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Friday, July 4, 2008 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Seattle's hoop dream: a new team

Part of the last-minute deal that sent the team formerly known as the Sonics to Oklahoma City gives Seattle the team's name, logo and history, and an undefined hope of another NBA team playing here.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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A banner displayed at the Sonics' last home game in Seattle, on April 13 at KeyArena, reflected fans' fears about where the team was heading next season.

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STEVE RINGMAN / THE SEATTLE TIMES

A banner displayed at the Sonics' last home game in Seattle, on April 13 at KeyArena, reflected fans' fears about where the team was heading next season.

Part of the last-minute deal that sent the team formerly known as the Sonics to Oklahoma City gives Seattle the team's name, logo and history, and an undefined hope of another NBA team playing here.

Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels said Wednesday the settlement was the city's best chance of getting another team and said he's hopeful that will happen. But how likely is that, really?

In an e-mail on Wednesday, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said he was unaware of expansion talks or relocation discussions.

Charlotte waited two years before the NBA returned with the expansion Bobcats. Kansas City wasn't as lucky. Not even an NBA-ready facility has been able to lure a team 23 years after the Kings left for Sacramento.

Several teams possibly could relocate or be sold in the next five years, including the New Orleans Hornets, Memphis Grizzlies, Sacramento Kings, Milwaukee Bucks and Atlanta Hawks.

But Seattle isn't the only city in the market for an NBA team. Kansas City, Las Vegas and San Jose, Calif., are among those who also would like teams.

Nickels and NBA commissioner David Stern, staunch enemies during the city's trial, appeared aligned Wednesday.

"The NBA was an important part of our negotiations — agreeing that a renovated KeyArena can be a competitive NBA facility," Nickels said. "This is a crucial point for us. A KeyArena with professional basketball is a cornerstone for the Seattle Center. The NBA has committed to helping us secure a future team."

Stern recognized a potential local ownership group, Seattle Center Investors (SCI), led by Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and real-estate developer Matt Griffin.

"The NBA will keep SCI and the City informed if opportunities arise in the next five years for franchise sale, relocation and/or expansion," Stern said in a statement. "Under the circumstances [of the settlement], the NBA would be happy to return to the City of Seattle."

Stern said the NBA "continues to regard Seattle as a first-class NBA city that is capable of serving as home for another NBA team.

"In order for this to occur, a state-of-the-art NBA arena must be funded and constructed in the Seattle area, a subject that has been extensively debated — but not ultimately acted upon — by local political and business leaders over the past four years."

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Clay Bennett and the other Sonics owners will have to pay $30 million to Seattle in 2013 if the state Legislature authorizes by the end of 2009 at least $75 million in public funding to renovate KeyArena and if Seattle does not obtain an NBA franchise within five years.

Even if the city gains state approval for a $300 million renovation, Nickels said, construction would not begin until the city got assurances that it would get another NBA team.

Richard Yarmuth, an attorney who represents former Sonics owner Howard Schultz, said the city might not have to seek another team, and that the Sonics could return next year. Schultz has sued the Sonics, saying Bennett did not make a good-faith effort to keep the team in Seattle. He is seeking to unwind the $350 million sale to Bennett and his Oklahoma City investors in 2006.

"The BCOS [Basketball Club of Seattle, Schultz's group] case will continue," Yarmuth said. "Our lawsuit is separate. We are not a party to the settlement and in fact, we chose not to participate."

Seattle City Councilmember Richard McIver told The Oklahoman that lengthy settlement discussions had taken place between the city and the Sonics owners. Seattle City Attorney Tom Carr reportedly approached Schultz last week before closing arguments in the trial and asked if the Starbucks mogul would drop his lawsuit.

Sources close to the BCOS indicated Schultz will not bring a motion for an injunction to force the Sonics to remain in Seattle because the team's KeyArena lease has been terminated. The Schultz lawsuit is expected to go to trial in the spring of 2009.

Bennett retains the rights to the Sonics' name, history and colors but doesn't intend to use them, saying he "will return them to the team if a team returns to Seattle in the term."

Bennett said at a news conference in Oklahoma City that the original team banners and 1979 championship trophy will stay in Seattle, but "we will create duplicate banners and championship trophy that we believe will be assets we want to have."

Bennett said he's working with the NBA to create a new name and colors for the Oklahoma City team. Meanwhile, Nickels is preparing to lobby state lawmakers.

"The city is ready to do its part," Nickels said. "Local investors have stepped up. Now, the state Legislature must act."

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

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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