata-Real and Pat Calathes in the 2008 Draft 2nd Round
- Sign DeSagana Diop for the Mid-Level Exception in Free Agency in 2008 off-season
- Draft JJ Hickson in the 1st Round and in the 2nd Round of the 2009 Draft.
- Sign Andre Iguodala for $12m per year in the 2009 off-season
The 2009-2010 Oklahoma City Sonics:
PG: Darren Collison (2008 Second 1st Rounder) / Carlos Arroyo
SG: Andre Iguodala (2009 FA- Unrestricted) / Thabo Sefolosha / Adam Morrison
SF: Kevin Durant / Jeff Green / Adam Morrison
PF: Brook Lopez (2008 1st Rounder)/ JJ Hickson (2009 1st Rounder)/ Kevin Durant
C: DeSagana Diop / Brook Lopez / Nikola Pekovic (2008 2nd Rounder)/ Saer Sene
IR: Lorenzo Mata-Real (2008 2nd Rounder), Yotam Halperin, Pat Calathes (2008 2nd Rounder)
Europe: Slava Kratsov (C)
As always, comments/suggestions are appreciated and encouraged.