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Originally published October 5, 2006 at 12:00 AM | Page modified October 5, 2006 at 8:56 AM

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Sonics have mixed feelings about new ball

Miami center Shaquille O'Neal hates the NBA's new basketball, a microfiber synthetic model that's replacing the old leather balls this season...

Seattle Times staff reporter

Miami center Shaquille O'Neal hates the NBA's new basketball, a microfiber synthetic model that's replacing the old leather balls this season. Phoenix's Steve Nash, the reigning two-time MVP, has also voiced complaints.

Sonics guard Ray Allen understands the criticisms, but he declined to take sides on the issue, as did most Sonics.

"Well, it is a little tougher to shoot," he said. "As big as our hands are, the ball is a lot softer and we can all palm it pretty easily. The discrepancy from one ball to the next is not that different, so each ball pretty much maintains the same feel and integrity.

"But when it gets wet, it's probably a little more slippery."

So is that a criticism or an endorsement?

"I don't make it an issue because it doesn't matter to me," Allen said. "I'm still getting used to it. When you're shooting free throws, everything catches on the rim, so you have to shoot it more. You have a tendency to send it short.

"I know if it's tough for me, just being a shooter, then some people who don't shoot the ball as well as maybe me or some of the guys around the league, then those guys are going to have to get used to it."

O'Neal described the ball as "one of those cheap balls that you buy at the toy store." Miami's Alonzo Mourning called it "trash" and Nash said "the basketball sticks to the floor, it sticks to the backboard."

Still manufactured by Spalding, the new ball is supposed to reduce the "break-in" period and is supposed to have a better grip and feel than the ball that had been used for the past 36 years.

The Sonics began using the ball in the summer during pick-up games. Of the seven players who were asked about the new ball, five gave it a favorable review and two were non-committal.

"The guys on this team have taken well to it," Allen said. "We haven't had any complaints because we've been playing with it for two or three months. We adjusted to it over the summer, so we've probably forgotten what the old ball feels like."

Playing by the rules

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Former NBA referee Mike Mathis is overseeing practice, and instructing players and coaches on rules violations. On Tuesday, he lectured players on the use of forearms while defending and Wednesday he told them what was legal when boxing out on free throws.

There are no significant rule changes this season other than the "clear-path" foul — fouling a player when he has an open route to the basket. The team that was fouled now gets the ball and two free throws. Last season it was one free throw.

This season, coaches can call timeouts from the sideline. In the past, only players were allowed to signal for a stoppage in play.

Note

Noel Felix is drawing interest from Real Madrid. The 6-foot-9 forward played sparingly with the Sonics last season and was invited to training camp.

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