A lot of questions have emerged since the sale last week of the Sonics. Here are answers to some of the most common ones:
Q: Who are the new owners?
A: A group of five prominent businessmen constitute the controlling share of the Professional Basketball Club LLC. Clay Bennett, president of the investment firm Dorchester Capital, is the majority owner. He has been called the Bill Gates of Oklahoma City by The Oklahoman newspaper, which, by the way, his family owns. The other members of the new ownership group include G. Edward Evans, chairman of Syniverse Holding Inc.; Aubrey McClendon, chairman and CEO of Chesapeake Energy Corporation; G. Jeffrey Records, chairman of the board and CEO, MidFirst Bank; and Tom L. Ward, chairman and CEO, Riata Energy Inc. The group also consists of several minority investors.
Q: How many NBA teams have out-of-town ownership?
A: If defined as the principal owner living in a different city, then three — New Jersey, Seattle and Portland. Bruce Ratner, who purchased the New Jersey Nets in 2004, resides in nearby New York City. Trail Blazers owner Paul Allen's primary residence is Seattle and Bennett has no intention of moving to Seattle.
At least six owners adopted their new cities and moved there after purchasing the local NBA franchise. While the Maloofs' family fortune is rooted in the Palms Casino in Las Vegas, Kings owners Joe and Gavin Maloof are prominent figures in Sacramento.
Q: Will there be any front-office or coaching changes?
A: Probably not, although Wally Walker's role as president will be greatly diminished and he'll become an adviser to the new ownership group. Bennett plans to hire a CEO who will live in Seattle for the season, and that person will have the final say on all basketball-related decisions.
General manager Rick Sund has two years remaining on a three-year deal he signed last year and is staying on board for at least next season. Coach Bob Hill has a year remaining on his deal.
Q: How will this affect Sonics free-agent signings?
A: Until the sale gets approved, which is expected to happen in October by the NBA Board of Governors, the new owners won't commit to any lavish contracts because the old ownership group would be responsible for them if the sale is denied.
With 12 players on the payroll and just one notable free agent on their roster, Chris Wilcox, the Sonics aren't in the market to add new players.
Wilcox, a restricted free agent, isn't likely to receive the big payday he hoped for. He's coming to Seattle with his agent, Jeff Fried, this week to finalize contract talks, but will discover that the Sonics' proposals have not changed. The team is bidding against itself because no one else can offer him more than their five-year, $40 million deal that's on the table. He can either take it or the one-year tender worth $3.6 million.
Q: How does KTTH radio and new play-by-play announcer David Locke feel about this?
A: The Sonics' new radio broadcast station is optimistic. Said Locke: "After the initial shock to the gut and once the 'oh my gosh, what does this mean?' feeling subsided, I think we're not in that different of a situation than where we were a week ago. The organization needs a new arena to stay in Seattle and that's basically where we were a week ago, except now we're in crunch time. We've got this 12-month window hanging over our heads.
"The more I've heard specifically out of Ed Evans, the more I have a better understanding of this ownership and what their goals are, and that pleases me. That alleviates a lot of fears."
Q: Do the new owners even care if Seattle offers them a good deal? Don't they want to just go to Oklahoma City, anyway?
A: These aren't local businessmen, but they are businessmen and there is a very strong economic motive to keep the team in Seattle. If the Sonics and Storm were worth $350 million playing in KeyArena under the previous lease, how much would they be worth with an up-to-snuff facility and more-favorable lease? The fairest way to characterize this deal is that the new owners see this as a no-lose proposition. Either they get a new arena situation that increases the value of their investment tremendously or they have a franchise they're free to take to their hometown.
It's also worth remembering the NBA must approve any relocation, something it may not do if it feels the group ignored a viable offer in Seattle. That's not to say it will be easy or likely to come up with an offer the NBA would find viable, but Seattle isn't going to have to offer to build an arena out of gold to get the Sonics to stay.
Q: Isn't there already a team in Oklahoma City?
A: Yes. Displaced by Hurricane Katrina, the New Orleans Hornets played 36 games at the Ford Center last season and are contractually obligated to play 35 there this season. NBA commissioner David Stern said he plans to return the team to New Orleans for the 2007-08 season, although Hornets owner George Shinn wants several assurances before making a commitment.
Q: What happens to the Hornets if they don't want to go back to New Orleans?
A: In essence, they'll become a "free agent" and could land anywhere. Other possible destinations include San Jose and Kansas City, MO.
