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Sonics / NBA

Thursday, June 29, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Steve Kelley

Another project? What were the Sonics thinking?

Seattle Times staff columnist

In 2011, when the Sonics may or may not still be in Seattle, we might look back at this pick as sheer genius.

We may consider it the most ambitious and successful project since John F. Kennedy started this country on the path to putting a man on the moon.

By then, 7-foot Mouhamed Saer Sene could be the next Bill Russell, or at least the next Dikembe Mutombo, a shot-blocker extraordinaire, a unique talent who can change the game with his intimidating length.

By then, Sene could have improved his footwork, honed his 15-foot jumper and learned how to play the complicated game of basketball.

But this is the summer of 2006. And the only response to the Sonics wasting their 10th pick in the first round on a 20-year-old center who averaged a whopping 3.1 points and 4.1 rebounds in Belgium's not-exactly-taxing Division I League, is — huh?

"We had the luxury of not having a special need," Sonics general manager Rick Sund said early Wednesday evening after the pick had been announced.

Huh?

The Sonics are coming off their worst season in 30 years. There is nothing very luxurious about that.

They squandered this 10th pick, the highest pick they've had since choosing Gary Payton in 1990, on a shot-blocker, who blocked a mere 18 shots in 19 games in Belgium this season.

Huh?

There were too many players remaining with too much potential and much more experience to throw away the pick on a guy who not too long ago was going to school to become a mechanic.

A good friend of mine once said that general managers who made creative picks like Sene suffered from "a Vasco de Gama complex," in honor of the 15th century Portuguese explorer who founded a trade route from Portugal to the east.

My friend believed some general managers kept looking for secret treasures when the next-best thing was right in front of them.

Sene is such a secret, but the Sonics needed more.

There were too many good names left to chose from for the Sonics to be chasing the next Dream, as in Hakeem Olajuwon.

Why didn't they use the pick to draft Marcus Williams, who just might develop into a better point guard than Luke Ridnour? If they wanted a center, why didn't they take Hilton Armstrong, who played 33 games last season against the best college competition in the country?

Why didn't they choose point-forward Ronnie Brewer, or Rodney Carney, who could become the next Shawn Marion, or the dead-eye shooter J.J. Redick?

"He [Sene] is a better shot-blocker than J.J. Redick is a shooter," Seattle coach Bob Hill said.

It is obvious Hill fell in love with the big man with the wingspan of a space shuttle the first time he set eyes on Sene. The Sonics were working out guards Randy Foye and Redick and Sene was blocking so many shots he was disrupting all of the drills.

But Sene is raw as sushi. And despite the Sonics' late-season rush that began after the pressure of making the playoffs was off, this is a team that needs experience and toughness, not naked, youthful exuberance.

Even Hill, at the end of the season, listed a veteran center as one of his team's most pressing needs.

But Tuesday night he said, "We put all of the names of the big men on a board and it [the list] wasn't very pretty."

Neither is the Sonics' history with centers.

From Jim McIlvaine to Vladimir Stepania, from Rich King to Calvin Booth, the Sonics fall in love with length and the love is unrequited.

For the third draft in a row, Seattle has used its first-round draft pick to choose a post-man project. First Robert Swift, then Johan Petro and now Sene.

If the Sonics needed another center they should have spent money on a free agent. San Antonio's Nazr Mohammed is available. For a team that says it can win now, doesn't Mohammed make better sense than Mouhamed?

Yes, the Sonics need a center, but not someone who played a mere 19 games in Belgium last season.

This was a chance to create some good will, to get the city talking basketball in the midst of the Mariners' revival. It was a chance for the Sonics to grab some positive headlines before the start of Seahawks camp.

But they blew it.

Someday maybe we'll look at this pick as genius. Maybe someday Sund and Hill and the Sonics staff will be hailed as visionaries, latter-day de Gamas.

But today, chucking their 10th pick on a project from Senegal looks purely wasteful.

It's enough to make you ask ... huh?

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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