Friday, September 28, 2007

Sonics Q&A: Sam Presti

With Media Day just three days away, Sonics GM Sam Presti chatted Friday about training camp, what he's seen from the players as they've been working out at The Furtado Center during September and the team's additions to the coaching and front-office staffs.
SUPERSONICS.COM: Are you excited for the start of training camp?
Presti: I'm excited for our organization. It seems like quite a while since the draft and the summer league, so we're excited to start getting on the floor and putting our guys in motion.
You've talked extensively about the importance of consistent incremental improvement. What demonstrates that kind of improvement during training camp?
I think it can be little stuff. It can be how quickly we move through different phases of practice, how we pick things up, how efficient we are in execution. It can be a number of different things, but at the end of the day it's just a matter of coming in and doing your job and trying to make those improvements every day and then seeing where you are at the end of the day or at the end of the month or game by game.
How important is training camp in the process of building a culture in Seattle?
I think it's certainly important. The environment that you create in and around your team is always evolving any time you have everybody out on the floor together or on the road together or whatever it may be. Training camp is obviously the beginning of that, but it's an evolutional thing that occurs throughout the season.
As the guys have been working out and playing pickup at Furtado over the last few weeks, what have you learned about this group?
I've learned that we've got a lot of guys who like being in the gym. That's certainly a positive. We've had a lot of guys in twice a day, we've had a lot of guys here for long hours. Hopefully that kind of effort and that kind of discipline will translate onto the floor once the season begins.
Since we last chatted, the coaching staff has been completed and the front-office staff has also grown, particularly in the scouting department. Can you speak about the people who are now in place?
We're thrilled with the staffs that we've been able to assemble, especially in such a short amount of time. We feel like we've got great playing experience and head-coaching experience on our staff with Scott (Brooks), Mark (Bryant) and Ralph (Lewis) having played in the league and obviously Paul Westhead is a great addition for us. Brian Keefe is a strong development coach that we're excited to have in our program. From a front-office standpoint, I feel grateful to have Rich (Cho) and Scott (Perry) in the office every day with me and I feel great about our scouting staff, both from an international standpoint and a domestic standpoint.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Gatorade Adds Durant to Athlete Lineup

The Gatorade Company announced today that Sonics rookie Kevin Durant is the newest member of the Gatorade family. Durant, the first NBA rookie ever signed by Gatorade, joins just three other active NBA players - Vince Carter, Kevin Garnett and Dwyane Wade - in the small, elite group of Gatorade athletes.

To announce the new deal, Durant conducted several interviews from the media room at KeyArena - most by satellite with TV stations including FSN Northwest, ESPNews and MSNBC, but also one via text message with Hoop Magazine that gave his thumbs a workout. "This is hard," Durant sighed while answering.

When he chatted with Sonics beat writers at the end of the day, Durant proved a quick study as an endorser. "It's going to be a long season," he said, "but you know what's going to keep me going? Gatorade."

Any basketball fan, especially those who grew up in the 1990s, instantly connects Gatorade to Michael Jordan and his series of "Like Mike" commercials for Gatorade. Durant, who also cited the Gatorade "is it in you?" and Gatorade Rain commercials as some of his favorites, remembers those spots well.

"They had some great commercials (with Jordan)," he said. "They made songs for them and everything. Hopefully one of these days I can get a commercial like that. His commercials, everybody remembers that. What can I say? Gatorade makes some great commercials."

A Durant Gatorade commercial is in the works for some point in the not-too-distant future.

In Durant's immediate future: His 19th birthday, which he'll celebrate on Saturday. Durant's dad is coming into town (his mother and two cousins are living with him here in Seattle, while his grandmother is staying for the next few weeks) to celebrate. Also planned: Durant will throw out the first pitch at Saturday's Mariners game.

"I'm scared. I don't know if I'm going to be able to do it. I've played baseball before, but that's a long ways."

Community Practice Oct. 6

Your first chance to see the 2007-08 Sonics is coming up on Saturday, Oct. 6, when the annual community practice will take place at Seattle Pacific University's Royal Brougham Pavilion from 6-8 p.m.

Dating back to when I was a fan in the crowd, the community practices have always had a special place in my heart. I remember attending what was then known as the Green and Gold Game way back in 1994 at SPU.

