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Originally published January 5, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified January 5, 2007 at 12:32 PM

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Wilkins starting to find his groove

Buried behind pressed clothes and polished shoes in Damien Wilkins' locker at KeyArena is part of the motivation for his subtle turnaround...

Seattle Times staff reporter

Buried behind pressed clothes and polished shoes in Damien Wilkins' locker at KeyArena is part of the motivation for his subtle turnaround this season.

Tacked to the back panel is a quote by Giants running back Tiki Barber, stating that every day is an opportunity disguised as a challenge.

Wilkins, still simmering at the time from an overblown feud with Sonics coach Bob Hill about his production as a reserve, read the quote in a sports magazine and was inspired.

Then teammate Ray Allen pulled himself from the starting lineup with a bone bruise in his right foot and Wilkins started against Atlanta on Dec. 5, finishing with a solid 10 points, eight rebounds, four assists, three steals and no turnovers.

It was the beginning of a trend for the emerging undrafted guard.

Now Wilkins is replacing small forward Rashard Lewis (hand injury) in the starting lineup. In 13 games as a starter, Wilkins is averaging 14.7 points on 50-percent shooting. As a reserve for 21 games this season, Wilkins averaged 5.5 on 40.8 percent shooting.

Today

New York @ Seattle,

7:30 p.m., KeyArena

Of course, it hasn't translated to victories for the Sonics (13-21), who are 4-9 with Wilkins as a starter. But as the team prepares for New York (14-21) tonight at KeyArena, Wilkins is one of the lone bright spots after the Sonics lost their 10th consecutive road game Wednesday in Houston.

"It's pretty obvious, he plays better when he starts," Hill said Thursday. "My concern now is when Rashard comes back, what are we going to be able to get from Damien coming off the bench?"

Hill and Wilkins talked prior to a defeat in Denver on Dec. 28. Although they speak often, having a close relationship because Hill coached both Wilkins' father Gerald and uncle Dominique, it was the first time they talked at length since Hill criticized Damien and guard Earl Watson for a horrid game against San Antonio on Nov. 26.

Both Wilkins and Watson went public with their frustrations about being pegged for fault and the rift escalated. Yet, both have played better since. Wilkins improved his shooting range, making a career-high five three-pointers against the Rockets. He has scored 19 or more points three times in his past five games while continuing to play aggressive defense.

"Coach does a great job of motivating you, that's for sure," said Wilkins, who is averaging 9.1 points and 2.9 rebounds overall. "He can say some things that you might not agree with that get under your skin, but you've got to listen to the message and not so much how he delivers it. That's what I took from it. There were some rough patches at first, some things that I disagreed with, but for the most part, I just took the message."

While Hill has been able to push some players' buttons, the winning part remains a problem. Hill said the team conducted Phase I of changes to help the Sonics improve Thursday in a meeting with general manager Rick Sund.

The team waived deep reserve guard Desmon Farmer and center Andres Glyniadakis, who started four games for the Sonics, possibly clearing space to sign a free agent when 10-day contracts are eligible today. Contracts become guaranteed Wednesday, so the Sonics are hoping to find veteran interior help through the waiver wire.

Penny Hardaway conducted a workout with the Sonics, but it's doubtful he'll be signed.

Many speculated one of the changes for the Sonics would be Hill being fired.

"It's not for me to say if I'm surprised if I'm still here. That's the ownership," Hill said of majority owner Clay Bennett, who is in town this week. "My job is to continue to develop this team and try to put them in position to win. There have been a lot of challenges since I've been a Sonic. There were challenges last year before they asked me to do this. This year has been different challenges, but quite frankly, all of us have managed them really well. If you look around the league, when a team has as many injuries as we've had, it's tough to win games."

Wilkins agreed, adding that no one has "quit on coach — and I don't think any of us will.

"We've had pretty much every problem that you could possibly have and guys are still fighting. Winning cures everything. You put a couple of wins under our belt and no one will talk about any job security for anyone anymore."

Nope, then it will be who should start — Wilkins or Lewis.

"[It's similar to] how Tiki got his opportunity, then he started and he's been Tiki ever since," Wilkins said. "Not to say that's what's going to happen here by no means, but I take on that type of attitude. You have to relish the moment and make the most of it."

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

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