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Wednesday, August 16, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Steve Kelley

Wilcox signing a mixed blessing for fans

Seattle Times staff columnist

So how are you supposed to feel about the Sonics' signing Chris Wilcox, their free-agent power forward?

If you've been a Sonics fan through the Dale Ellis and Tom Chambers years, through the run to the Finals during the Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton years?

If you've cheered for them despite the way they've staggered through most of this decade? If you're scared stiff that this is the 40th-and-last season of Sonics basketball in Seattle, how are you supposed to respond to this news?

Should you care?

Should you be excited that, after all these years, maybe the Sonics finally have found an athletic low-post presence to complement Rashard Lewis?

Should it matter that this deal was negotiated with little input from the new Oklahoma City-based ownership?

Should you be worried that Wilcox earned his three-year, $24 million contract pretty much on his performance in a total of 29 games and 23 starts in a going-nowhere season with the Sonics?

Should you think his performance was just a salary drive? His contract gives him almost a million dollars for each start he made for the Sonics. Should you be concerned about his effort and his focus now that he has $24 million in his pocket?

Or should you just shrug and concede that, this time next year, he could be Oklahoma City's prize? Or Oklahoma City's problem?

Is this the ambiguous life in NBA limbo?

"It really doesn't matter where I play," Wilcox said Tuesday of the uncertainty of the team's future. "I like Seattle. But if the team is to move to another city, then that's what we have to do. I'll leave that to management."

Everything that happens to the Sonics — between now and the time, somewhere in January, when we'll surely know if they're staying or going — will be weighed against the uncertainty of the franchise's future.

And, as a fan of the team and the league and the game, all you can do is hope some heroic figure (and there are many in the Northwest) will find a palatable answer that will keep the franchise where it belongs.

"When you talk to NBA people, I mean, I don't think Oklahoma City's going to be an option [for the Sonics], to be honest with you," Sonics coach Bob Hill said after the formal news conference. "The Hornets want to stay there. New Orleans is not in any kind of shape, at this point, to take on a team.

"So I'm just going to approach this thing like we're going to be in Seattle till 2010, at the end of the lease, and go from there. I want to stay in Seattle. And I'm going to do my part, as best I can, to help us stay here. Most of our players enjoy Seattle and I think would want to stay here."

Soon after Clay Bennett and his group bought the Sonics and the talk of relocation began, Hill flew into Seattle and, sitting in a window seat, had the same thought most of us have when we see Mount Rainier, or look out across Puget Sound on our approaches into Sea-Tac.

"I was looking out the window and I was thinking, 'Oh, my God. How could they... ?' " Hill said, stopping before he finished his rhetorical question. "And I know commissioner [David] Stern doesn't want this team moved. I mean I talked to him for 40 minutes at the [draft] lottery, and he's a pretty powerful guy."

Hill is preparing the 6-foot-10 Wilcox to be the power forward of the Seattle Sonics.

Getting Wilcox, who turns 24 next month, ready to play a full season with the same productive energy he showed in the final third of last season, after he was traded from the Clippers, will be Hill's most difficult coaching challenge.

This is a show-me signing. It is a contract earned over very few games in non-pressure situations. It was a contract based on Wilcox's potential and based on the belief that he can play as hard for 82 games as he did during his salary drive of 29 games when he averaged 14.1 points and 8.2 rebounds a game for Seattle.

"As good as he was at times last year, I think he can be better," Hill said. "We'll see. He's got the potential to be an All-Star. He runs and jumps so well and for a guy his size. He's unique in that way. I need to get him to do more this year."

As they were walking down the stairs at the Sonics offices before the news conference, Hill told Wilcox he expected an average of 15 points and 12 rebounds.

"You never know when you give a guy a contract," Hill said. "The Sonics hit a grand slam with Ray Allen, and I would think this guy is going to respond similarly. I will be on his backside about consistency. That is what separates players and teams. This will be his fifth season, and I think he'll feel a sense of giving back for the belief that we've had in him."

A sense of giving back, in return for a belief that already has been shown.

Isn't that what all Sonics fans are asking from the new ownership?

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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