This one should be special. I know everyone is eager to see how the new era of Sonics basketball takes shape with a new coach, two top-five picks and three key veteran additions from trades.
There's also the return to action of Robert Swift (pictured at right in last year's community practice at Hazen High School) after missing the 2006-07 regular season with a torn ACL. This is a great opportunity to see how the team is progressing early during training camp.
The best part is the price: Free.
Stay tuned to SUPERSONICS.COM for more information as we get closer to next Saturday.

Westhead on KJR

Newly-announced Sonics Assistant Coach Paul Westhead will be on the air with KJR this afternoon at 2:20 p.m. I'll also be chatting with Westhead at some point today, so look for more from him this afternoon.

UPDATE: Westhead will also be on KIRO 710 AM tonight at 7:15 p.m.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Day of Caring

Friday was the annual United Way of King County Day of Caring. 19 Sonics & Storm employees, including members of the Sonics coaching staff led by Head Coach P.J. Carlesimo, participated as the Sonics helped out at Childhaven in Seattle.

Wyjuana Montgomery, community programs manager for the Sonics & Storm, recapped the event in an all-staff e-mail:

"Over 7,000 corporate employees from all over King County participated in various community service projects to help local non-profits. Our crew descended upon Childhaven with the mission of washing & detailing a 12-van fleet (and doing a little playground clean-up as well). The vans are key to Childhaven's operation as they are used every morning, Monday through Friday, to pick up children ages one month to 5 years old from their homes and bring them to Childhaven to receive much-needed TLC in the therapeutic childcare program.

"We completed the job in just three hours with an hour to spare!

"Childhaven opened its doors in 1909 as the Seattle Day Nursery and now services foster children and children who have been abused & neglected or are at risk for abuse and neglect Monday through Friday."

Make sure you check out a photo gallery from Friday.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Sonics on ESPN Classic

ESPN Classic allowed Bill Simmons, aka the Sports Guy, to choose an NBA matchup a week to televise. Tonight's Simmons pick is Game 5 of the 1993 Western Conference Finals between the Suns and Sonics.

Explains Simmons:
"You can't go wrong with any game involving the '93 Suns, but this one features
two superb matchups (Barkley in his prime vs. a young Shawn Kemp, KJ in his
prime vs. a young GP) and Dan Majerle going nuts with a then-record eight 3s. Up
until this point, the series sucked ... then Game 5 turned out to be a classic."
I disagree slightly with Simmons. Three of the first four games were pretty lopsided, yes, but Game 2 had an outstanding finish - especially for Sonics fans. Sam Perkins made a key three-pointer as the Sonics stole a game in Phoenix.

Now as far as Game 5, I'm not sure you'd want to watch it as a Sonics fan. As Simmons explains, Thunder Dan owned the evening from downtown, though the Sonics made a valiant effort. Man, it seemed like Majerle was always open back then, didn't it?

What I'd love to see is Game 6 of that series, a 118-102 victory at a rocking Seattle Center Coliseum that remains one of my favorite games I've attended (possibly with the long-defunct "standing room only" tickets).

As for Game 7 ... we don't talk about that one.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

September Odds and Ends

- With training camp less than three weeks away, there are a couple interesting takes from the men in charge on the state of the Sonics. Hopefully you've already read our Q&A with Head Coach P.J. Carlesimo. Around the same time, News Tribune beat writer Eric Williams chatted with Sam Presti.

Q: Ready to get training camp going?

We’re definitely excited to get
started. Now that we have our coaches in place they our prepping and meeting.
We’ve got guys in town and working out. So we’re excited about starting up and
getting to work. We’re putting things in place and getting our guys focused on
what they’re going to do.
- Yesterday's rare September NBA trade had a Seattle spin to it. Long-time Sonics forward Reggie Evans went to Philadelphia along with the rights to second-round pick Ricky Sanchez. UW product Bobby Jones is headed to Denver, though center Steven Hunter is the centerpiece of the return for the Nuggets.

Assuming the stress fracture suffered by Philly center Samuel Dalembert during the FIBA Americas Championship is not series (the team hopes he'll be back in time for training camp), both teams are dealing from a strength and helping shore up a weakness. The Nuggets were deeper at power forward than center, the opposite of the 76ers.

The real beneficiary of this deal might be Jones, who was still searching for a role in Philadelphia after he was taken in the second round last June. George Karl has long had a fondness for scrappy, defensive-minded reserves (see Askew, Vincent and Wingate, David from his Seattle days) and Jones has that kind of ability and mindset.

