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Originally published January 20, 2009 at 12:00 AM | Page modified January 20, 2009 at 12:20 AM

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Luke Ridnour enjoys a basketball rebirth in Milwaukee

Luke Ridnour had to get out. The Blaine native's team was suffocating him. If it wasn't a barrage of questions about the Sonics, the team...

Seattle Times staff reporter

PORTLAND — Luke Ridnour had to get out.

The Blaine native's team was suffocating him.

If it wasn't a barrage of questions about the Sonics, the team he played for and watched as a child, relocating to Oklahoma City, it was how he was handling the point guard controversy with Earl Watson.

Then there were the injuries.

A broken nose. A bruised rib. A strained quadriceps.

"I was blessed to be able to get out and get to a good situation," Ridnour said before the Bucks lost 102-85 to the Trail Blazers on Monday at the Rose Garden.

Innately positive in his Milwaukee jersey, Ridnour didn't carry any of the gloom that crept on him in five seasons in Seattle. He was drafted 14th overall by the Sonics in 2003, and then-general manager Rick Sund envisioned Ridnour to be Gary Payton's replacement at point guard. He was a starter from 2004-2007, helping Seattle win the inaugural Northwest Division championship before losing to San Antonio in the 2005 playoffs.

But new ownership changed Ridnour's future. Coach P.J. Carlesimo — Ridnour's fourth coach in five years — wanted to utilize a platoon backcourt until a starter emerged. The plan failed when Ridnour suffered a quadriceps injury in November 2007.

With lost confidence, he returned to play 61 games, starting only five.

Ridnour knew he'd keep a home in Seattle, but he couldn't play for the organization anymore. When his agent, Lon Babby, called in August to confirm a six-player, three-team deal that would send Ridnour to Milwaukee, Ridnour felt immediate relief.

"I wasn't playing much there [Seattle]," said Ridnour, who averages 31 minutes with the Bucks. "I don't know if I was in their plans and that's OK with me. I'm just excited to get somewhere else and get a chance to play again."

Portland coach Nate McMillan sees the change. McMillan played point guard for 12 seasons and then groomed Ridnour as he coached the Sonics.

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"I listened to one of his interviews and Luke made the comment that it's a new life," McMillan said. "In Seattle, things didn't really go well toward the end. [Bucks coach Scott Skiles] has given him a new opportunity and sometimes you need that change. Luke's excited about someone believing in him. Because it's hard for anyone to not have someone who believes in you."

Well, not everyone is a believer. Payton bashes Ridnour so much on NBA-TV that the Bucks' public relations staff reportedly entered a complaint. A team representative denied his office doing so Monday, however.

Hitting his prime, Ridnour, 27, is still flanked by superior wings in guard Michael Redd and Richard Jefferson, who have helped him put up career-best type numbers, averaging 11.0 points and 5.0 assists.

In Seattle, Ridnour primarily ran the offense with Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis before the Sonics rebuilt with Kevin Durant and Jeff Green.

"If people start talking about who's the most improved player, they can mention [Orlando guard] Jameer Nelson, but Luke would have to be in that conversation," Skiles said. "Early in the season he was struggling to shoot the ball, but his back [spasms] was so banged up that he probably shouldn't have been playing. He shows toughness and we're glad we have him."

There's a literal take to Ridnour's "new life," too. His wife, Katie, is seven-months pregnant with their first child, a boy.

"I just wanted to go in to Milwaukee with a fresh mind and fresh start," said Ridnour, who'll make $6.5 million this season.

"When you've got good guys around that believe in you and the coaching staff supports you, it definitely makes your team better."

Jayda Evans: 206-464-2067 or jevans@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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