Just when the big picture seemed bright for the resurgent Sonics, who hope to finish the final four weeks on a positive note to springboard next season, Luke Ridnour said he plans to re-evaluate his relationship with the team in the offseason.
Since the arrival of backup point guard Earl Watson, who was acquired in a four-team, nine-player trade from Denver on Feb. 23, Ridnour has become frustrated and dismayed by his diminishing role and frequent fourth-quarter benchings.
His disappointment is tempered given the fact that his averages in points (11.8 to 12.3), assists (6.7 to 7.4) and shooting percentage (.415 to .422) have increased with Watson in the lineup.
However, Ridnour doesn't play for statistics.
Ridnour credits Bob Hill, who replaced fired Bob Weiss, for salvaging his season, but he's upset that the Sonics coach has adopted a policy in which Ridnour starts and Watson finishes games.
In a four-game stretch from March 3-12, he played a total of two minutes in the fourth quarter. He played five minutes in the fourth quarter against Philadelphia on Thursday.
Sonics at Sacramento7 tonight at Arco Arena
TV/radio: FSN/950 AM.
Records: Seattle 26-39, Sacramento 33-33.
Notes: The Sonics did not re-sign F Marcus Fizer, whose 10-day contract expired this weekend and the team has no immediate plans add anyone else to the 13-man roster, coach Bob Hill said. Seattle will have just 11 healthy players tonight. ... The Kings return home from a 0-2 trip after suffering defeats at Indiana and Minnesota. Before this latest stumble, Sacramento won five straight games to hurdle New Orleans for the final playoff berth. The Kings hold a one-game lead over the Hornets and are 6½ ahead of the Sonics. Sacramento and Seattle split their two previous games, which were played at KeyArena, and conclude the four-game series April 18 at Arco Arena. ... With Ron Artest, who was traded Jan. 25 from Indiana for Peja Stojakovic, the Kings are 15-9 overall and 10-0 at home. The 2003-04 Defensive Player of the Year has significantly improved their defense. In the past 24 games, the Kings are allowing opponents 94.2 ppg. and only six teams have scored 100 or more. Before Artest, Sacramento's opponents averaged 100.2 points. Injuries: Sonics — G Ray Allen (left quadriceps contusion) and C Robert Swift (left ankle sprain) are probable. F Nick Collison (torn plantar fascia left foot) and F Danny Fortson (sore left knee) are out. Kings — G Francisco Garcia (sprained left ankle) is out. — Percy Allen
"It's tough because I went on such a good stretch and [was] feeling so good, just playing and playing pretty well and then something like that happens," Ridnour said after Monday's practice at the Furtado Center. "I still played well, but it's tough to go through.
"Even when I played in the fourth, I'm usually at the 2 guard and I'm not at the point, so it's been a difficult situation. But I've just got to get through it, get through this 17 games and then re-evaluate after the season. It's tough to comment on it right now. I just want to focus on what's going on and be professional about it, then once it's over I'll think about it."
At issue is whether Ridnour instructs his agent, Lon Babby, to engage in extension talks with the Sonics.
Beginning July 1, the team has a four-month window to negotiate a deal and is expected to offer Ridnour a contract before he enters the final year of a rookie contract that will pay him $2.4 million next season.
If Ridnour does not sign an extension, the Sonics can retain him with a qualifying offer and he'll become a restricted free agent in 2007.
General manager Rick Sund declined comment Monday. Ridnour said before he considers an extension, he needs to speak with Hill and Sund about his role and dwindling responsibilities.
"It's something I'm definitely going to have to think about," Ridnour said. "I think I've played better and better, and [I'm] feeling like next year could be a big season. Then it's almost like, you've got to think about this.
"It's nothing against who's here. It's nothing against the personnel or anything, but it's a decision you have to make for your own career. With [Watson] already having a long-term deal, it makes you think."
Watson, the Sonics' fourth-highest paid player, signed a five-year, $29 million deal last summer that expires in 2010.
Last week, Watson practically predicted that his emerging presence might upset Ridnour. He spoke at length about a point-guard battle with Jason Williams when he was in Memphis that led coach Hubie Brown to resign and undermined the Grizzlies, who were swept in the first round of the playoffs in 2004 and '05.
"I'd been given the team at certain points in the season where Hubie would come to me and be like, 'Be ready,' " Watson said. "I would finish the games in January, February and half of March. Then at the end of March, he would give it back to Jason after we secured a playoff spot, and he would [say] thanks.
"It became a role, and I accepted it because I wanted to win. When he gave me those chances, I took advantage of it and ran with it. That was part of the problem because Jason didn't like it."
After sharing the playmaking duties last season with former Sonic Antonio Daniels, Ridnour was told by management that he would have little competition this season, which is why the Sonics signed journeyman Rick Brunson as a backup in the offseason.
Midway through the season, Sund felt he needed to upgrade the bench and essentially traded Reggie Evans and Vitaly Potapenko for Watson.
"That's no knock against Luke, and in effect, we think this will make Luke even better," Sund said weeks ago. "It certainly improves our team."
With Watson in the lineup, the Sonics are 5-3, including impressive wins over Utah and the Los Angeles Lakers.
They're scoring more points, playing better defense and by all accounts appear to be in position to return to the playoffs next season if Hill can keep everyone healthy and happy.
Ridnour's discontent, however, could severely alter those plans.
"When it's over, you've got to think about what is best for your own career," he said. "I'm a team guy, but when the season is over then I'll think about what's best for me. That's the time when you have to be selfish in this league."
Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or email@example.com