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Originally published May 26, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified May 26, 2007 at 2:02 AM

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Sonics' Lewis enters free agency

Rashard Lewis doused some cold water in the collective faces of the Sonics on Friday night when he officially opted out of his contract...

Seattle Times staff reporter

Rashard Lewis doused some cold water in the collective faces of the Sonics on Friday night when he officially opted out of his contract to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, according to an Associated Press report.

The decision isn't unexpected. Lewis, Seattle's longest tenured player who joined the team in 1998 as a second-round draft choice, said he planned to void the final two years of his deal several months ago when he declined a two-year, $25 million extension.

Still, the sobering news arrives three days after the team learned that it received the No. 2 pick in the June 28 draft, which will likely be used to select Texas forward Kevin Durant.

Tony Dutt, Lewis' agent, said the Sonics may feel as if they can part with Lewis, their second-leading scorer, because of Durant.

"Perhaps it gives them some kind of, maybe I will use the word security, to be getting a guy who plays the same position as Rashard," Dutt told the AP.

Lewis, who leaves $21 million on the table, joins the top of a free-agent market that includes Detroit's Chauncey Billups, Charlotte's Gerald Wallace and possibly New Jersey's Vince Carter, who has the option to leave the Nets. The 6-foot-10 Sonics forward is believed to be seeking a deal in the range of $15 million per year.

A week ago, owner Clay Bennett said re-signing Lewis was a priority and president Lenny Wilkens reiterated those beliefs Tuesday.

"Rashard is an integral part of this team and because we have this pick, the two have nothing to do with each other," Wilkens said. "We want Rashard back. You don't let a player like that just walk out the door."

The Sonics have two advantages that other teams do not have as Lewis enters free agency. They can offer him a six-year deal, while other teams are limited to making a maximum five-year offer. They can also offer him 10.5 percent in annual raises while the rest of league can offer him just 8 percent.

Dutt has said the extra year could be the difference in Lewis staying with the Sonics or going elsewhere. He also said that past negotiations in which Lewis felt short-changed will not factor into future contract talks.

Lewis, 27, was having an All-Star-caliber season before suffering a strained tendon sheath, which required surgery and forced him to miss 22 games. Despite the setback, he averaged a career-high 22.4 points and 6.6 rebounds. He also shot a career-high 84.1 percent from the free-throw line.

"Seattle is where I made my mark, so I'm going to give them every chance to bring me back," Lewis said last month. "Whatever happens, I want the whole thing to be over with pretty quick. I don't want it to drag on throughout the summer, because then you have less options on where you can go."

Orlando and Charlotte currently are the only teams with enough salary cap space to sign Lewis. Both teams need a small forward. The Magic will likely lose Grant Hill, while the Bobcats' Wallace is on the market.

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

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