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Originally published January 4, 2006 at 12:00 AM | Page modified January 4, 2006 at 1:00 PM

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Steve Kelley

The Sonics' real problem is Wally Walker

The questions today shouldn't be about Bob Weiss. No one should be surprised that he failed. The focus on the morning after the Sonics made amateur magician Weiss disappear...

Seattle Times staff columnist

The questions today shouldn't be about Bob Weiss. No one should be surprised that he failed.

The focus on the morning after the Sonics made amateur magician Weiss disappear shouldn't be on him, but on the man who hired him, on the Teflon president who fired him, on the guy whose mistakes have kept this franchise stuck in the NBA's no-man's land for almost a decade.

All of the questions today should be about Wally Walker.

Why did Walker hire Weiss in the first place? What did he expect?

Did Walker, knowing Weiss' coaching history, really believe Weiss could maintain the surprising momentum established last season by then-coach Nate McMillan?

Did Walker think that Weiss, who never, ever raised his voice in practice in his 11 years as a Sonics assistant, had the clout to make Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis play the kind of grinding defense McMillan pushed them to play last season?

Did Walker think Weiss could motivate phlegmatic forward Vlade Radmanovic?

Was Walker the only man on the planet who truly thought the Sonics could win with Weiss as their coach?

And why wasn't Walker available to answer some of these questions on Tuesday?

Walker, even more than Weiss, should be held accountable for the Sonics' shockingly ho-hum approach to games this season.

This is Walker's team. Weiss was Walker's coach.

There were times this season when even Weiss looked as if the Sonics' sideline was the last place he wanted to be. There were times when it seemed he knew he wasn't reaching his players.

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Weiss was the wrong man for the job, but Walker, more than anybody, should have known that.

Walker is the real problem this franchise refuses to address.

He is the guy who couldn't get along with George Karl and set the franchise back five years by hiring Paul Westphal.

He is the reason the Sonics have won only one playoff series since 1998.

He is the reason McMillan left Seattle to rebuild the Portland Trail Blazers.

He is the reason all of the joy from last season's Northwest Division championship has disappeared as if it all were a mirage.

Last June, the Sonics were one Ray Allen trey away from an anything-goes seventh game at San Antonio in the Western Conference semifinals.

Now defending NBA champion San Antonio and Seattle are as far apart as hope is from despair. And last spring's playoff run seems as far away as the 1979 championship season.

Anybody outside of the Sonics organization could have seen this disaster coming down First Avenue.

Weiss was a coach without a pulse. His players ran over him as if he were roadkill.

They didn't fight over screens. They didn't contest drives to the basket. They played without fire, without discipline. Too many nights this season, they've acted as if they didn't care.

The season is lost and it's Walker's fault. The future is murky and Walker is to blame.

There are serious questions about Luke Ridnour's ability to run an offense. There are questions about how good forward Nick Collison is. These are Walker's first-round draft picks.

The Sonics have wasted the first half of center Robert Swift's second season by keeping him in Seattle instead of sending him down to the D-League. Ultimately, that's Walker's call.

The team is a mess. When is the rest of ownership going to realize that and challenge Walker's leadership?

How does this group expect to get the arena it covets, when it won't even address the problems within its organization? Who is going to fund the remodeled playpen franchise chairman Howard Schultz wants when his team is put together like a house of cards?

How many mistakes is one president allowed to make? How many Jim McIlvaines, Vin Bakers, Calvin Booths is he allowed to sign? How many rebuilding programs is too many?

Bob Weiss was Walker's easy answer to the coaching void.

The players liked him. Allen lobbied for him as if he were Weiss' personal campaign manager. Lewis gushed about the stress-free training camp. Even Schultz lauded the new coaching staff for its ability to reach a consensus on personnel.

Weiss was easy, but Weiss was wrong.

His successor, Bob Hill, will have the rest of this season to resurrect this flatlining franchise.

But the Sonics are in deep, deep trouble. And all of us should know who really is to blame.

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

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About Steve Kelley

Steve Kelley covers all sports, putting his spin on matters involving both the home team and the nation.
skelley@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2176

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