Q: What about Seattle? Can we swap teams with Oklahoma City?
A: Let's think about this for a second. Do local and state politicians really want to deal with Shinn? While he can't be blamed for the latest relocation, he made a mess of things in Charlotte.
Still, Stern isn't just going to turn his back on Seattle, which has a rich 39-year history, including the 1979 NBA title. More important, this region has the 14th-largest media market in the country.
Q: Can Paul Allen own both an NBA and NFL team in the same city, should he want to move the Trail Blazers here?
A: The NBA allows its owners to control other sports franchises in the same city. In Philadelphia, Ed Snider presides over the 76ers and NHL's Flyers, while Jerry Reinsdorf commands the Bulls and baseball's White Sox in Chicago.
The NFL has no provisions that restrict owners from controlling another team in the same market, and Allen is the only NBA owner who also has a NFL franchise.
Q: If the teams leave Seattle, is there anything that could be done to stop them from using the Sonics nickname?
A: Not really. There have been 20 times when an NBA franchise has moved and not once has the nickname remained in the original city, hence the Los Angeles Lakers, who originally began in Minneapolis and the Utah Jazz, which had its start in New Orleans.
In 1972, the Cincinnati Royals moved to Kansas City-Omaha and changed the nickname to the Kings; however, owner Joe Axelson did so only because the baseball Royals were already in town. The Kings retained the Royals history and team colors.
There is precedence for a city retaining a team name. In 1996, when Art Modell decided to move the Cleveland Browns to Baltimore, he bitterly accepted a settlement with NFL owners that forced him to leave the team's history and colors in Cleveland.
The NBA could follow suit, but it's unlikely. Bennett could also voluntarily leave behind the logo and history as part of a settlement with the city if he chooses to break the KeyArena lease, which expires in 2010.
A: Who agreed to this lease, anyway? Do we thank former owner Barry Ackerley for this mess?
Q: The renovation of the former Seattle Coliseum in 1994 was heralded as a win-win for the city, which contributed $73 million toward the project, and the Sonics, who got a new building at no cost. The team, however, signed an $800,000-per-year lease that expires in 2010 in which it surrendered suite sales, parking and several other revenue streams.
The deal worked for about six years before the Seattle Center, which operates KeyArena, reported its first loss in 2001. The city blamed the Sonics' on-court performance. The former perennial playoff contender has missed the playoffs four times in the past six seasons. The team blames changing economics and the construction of Safeco Field and Qwest Field, which has sapped the market for suite sales.
Since 2001, the city has lost about $2 million each year, while the Sonics reported losses of $60 million.
A: What's wrong with KeyArena that a new lease wouldn't fix?
Q: At the moment, Bennett, who wants a new building, isn't saying. From a fan perspective, the 17,072-seat KeyArena is nearly perfect. There's little parking around the building and the matter of narrow seats and small spaces between the aisles, but it offers an intimacy unlike that of any other NBA arena.
The former owners believed a favorable new lease as well as a $220 million facelift complete with fan-friendly amenities would be sufficient.
Q: How many NBA teams made money last year?
A: That's difficult to determine. Owners are under no obligation to open their books and the NBA doesn't release economic figures specific to each team. In its annual survey, Forbes magazine estimated that in the 2004-05 season, 21 teams made an operating profit. The estimate is based on projections before interest, taxes and depreciation. The Sonics were one of the 11 teams listed in the red, with losses totaling $7.8 million.
Q. Is the NBA financial model broken?
A. Maybe not broken, but it's in dire need of a tuneup. In the past two years, Paul Allen's company Oregon Arena Co. filed for bankruptcy and is trying to sell the Trail Blazers; Jazz owner Larry Miller said he has lost $25 million over that period; and Howard Schultz estimated his losses on the Sonics at $60 million in the past five years.
Teams in Orlando, Sacramento, New Jersey and Milwaukee say they need new arenas to remain profitable and have hinted about relocating.
Q: Are there other teams looking to move? Will the NBA expand any time soon?
A: At this moment, no teams are looking to move soon. But Orlando and Portland have unfavorable lease agreements. In the Magic's case, the owners have threatened to relocate.
Once Charlotte joined the NBA in 2004, there has been no talk of expansion.
Coincidently, Charlotte was also the last team to lose an NBA franchise when Shinn moved the Hornets to New Orleans in 2002. With help from the NBA, Charlotte began building an arena the following year and was promised an expansion team.
Seattle Times reporter Danny O'Neil contributed to this report.
Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or firstname.lastname@example.org