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Sonics make 2 deadline trades
Seattle Times staff reporter
ORLANDO — So what took so long?
The four-team, nine-player trade that sent Sonics forward Reggie Evans to Denver and center Vitaly Potapenko to Sacramento in exchange for the Nuggets' Earl Watson, Bryon Russell and a 2008 second-round pick could have been completed months ago.
The Sonics have been infatuated with Watson ever since they selected the former UCLA point guard in the second round in the 2001 draft. Seattle wanted to keep him when he became a free agent in 2002, but Memphis lured him away with a better offer.
When he signed a five-year, $29 million deal with Denver last summer and it became clear that he was the third point guard behind starter Andre Miller and Earl Boykins, the Sonics contacted the Nuggets when the 6-foot-1 Watson became trade-eligible in December.
The two sides were reportedly close to completing the deal when Seattle visited Denver on Dec. 29. But the Sonics returned home with 112-105 victory when they should have bagged Watson.
Making the trade then — when the Sonics had a 13-15 record — would have been prudent. Making the deal now — with Seattle 21-34 and eight games behind Denver, the Northwest Division leader — is shortsighted and smacks of desperation.
"It takes two to make a deal," said Sonics general manager Rick Sund.
Leaving Sonics: Reggie Evans (top) to Denver, Vitaly Potapenko (middle) to Sacramento and Ronald Murray to Cleveland.
New Sonics: Earl Watson and Bryon Russell from Denver and Mike Wilks from Cleveland.
Apparently, it took two months for the Sonics to coax Denver into parting with Watson and persuading Portland and Sacramento to join the deal.
The Nuggets received Ruben Patterson and Charles Smith from Portland, while the Trail Blazers added Denver's Voshon Lenard and Sacramento's Brian Skinner and the Kings added Portland's Sergei Monia and Potapenko.
"It's never easy to make a deal, even those that seem the simplest," Sund said. "When you want to do it, another team maybe wants to wait. So there's much to consider."
The second deal, which sent Ronald Murray to Cleveland in exchange for Mike Wilks and cash considerations, was long overdue as well.
Both deals were submitted for league approval within an hour of Thursday's noon deadline.
But at this late stage in the season, there's scarcely enough time to make a serious run for a playoff berth. The remaining 27 games are an audition for the newcomers and perhaps a glimpse of next season.
"What I told Rick was, when the trading deadline ends, then we'll see what we've been dealt and it would be smart to sit down and create a plan and see what we can do," coach Bob Hill said. "Does that mean completely developing? I don't know.
"We still talk about the playoffs. There's dialogue there. We have a game board with the standings in our locker room. There's just not as much talk now as there was before."
To comprehend Hill's vision of the Sonics, you must first understand the bizarre developments that reduced a 52-win championship contender into a lottery-bound team in just eight months.
Thursday's trades were set in motion last summer when backup guard Antonio Daniels spurned an offer from Seattle for a five-year, $29 million deal from Washington.
The Sonics were desperate for an understudy for Luke Ridnour, but decided their budget didn't allow them to pursue Watson and also retain restricted free agent Damien Wilkins. They opted to pass on Watson and sign Rick Brunson to a one-year, $1 million deal.
Sund used a similar approach to replace center Jerome James, signing free agent Mikki Moore to a one-year, $1 million contract. Moore was slowed by an injury in training camp, which pushed rookie Johan Petro into the starting lineup.
Perhaps the biggest defection was losing coach Nate McMillan to Portland. His replacement, former assistant Bob Weiss, was fired after 30 games.
"Sometimes it's like I have to remind myself that that really happened," said guard Ray Allen, who re-signed in the offseason for five years and $80 million. "We were a good team ... Not a long time ago, but last year. It's funny how things change so fast."
So where do the Sonics go from here?
For starters, Hill appears to have earned himself some additional time beyond this season as head coach. He reworked his two-year deal after taking over for Weiss on Jan. 3, but the Sonics gave him no guarantees beyond this season.
The recent trades suggest that Hill and Sund are reading from the same script. Except for injured forward Danny Fortson, every player who fell out of favor with Hill is gone.
Hill immediately benched Evans and Potapenko and publicly asked management for a backup point guard weeks ago. Sund wouldn't have acquiesced for a lame-duck coach.
The Sonics will now measure success not so much in wins and losses, but who gets along on the court.
They'll spend the next two months determining if Watson, Wilks and Chris Wilcox, who was acquired in a deal with the Los Angeles Clippers for Vladimir Radmanovic last week, are permanent fixtures or transitory pieces to be discarded or bargained in the offseason.
Hill needs to find a backup for Allen other than Wilkins and is considering playing Watson alongside Ridnour for short stretches. The Sonics coach wants to find out if Watson can provide scoring and leadership off the bench as Daniels did last season.
Those answers will have to wait until Saturday's game in Miami, or Tuesday when the Sonics return home to face New Orleans, because every player needs to pass physicals.
Hill is also enamored with Wilcox, who tied his season high of 16 points against Atlanta on Wednesday with seven dunks on eight field goals.
"If he continues running and we continue finding him, then he'll give us what Vlade gave us but in a different manner," Hill said. "Dunks and layups are a higher-percentage shot than three-pointers."
Russell, 35, has played just three minutes this season because of a right knee ligament tear, and the Sonics are likely to waive the 12-year veteran and pay the remainder of his $719,000 salary.
Wilks is a low priority for now, and Watson becomes the focus.
"We like him and we've liked him for a long time," Sund said. "We didn't want to do a deal just to do a deal. He's somebody that we targeted and somebody we feel can help us."
Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company