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Originally published June 27, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified June 27, 2008 at 2:43 AM

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Jerry Brewer

NBA draft leaves a chill in Seattle

The Sonics, whose owners have mastered how to create strife the past two years, spent Thursday entangled in their wackiest web yet. As a result, the NBA draft turned stale.

Seattle Times staff columnist

From the courtroom to the draft room, this was one awkward trip.

From closing arguments to upside arguments, this was one cumbersome day of warring emotions.

From Marsha Pechman to Russell Westbrook, this was one strange gateway to uncertainty.

The Sonics, whose owners have mastered how to create strife the past two years, spent Thursday entangled in their wackiest web yet. As a result, the NBA draft turned stale.

In this city, there was little joy on draft night; it deferred to fret. Across the league, the rest of the weak-pulse franchises celebrated their high picks and dreamed of amazing turnarounds. Here, the only words that mattered were the final remarks of a judge charged with ending the bitter KeyArena lease fight.

Pechman vowed to make her ruling public at 4 p.m. Wednesday. The next five days will be unbearable.

"Stay tuned," Pechman said before she vanished into privacy.

After hearing the timeline, the draft seemed like four straight hours of that "Jeopardy" music.

And the Sonics weren't inclined to make the wait entertaining.

Equipped with two first-round picks, they came away with Westbrook and Serge Ibaka. That's like getting two free airline tickets and booking trips to Gary, Ind., and Kosovo.

They used the No. 4 pick on Westbrook, a defensive specialist who may need to make the treacherous transition from shooting guard to point guard. Then they drafted Ibaka at No. 24, a big man from Congo, and, well, let's just say that general manager Sam Presti must've never received a visit from the Ghost of Project Centers Past.

Remember the last time the Sonics took an obscure center from Africa? It happened three years ago with Mouhamed Sene. Remember Robert Swift and Johan Petro? Those bad decisions helped get Rick Sund fired. Presti is a bold man.

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While it's unfair to get carried away with evaluation before these athletes play an NBA game, you can conclude the Sonics took some significant risks with those two picks. Presti should be the 2009 executive of the year if he nailed this draft.

Right now, the concern is whether Westbrook will ever distinguish himself from a collection of overhyped athletic combo guards selected too high in NBA draft history. The list includes former Sonic Antonio Daniels, Keyon Dooling and Dajuan Wagner.

At a loss for Sonics knowledge, ESPN's Stuart Scott asked his analysts if the Sonics could make the playoffs next season with enough production from Westbrook. Maybe if Scott were in Seattle giving running commentary on our pro hoops dilemma, we could spend the next week chuckling at his unintentional comedy.

It would be nice if Westbrook could simply run the offense by the end of next season. In time, he could be a good NBA player, but with the Oklahoma Raiders primed to bolt as soon as the law allows, we may never see his development. And Ibaka is expected to remain overseas — a wise decision, considering how Sene has been exposed — so we may never see Ibaka play (which could be a blessing).

For the diehard NBA fan, draft night is a holiday. During quiet moments in the trial Thursday, I chatted with Save Our Sonics co-founder Brian Robinson about the pleasure this event normally creates. The anticipation of a franchise-changing talent. The trade speculation. Even the second-guessing. It's all part of the experience.

But on this day, Robinson and Sonics fans around the region were left to also wonder mostly about what Pechman is thinking. They were left to ponder if the embarrassing "poisoned well" or "Machiavellian stuff" revelations will have a bearing on her decision. They were left to analyze which lawyer argued his case better: city attorney Paul Lawrence or Sonics attorney Brad Keller?

Scott, in another aloof Seattle moment, said "the vote" on the relocation would happen Thursday. If only the citizens could vote on this matter. If only.

More than anything, Scott's misguided words showed how insignificant the national media considers this trial. Seattle is fighting for its NBA existence, but the league moves on, uncaring. Commissioner David Stern grinned, shook hands and made ill-received quips. It was just another festive day in the NBA.

And just another disastrous day in Sonics history.

Fittingly, it just wouldn't end. The Sonics had six picks, including four in the second round. So they used and traded their picks well into the night. They did solid work by selecting two senior big men, including trading for a third first-round pick in D.J. White. Presti was thorough and methodical, as usual.

But was he right? Did he continue to change his team's defensive-indifferent culture? We may never know. It's up to the judge.

Those are not the words you want to hear on draft night.

Cue the "Jeopardy" music. Stay tuned. These five days will feel like five weeks.

Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or jbrewer@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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About Jerry Brewer
Jerry Brewer offers a unique perspective on the world of sports. Also check out Jerry's Extra Points blog, where he talks with readers about his columns.
jbrewer@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2277

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