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Sonics / NBA

Friday, July 21, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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New owners tell Oklahoma fans: You're the backup plan

Seattle Times staff reporter

OKLAHOMA CITY — Clay Bennett again insisted that this week's purchase of the Sonics and Storm doesn't make them destined for Oklahoma, but his group's contingency plan was clarified at a news conference Thursday.

If 12 months of negotiations in Seattle don't produce an acceptable arena, and if the Hornets go back to New Orleans as planned, then yes, his intention is to move the Sonics to Oklahoma City.

"I think if we get to the point where we are at an absolute standstill," Bennett said, "there is nothing on the table and both sides of the table understand that we're not going anywhere, we are absolutely hoping to bring it to Oklahoma City."

Bennett also clarified a few logistical questions during a low-key, balloonless news conference at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. The new ownership group will be consulted on any personnel decisions and he plans to hire a CEO who will relocate to Seattle. That executive would be the top official in the organization, a position of power now held by president Wally Walker. However, whether Walker and other executives would remain in current positions has not been decided.

In Bennett's introductory remarks, he expressed disappointment at not being taken at his word about being serious about Seattle in Tuesday's initial announcement of the sale.

In Seattle, Bennett was seen as the out-of-towner who had come to poach an NBA team. In Oklahoma City, he was the local who had just come back from a national shopping spree and everyone wanted to know if he's bringing home his purchase.

The first question was whether he would be tempted to uproot the Sonics to Oklahoma City.

"Well, we've committed 12 months to this process," Bennett said of negotiating with Seattle. "Absolutely."

After those 12 months?

"Beyond the 12 months, we will evaluate our position," he said.

Those were the same words he used in Seattle.

Bennett was asked about the hypothetical scenario in which the Sonics and Storm get a facility deemed sufficient in Seattle and the Hornets return to New Orleans. That would leave Oklahoma City without a franchise, seemingly abandoned by the men seen as the best bet to bring a team to town.

"Well, I don't feel that way at all," Bennett said. "There are many other interested investors in basketball in the marketplace and we're going to have a lot of flexibility through time. So, no, I think we're arguably in a better position at the table — so to speak — to work on what may be the future here."

As for Seattle, Bennett said nothing has been decided on whether a new arena is necessary or if a renovated arena would be sufficient.

"Well, what we've said and what we believe is that we're going to start with everything on the table," Bennett said. "We want to come in with a fresh perspective, a clean slate."

Bennett was very involved in the Hornets' successful relocation to Oklahoma City last year after Hurricane Katrina sent the team to a temporary home.

He was the one who recruited local businesses to serve as presenting sponsors.

There were five in all, including Chesapeake Energy, headed by Aubrey McClendon, and MidFirst Bank, headed by G. Jeffrey Records. They are now two of the Sonics' five primary owners.

Their companies will remain sponsors of the Hornets in the upcoming season, and individually they will remain ticket-holders and supporters, as Bennett plans to be.

"We really wish the Hornets well," Bennett said. "We will be at the forefront of helping them with their sponsorship and encouragement of their continued success."

So for now, Bennett and his fellow owners are fans of the team temporarily playing in a city that hopes to attract a permanent team, while they own a team two time zones away.

"It is an odd situation," he said.

Danny O'Neil: 206-464-2364; doneil@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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