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Originally published September 26, 2006 at 12:00 AM | Page modified September 26, 2006 at 11:49 AM

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Sonics roster up for grabs

With the start of their 40th anniversary season on the horizon, the Sonics can't be blamed of being overly sentimental as they pursue several...

Seattle Times staff reporter

With the start of their 40th anniversary season on the horizon, the Sonics can't be blamed of being overly sentimental as they pursue several free agents.

Among the handful of hopefuls who have auditioned or requested a tryout with the team, former Rainier Beach High standout Doug Christie at one point appeared to be the front-runner after winning the support of several players.

"He's been working out with us lately and it's like he's already a part of the team," forward Rashard Lewis said. "He could fit because he's a smart player and he's got the experience of being in the playoffs and going to the [Western Conference] finals."

Despite Christie's popularity, a team source confirmed Monday that Christie will not return to the team that drafted him 17th overall in 1992.

The Sonics also entertained the idea of bringing back Shawn Kemp, their No. 17 draft choice in 1989 who starred eight years in Seattle. However, the flirtation was mostly one-sided on Kemp's end as the 36-year-old power forward had hoped to complete his two-year comeback with his former team.

"Two or three weeks prior to the season, we allow players to come in and work out," general manager Rick Sund said. "We called them [Christie and Kemp]. We talked to [Jamal] Crawford. It wasn't an audition, but more to get some good runs in for them and our guys."

Seattle has considered signing Walter McCarty, Ron Mercer, Milt Palacio and former University of Washington standout Will Conroy, who played in the National Basketball Development League last season and had surgery to repair a stress fracture in his right leg in July.

McCarty and Conroy, who signed a one-year non-guaranteed contract with Charlotte, are no longer options. A league source said the team is nearing a deal with Palacio. Sund, however, declined to comment.

The Sonics have 12 players under contract and it's uncertain how many players the new ownership will allow management to keep for the season. Earlier this month, prospective new owner Clay Bennett said the team plans to sign a couple of players.

Sund said he'll invite seven players to training camp, including forward Noel Felix, who played 12 games last season for the Sonics. He has a non-guaranteed contract for the 2006-07 season.

Free agent Kareem Rush is expected to be given a training camp invitation along with rookie guard Denham Brown, who was drafted in the second round. The Sonics' other second-rounder, guard Yotem Halperin, signed a three-year contract with Israel's Maccabi Tel Aviv.

The Sonics are under the $53 million salary cap and they have roughly $4 million of the $5.3 million mid-level exception available as well as the $1.75 million bi-annual exception.

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With Seattle needing veteran leadership, a reliable shooter off the bench and someone who isn't averse to playing defense, Christie appeared an ideal candidate.

Christie, 36, has a career .426 field-goal percentage and he's a defensive stalwart, having twice been selected to the second team all-NBA defensive squad.

"The players that we've seen come in, I've made my case for each individual player why they would help us out, but I'm not going to do somebody else's job," All-Star Ray Allen said. "I won't do Rick's job, but they're going to know my strong opinion on who I want and who I like. I don't have all the answers because when we brought Rick Brunson in, I was pretty gung-ho with having him because he always seemed like a solid guy and he turned up not working out for us."

Brunson played four games with the Sonics last season before being waived in February.

"You never have the answers. All I can go with is my experience and who I've played with over the years and how I think they can help this team. If they don't, we have to be in a situation to make changes. It's not an exact science to bring a guy in. In the end, that's Rick's job. It's not mine."

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

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