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Friday, June 30, 2006 - Page updated at 11:28 AM

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Wilcox, Sonics likely far apart on money

Seattle Times staff reporter

A year ago, the Sonics moved quickly to secure Ray Allen to a long-term contract the minute he became a free agent.

When the market opens Saturday, they'll wait a few days and prepare for a Monday meeting with Chris Wilcox's representatives that will determine whether negotiations are going to be long or short.

"Of course, we'd like them to be short and sign him as quickly as we can," Sonics general manager Rick Sund said.

Before departing for his Los Angeles home after the season, Wilcox — who joined the Sonics in a Feb. 14 trade with the Clippers for Vladimir Radmanovic — said he wanted to return to Seattle, where he became a burgeoning star.

In 29 games with the Sonics, Wilcox started 23 times and averaged 14.1 points and 8.2 rebounds. He shot 59.2 percent from the field and posted seven double-doubles, including a jaw-dropping 26-point, 24-rebound performance against Houston on April 4.

"I've been waiting all my life for this," Wilcox said. "I think I've found a home here, a place where I can go out and be me."

Now comes the difficult part: How much will it cost the Sonics to retain his services?

Seattle tendered Wilcox a qualifying offer, which makes him a restricted free agent and gives the team the chance to match any offer he receives.

On Monday, the sides will begin a dialogue that will lead to them exchanging proposals in about a week. Teams can start negotiating Saturday, but players can't sign contracts until July 12.

In all likelihood, the Sonics' initial offer will be similar to the six-year, $42 million deal they offered Radmanovic last year, while Wilcox seeks a deal similar to the six-year, $64 million contract that Philadelphia gave Samuel Dalembert a year ago.

That's $22 million of wiggle room, and it's conceivable the sides won't reach an agreement anytime soon.

With just five teams currently below the estimated $52 million salary cap (Atlanta, Charlotte, Chicago, New Orleans/Oklahoma City and Toronto), the Sonics would appear to be in the catbird's seat because none of those teams needs a power forward.

Seattle will likely move slowly and tell Wilcox to test free agency and establish his market, which is what they told Radmanovic last year.

Like Wilcox, Radmanovic was a restricted free agent seeking $60 million. The Sonics played hardball with him and restricted free agents Ronald Murray and Reggie Evans. Each one chose to sign a one-year tender rather than multiple-year deals, and each was blamed for Seattle's disappointing season and traded at midseason.

Since Sund arrived in 2001, the Sonics haven't signed many "bad" contracts, and they have been one of the NBA's shrewdest teams in contract negotiations.

In 2002, Seattle engaged in protracted talks with Rashard Lewis, who sought a maximum contract in the range of $90-plus million. With few suitors under the cap, Lewis grudgingly agreed to a seven-year, $60 million deal.

There's a chance history will repeat, and Wilcox will be forced to accept far less than what he's asking.

Still, several factors could positively influence his negotiations.

At 24, Wilcox has yet to enter his prime. And he appears to flourish in Seattle's up-tempo system, as opposed to the Clippers' half-court-oriented style, in which he struggled and sat behind Elton Brand.

"When you look around the league, there's not many people that size who can run like that," Sonics coach Bob Hill said. "People throw out the word potential and it can be an ugly word, but that's what he's got. Loads and loads of potential."

It helps Wilcox that the free-agent market for power forwards is relatively bare. Al Harrington is the top player, and Denver's Nene and Cleveland's Drew Gooden are restricted free agents. However, it's also unclear how Kevin Garnett and Kenyon Martin, who are reportedly on the trading block, will impact the market.

If negotiations hit a snag in Seattle, a league source said New Jersey and Phoenix have shown interest in Wilcox.

The Sonics, however, are unlikely to participate in a sign-and-trade deal, which leaves Wilcox the option of accepting a less-than-favorable long-term contract or a one-year tender.

Perhaps remembering 19th-century philosopher George Santayana's comment, "Those who can not remember the past are condemned to repeat it," Sund is mindful of recent history.

"Everybody involved learned a lot from that situation," he said, referring to negotiations with Radmanovic. "It's not something you necessarily want to repeat."

Note

• Sonics forward/center Mikki Moore is not expected to opt out of the final year of his contract on Saturday, according to a league source.

Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or pallen@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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