- The big news around the league is Greg Oden undergoing exploratory knee surgery on Thursday after experiencing some pain in his right knee while working out in preparation for the season. Here's hoping all goes well and Oden is back on the court shortly.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Evaluating the U.S. After Vegas

The U.S. Senior Men's National Team capped off a dominant performance in the 2007 FIBA Americas Championship Sunday by crushing Argentina 118-81 in the gold-medal game. The U.S. led by 21 after one quarter and was never threatened by its most challenging rival in the tournament. With Saturday's win over Puerto Rico, the U.S. had already guaranteed a spot in the 2008 Olympics, but by finishing out the tournament at a dominant 10-0, they went a long way toward ensuring they will take at least the role of co-favorites heading to Beijing.

I didn't end up watching a ton of the FIBA Americas Championship, in part because the U.S. was so far ahead of the opposition. Minutes after I settled in to watch the U.S.-Argentina tilt for gold, the game was already long decided. The play of the U.S. men was in stark contrast to the disappointments of the 2002 and 2006 World Championships and the 2004 Olympics, all of which ended short of what is always the team's goal - nothing short of gold.

Nonetheless, I must say I was surprised at the level of adulation for the 2007 U.S. squad, with ESPN Insider Chris Sheridan writing a piece comparing this group to the 1992 U.S. Olympic Team, more commonly known as "The Dream Team." Given the Dream Team is widely considered the greatest single collection of basketball talent of all time, that's a pretty bold comparison.

Is it warranted? Maybe. The National Team's margin of victory in the FIBA Americas Championship was a strong 39.5 points per game. Still, that falls short of the 44-plus the Dream Team swamped opponents by in 1992. More impressive, perhaps, is the fact that every Dream Team victory came by 30-plus points, while Argentina did keep up with the U.S. in their pre-medal round matchup, losing by just 15.

It's tough to compare the level of competition; the international game has obviously improved by leaps and bounds in the last 15 years, but we're talking about strictly teams from the Americas as opposed to the entire world, and many of the best available players (Canada's Steve Nash and several Argentinean stars, notably Manu Ginobili, Andres Nocioni and Fabricio Oberto) were not in Las Vegas. As pointed out by Kelly Dwyer, blogging at TrueHoop, there were actually more NBA players on the silver and bronze medalists in the 1992 Olympics (seven) than in this FIBA Americas Championships (five).

Either way, that such a debate is even possible indicates that the U.S. is on the right track. At the same time, there's a cautionary tale just four years back. In 2003, the U.S. swept the FIBA Americas Championship. While the victory margin (+30.9) was not as strong, the National Team dealt a crushing 33-point defeat in the gold-medal game to an Argentina squad largely the same as the one that would hoist gold in Athens less than a year later.

While Argentina was breaking through, the U.S. went 5-3, winning bronze in Athens. Why the difference? An overhaul of the roster may have been a key factor. Just three of the 12 players who won in Puerto Rico in 2003 played in Athens. For various reasons, including security concerns, starters Jason Kidd (who underwent knee surgery), Tracy McGrady and Jermaine O'Neal (citing a knee injury) withdrew from the team.

Kidd's absence was particularly painful in the Olympics. His unselfish style of play is perfectly suited for the National Team's standout talents and the transition opportunities afforded by lesser competition. During this year's FIBA Americas Championship, Kidd handed out 47 assists and committed just five turnovers, a big reason the U.S. had a 2.49 assist-to-turnover ratio as a team.

While Kidd ran the break, it was Kobe Bryant who set the emotional tempo for the U.S. in Las Vegas with his single-minded devotion to earning gold. The tape Bryant watched to prepare for his international opponents quickly became legendary and stood in stark contrast to past reports of limited respect for the opposition from the U.S. team. Bryant averaged 15.3 points per game, but stood out with his defense.

Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James, two of the three holdovers on this squad from the 2004 Olympics (Amare Stoudemire was the other) demonstrated their improvement in the international style of play from even last summer, when they played in the World Championships. Anthony and James took full advantage of the shorter FIBA three-point line, hitting a combined 49 three-pointers at a ridiculous 59.7% clip. They were the two leading scorers as the team put up points at the unthinkable pace of 138.6 points per 100 possessions.

The U.S. will face much more challenging competition next summer in Beijing and has yet to demonstrate that it has completely solved the problems - notably screen-and-roll defense - that proved to be its demise in the 2006 World Championships. Still, if the core of this year's roster comes back in 2008 augmented by injured Chris Bosh, Elton Brand and Dwyane Wade (in some combination), the U.S. should reclaim the role of favorites entering the Beijing Olympics.