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Thursday, February 15, 2007 - Page updated at 01:05 AM

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Notebook | Bennett says franchise exploring NHL options

Seattle Times staff reporter

The Sonics have hired an independent research firm to determine if the Puget Sound market could support a National Hockey League franchise, principal owner Clay Bennett said Wednesday.

Attracting an NHL team to the region is a key component in Bennett's proposed multi-purpose Renton arena, which would cost about $500 million.

"We are beginning to work on an analysis for the NHL in the market, understanding first and foremost, is the product viable and then at the same time model the NHL in the building relative to revenue sharing, expense sharing with an NBA team," Bennett said. "Does it work? Certainly, I think it will add to the building and probably add to the overall value to the [NBA] franchise."

While he'd consider an NHL team as a tenant, Bennett said: "It probably makes sense for us to add ownership involvement in the team."

Currently, no NHL team is on the market, however, the Nashville Predators are struggling at the gate and if the sagging attendance continues then it would trigger a clause allowing them to relocate. Also, the Pittsburgh Penguins are considering playing in Kansas City next season.

Bennett said he hasn't been in contact with either franchise, but insinuated he's had recent talks with the NHL.

More Fortson saga

Wednesday's game at a glance

Player of the game: Ray Allen continued a string of prolific scoring performances, finishing with 31 points on 11-for-19 shooting. He shot 5 for 9 on three-pointers and had six rebounds and four assists.

Play of the game: Late in the first quarter, Earl Watson connected with Allen on an alley-oop dunk that put Seattle ahead 24-13.

Turning point: Phoenix closed to 70-64 midway through the third quarter, but Seattle never allowed the Suns to get any closer.

Next: Memphis, Tuesday, 7 p.m., KeyArena.

Danny Fortson, who has played just 13 games because of a sore left knee, had every intention of suiting up Wednesday, which would have been the first time he has been on the active list since Jan. 5. He put on his uniform before game said he'd play if needed.

"In case a man goes down, I'm here," he said.

But in keeping with the often strange relationship between the forward and coach Bob Hill, Fortson was not on the bench when the game began.

Fortson began the season on the active list before missing about two months because of the sore knee. He returned for five games before shutting it down again.

"Everything was going well when I came back, but Bob talked about not having a season and I never got a chance to prove I could do it," he said.

He said he believes the team is shopping his contract as the Feb. 22 trade deadline draws near and was told by Hill that he will not return next season.

"He's already told me that they're not interested in bringing me back," he said. "That's what I'm dealing with. He said it's highly doubtful and that means pretty much I won't be here. Knowing that, it's tough."

The Sonics signed rookie Andre Brown on Jan. 25 for the rest of the season and he has replaced Fortson in the rotation.

"It's disappointing to be here for that," Fortson said. "I'm happy for him. Nothing against him. Still, it's hard to accept that I'm the 14th or 15th guy on the bench for this team. They keep shoving that down my throat and I just can't accept that. ... I don't know about next year. If it works out, it works out. If it don't, it don't. This could be my last year [in the NBA]. I know that."

Note

• Because he received his All-Star invitation Tuesday, Ray Allen said his family will keep their plans for a Mexican vacation this weekend.

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