Information in this article, originally published December 6, was corrected December 7. A previous version of this story contained an error. In this article, any inference that Sonics coach Bob Hill was confirming unnamed sources who said that team ownership had given him until the end of December to get to a .500 record or else he might be fired or players could be traded was incorrect. Hill's comment, which follows, was in response to the question: "Do you see the next three weeks as make it or break it?" Hill responded: "Deciding whether we're a playoff team or not in the first two months is silly. That's not enough time."
Two team sources said Tuesday the Sonics have roughly 3 ½ weeks to prove to management and new owner Clay Bennett that they are a legitimate playoff contender or the brass will seriously consider wholesale changes that may include a coaching change as well as a series of trades, perhaps involving forward Rashard Lewis.
"Maybe they will look in a different direction," Lewis said after leading Seattle to a 102-87 victory over Atlanta at KeyArena. "It really could happen at any time. We've been kind of up and down, but I feel like we're still right there. We're playing close to .500 basketball, but you never know what they are thinking.
"They can tell you one thing — to don't worry about nothing — and tomorrow you hear about somebody being traded. I've seen it over and over. Nobody is safe. Myself, I'm not safe. So I just try to keep it as business as possible."
Coach Bob Hill knows management expects the team to be hovering around .500 by the end of the month, however, before the game he said, "Deciding whether we're a playoff team or not in the first two months is silly. That's not enough time."
Not according to management. Since joining the Sonics in 2001, general manager Rick Sund has been a big believer in using the first two months of the season to determine if he's going to be a buyer or a seller when the February trading deadline nears.
A year ago, the Sonics fired coach Bob Weiss on Jan. 3 after a 13-17 start and Sund later admitted he began trade talks with Denver at roughly the same time. A month later, the teams completed a deal that brought Earl Watson to Seattle.
Three years ago, former Sonics point guard Gary Payton told the team he planned to test the free-agent market and the Sonics shipped him to Milwaukee in a midseason trade that netted Ray Allen.
"It's my position to always be positive and supportive, but so far we've been inconsistent, and finishing games, well, we haven't done that as well as we'd like," Sund said. "Our thing was we played 32 games in two months, so we knew that would be tough.
"Our goal was to stay above water, hang somewhere at .500, a couple above or a couple below, and then make a push the last four months when we have 50 games."
With 13 games remaining this month, Seattle needs an 8-5 record to meet management's expectations, which is a daunting task considering the team begins a five-game East Coast trip next week.
When asked if he'd make wholesale changes if the team was below expectations, Sund was non-committal.
"We're constantly evaluating in this business," he said.
A team source said Bennett was upset with Hill at how the coach handled a public feud with reserves Damien Wilkins and Watson two weeks ago, and Lewis is trade bait because the one-time all-star small forward has the option to void the final two years of his contract after the season and become an unrestricted free agent.
Sund expressed optimism in Seattle's chances of keeping Lewis, either with a two-year extension or if he declines to use the option. Still, the GM acknowledged the possibility that he could lose Lewis in free agency.
"It wouldn't surprise me at all to hear my name come up because I know what kind of situation I'm in," Lewis said. "I know what the office people upstairs are thinking. If my name comes up, hopefully they're doing it as a business move and to make this team a better team and not just because they're thinking I'm going to opt out after this season and try to leave the team. I hope they make a smart business move instead of doing something [because they are] afraid of what I might do.
"The mistake Gary made was he was verbal. He said that he wasn't signing an extension, but I never said that. ... But at the same time, it still makes me vulnerable to getting traded because the team doesn't know if you're going to use your option or if you want to stay a Sonic."
For the record, Lewis said he wants to remain in Seattle, however, he won't engage in extension talks until next summer.
Without Allen, who strained a ligament in his right ankle and will undergo an MRI exam today, Lewis finished with a team-high 29 points on 10-of-16 shooting, eight rebounds and four blocks to lead the Sonics to their second straight home victory in front of an announced crowd of 14,391.
Chris Wilcox finished with 18 points and nine rebounds, Luke Ridnour had 14 points and six assists, Nick Collison had 11 points and nine rebounds, and Wilkins, in his first season start, and Watson each had 10 points.
Joe Johnson led Atlanta (7-9) with 34 points.
Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or email@example.com