Sequestered for four days at the United States Basketball Academy in Blue River, Ore., a few weeks ago, Bob Hill and his five-member Sonics coaching staff finalized plans of returning the team to prominence.
They met twice a day in four-hour sessions, once in the morning and again in the evenings. They bunked together and lived, breathed and ate basketball. As Hill put it: "We did almost everything together, as a group, except huddle around a camp fire and sing 'Kumbaya.' "
Not only did they hammer out the training-camp schedule, which begins Tuesday morning, but the coaches' retreat also sent a symbolic message to a team fractured by a midseason coaching change and a flurry of trades that preceded a disappointing 35-47 finish last season. The 10-day training camp sets the stage for the exhibition season, which begins Oct. 11 at Portland and ends Oct. 26 against Golden State.
"This team innately has really good chemistry, but I don't think it has real good harmony," Hill said. "That's going to be their challenge from the beginning of camp. They've got to communicate more often off the court and on the court and in the locker room. And it's got to be more than just Ray Allen.
"Last year, every team meeting I asked a question and Ray Allen would answer it. So, finally I said, 'Ray Allen is not allowed to talk.' Then nobody would talk, so I had to make them talk. This was early on, and by the end of the season they were all starting to give their opinions. The bottom line is we need more people being accountable."
The Sonics' harmony will be tested early in camp because of intense competition at two positions, point guard — the most notable clash, involving Luke Ridnour and Earl Watson — and center. Last season, Hill hinted there might be a change on the horizon, and on Friday he confirmed that the starting position no longer belongs to Ridnour, a two-year starter who enters the final season of a four-year rookie contract.
Oct. 11, at Portland, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 12, at L.A. Lakers (Anaheim), 7 p.m.
Oct. 15, at Chicago (Lawrence, Kan.), 11 a.m.
Oct. 20, Portland, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 21, at L.A. Clippers, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 23, at Phoenix, 7 p.m.
Oct. 25, Sacramento, 7 p.m.
Oct. 26, Golden State (Spokane), 7 p.m.
Perhaps as a way of downplaying the matter, Hill said no one has won a starting job and even went so far as to suggest that reserve Damien Wilkins and rookie Mickael Gelabale will push Rashard Lewis at small forward.
But barring injury, Allen, a six-time All-Star, and Lewis, a one-time All-Star, will start alongside Chris Wilcox, who signed a three-year, $24 million, incentive-laden contract in the offseason.
"I like Luke starting and getting us into games, because he's very good at that, and I like Earl coming in behind him because he speeds the game up and there's more unpredictability when Earl comes into the game," Hill said. "But I'm not married to that, because Luke needs to play better defense. We'll just have to see."
Each day, rookie center Mouhamed Sene appears to gain ground on incumbent Johan Petro and backup Robert Swift, Hill said. During a 90-minute interview on Friday, the Sonics coach devoted about 10 minutes to praising the No. 10 overall draft pick with the 7-foot-8 wingspan.
"Sene is going to be in the mix," he said. "He's going to be in there. He has a lot to learn, but there's a lot of moments when he's on the floor, you say, 'Holy crap, do we need that,' because of the way he instinctively plays. He's so quick. Just his presence."
• Paul Silas, former Sonics player and NBA coach, will be the keynote speaker at a team dinner tonight at KeyArena.
• Single-game tickets for home games during the first half of the 2006-07 season, including exhibition and regular-season games, will go on sale on Tuesday at 10 a.m. Prices start at $10.
Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or firstname.lastname@example.org
|Sonics training-camp roster|
|The Sonics have 12 players under contract, and are expected to open the season with 14 or the league-maximum 15.|
||Alief Elsik HS (Texas)
||Bakersfield HS (Calif.)
|*Training-camp invitee, not under contract.|