After a disappointing draft lottery, which left the Sonics with the fourth pick, the Sonics' offseason could become confusing.
Clearly, the largest free agent in Seattle has potential to be the team itself. However, whether or not the team stays in Seattle, its future could be defined by this offseason.
The Sonics have a chance to have a huge, franchise-altering offseason. Only one championship team since the Sonics last won a ring has become the champion without the aid of at least one top six pick in the NBA draft. That team was the 1982-83 Philadelphia 76ers, who were led by Julius Erving and Moses Malone, both of whom started their careers in the ABA.
Also, many of those teams had several top six picks on their roster, at various positions.
It is very easy to look to the recent past to view the blueprint for moderate success. The Suns, Wizards, Nuggets and Hornets have all been able to turn the respective fortunes around very quickly.
However, there is an inherent problem with the way the former three teams have chosen to re-construct their rosters, and when using history as a guide, it is safe to say that as they sit, none of those teams will ever win a ring.
A lot of players’ scouting reports are wrought with cliché’s, meant as positives. But to the discerning eyes of devout basketball fans and purists, these clichés would shoot up red flags. Those are “hybrids who can play many positions,” “combo-guards” and nearly anything else which showcases a player’s “versatility.”
Generally speaking, players who are considered “hybrids” have the size from one position, a combination of skills from that position as well as another, and a lack of skills from both positions.
Of the past 30 champions, each teams’ top two players have been able to fulfill every requirement from at least one position. Arguments can be made that players like Scottie Pippen and Magic Johnson could play multiple positions, and they could. However, both were elite players at their natural positions, small forward and point guard respectively.
So with the Sonics out of the running for Derrick Rose and Michael Beasley, barring a trade, a lot of experts have projected the Sonics to take a combo guard like Jerryd Bayless or O.J. Mayo.
Considering the Sonics’ need for an upgrade at the point guard position, it seems like an easy decision to make. Take one of the two combo guards and develop them as the team’s point guard.
They’ll take some scoring pressure off of Kevin Durant and the two (Durant and either Mayo or Bayless) can develop together, returning the Sonics to prominence in the West.
Perhaps prominence is a relative term. However, with the opportunity to lay the foundation of a champion, why not follow the mold which has remained true for three decades?
Even the best Sonics teams since the 1978-79 championship team, the mid-90’s Gary Payton led Sonics, had defined roles.
Gary Payton was the second scoring option behind Shawn Kemp, and developed into a great distributor. Detlef Schrempf was a prototypical small forward, and perhaps the most underrated player on that team, and also perhaps the most important.
That team also had several hybrid players, but none were relied on to carry the team. They were on the bench where hybrid players belong, filling in for starters at various positions.
Drafting the best all-around player available, who in my opinion will be Jerryd Bayless, should only be done with the intention of allowing Kevin Durant to return to his natural position, small forward.
Durant, the new face of the franchise, should not be forced to play out of position. He doesn’t handle the ball well enough to play shooting guard, and the Sonics will struggle with Durant and a combo guard in the back court.
There is no greater example in recent years, than the disaster that has been Tracy McGrady’s career in Houston. Paired with Bob Sura, Mike James, and now Rucker Park legend Rafer Alston in the Rockets’ back court, the Rockets have looked very sloppy in the postseason, while McGrady and the aforementioned players were manning the guard spots.
The need for an upgrade at point guard should not be one that is filled for the sake of filling it. There are almost always low-cost options in the back half of the first round, the second round, and free agency at both guard spots.
Tywon Lawson, if he stays in the draft, could fit the Sonics offense very well. He’s extremely proficient getting to the basket and penetrating from the perimeter, and is generally pretty unselfish. The UNC point guard has said he won’t remain in the draft unless he’s guaranteed a top-20 pick, and rumors have the Nuggets promising to take him at No. 20.
Wayne Ellington is a slightly undersized, semi-athletic shooting guard who is an excellent outside shooter. He’d spread the floor patrolling the perimeter, and would score a lot of points receiving passes from Kevin Durant and Chris Wilcox passing out of double teams.
J.R. Giddens would be a great option in the second round. He has prototypical size, plays well above the rim, and could become an elite perimeter shooter. He plays good defense, and could become the Sonics answer against the NBA’s elite shooting guards and small forwards defensively.
Chris Duhon is a free agent, and is an extremely unselfish distributor with a championship pedigree. He’s a far better defender than Luke Ridnour, and wouldn’t take many shots away from Kevin Durant.
C.J. Miles is a restricted free agent from the Utah Jazz. He’s only 21 years old, and when entering the draft he drew comparisons to Ray Allen and Michael Redd. The sharp-shooting southpaw Miles has been offered $1.2M from the Jazz, and after spending the majority of the last two years in the NBDL, he’d likely be a cheap, potentially great solution in the shooting guard spot. The Sonics would have to sign Miles to an offer sheet which the Jazz wouldn’t match.
J.J. Reddick has voiced his displeasure with his playing time in Orlando. Though the Magic have remained committed to keeping him, the right combination of valuable pieces could probably net Reddick, who was one of the greatest pure shooters in college.
Also, if the Sonics continue to struggle, they will be in position next year to draft a player like Ricky Rubio. He’s a young point guard from Spain, who should begin to generate YouTube fame as the 2008-09 season progresses.
So who should the Sonics draft with their first pick in 2008?
Another player projected to the Sonics is Kevin Love, the UCLA freshman Power Forward.
Kevin Love is an undersized, overweight, power forward, and though he has a very soft touch and solid fundamentals, his credentials and scouting report nearly mirror those of former top 10 pick Mike Sweetney. Sweetney is currently out of the NBA.
Brooke Lopez is a legitimate center, and while it’s understandable for a Sonics fan to fear the drafting of another center, Lopez is far more fundamentally sound than any big man the Sonics have drafted since perhaps Jack Sikma.
Though his potential may not be through the roof, he’s the safest pick at a position the Sonics had needed stability at since the original Bush administration.
If this year’s NBA Finals are any indicator, elite NBA play starts and ends with the dirty work in the paint, whether on the offensive or defensive end.