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Originally published August 14, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified August 14, 2007 at 8:45 AM

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Steve Kelley

Sonics owners confirm suspicions

Let's take a moment to thank Aubrey McClendon for his honesty. For once, somebody in the Sonics' new ownership group said what all of us...

Seattle Times staff columnist

Let's take a moment to thank Aubrey McClendon for his honesty. For once, somebody in the Sonics' new ownership group said what all of us in Seattle suspected all along.

Let's thank him for going on the record to The Journal Record, telling the Oklahoma City business paper, "We didn't buy the team to keep it in Seattle."

We should thank him for exposing chairman Clay Bennett as the duplicitous salesman he is.

This ownership group wants to stay in Seattle about as much as Pacman Jones wants to stay in the ring with Total Nonstop Action Wrestling.

It wants out of Seattle faster than the sun.

McClendon made it clear, these are not your Seattle Sonics anymore. These are the Oklahoma City Stealers and they can't wait to get out of here.

McClendon did what chairman Bennett wouldn't do. He let it be known that the Sonics and Storm belong to a group that is as far removed from Seattle as the Milky Way.

McClendon told The Journal Record that buying the Sonics and Storm wasn't even about the money. "We think it's great for the [Oklahoma City] community and if we could break even, we'd be thrilled."

These fat-cat burglars, who now own our teams, want to be greeted as heroes in OKC. They want statues built in their honor outside of the Ford Center. They want to feel the tickle of confetti fluttering on their rich, good ol' boy faces when they parade the team into town.

McClendon probably thought the ownership's secret was safe with The Journal Record. He probably had no idea his comments would make their way out to Seattle so quickly. Or back to New York, where I'm sure NBA commissioner David Stern was enraged.

That's why McClendon changed his tone so dramatically in a news release so lame you would have thought it came from the Justice Department.

McClendon backpedaled faster than a rookie cornerback caught on a one-on-one island with Deion Branch.

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"It has been my hope that Oklahoma City would have an NBA team someday," McClendon's weak mea culpa read. "That said, I was always aware and understood our No. 1 goal was to work with officials to build a new arena in the Seattle area."

If he really believed that, he would have said as much in Monday's Journal Record.

"The comment about my personal hopes cannot, in any way, be interpreted to mean the organization has not exhaustedly pursued every reasonable avenue to get an arena deal done and keep the Sonics and Storm," McClendon's statement continued.

As we say in Seattle, "Too late, dude."

If this group has its way, these will be the last days for Lauren Jackson, Sue Bird, Betty Lennox and the Storm in Seattle. And the next Sonics' season will be the final one.

"We started to look around and, at that time, the Sonics were going through some ownership challenges," McClendon, referring to last summer's purchase of the team, told The Journal Record. "So Clay, very artfully and skillfully, put himself in the middle of those discussions and to the great amazement and surprise of everyone in Seattle, some rednecks from Oklahoma, which we've been called, made off with the team."

Of course McClendon neglected to mention that Bennett was so artful and skillful that he overpaid for the team by about $55 million.

And, as for the belief these guys are rednecks, I don't believe that at all. I believe they are truth-challenged. I believe some of them have exhibited gay-bashing and Swift-boating tendencies.

And, as for their ability to run a basketball team, the only thing I know for sure is they're lucky with ping-pong balls.

Contrary to McClendon's comments, these absentee owners haven't yet "made off" with the Sonics.

Unless you consider asking for a half-billion-dollar arena "good faith," they haven't negotiated in good faith with the state or the city, which was part of their purchase agreement.

And even though Bennett has set Oct. 31 as the deadline to get an arena deal done, there still are three years left on his KeyArena lease.

It may be too late to save the Sonics. The franchise has been neglected for so long, maybe the thrill is gone in Seattle.

But we need to buy time to see how this new Kevin Durant-led team takes shape. We need time to ask the commissioner to expend the same energy to get a reasonable arena deal done in Seattle that he is expending in Sacramento.

The city should hold Bennett to this lease, which doesn't expire until the end of the 2009-10 season. Force him to hemorrhage money for a few years. Force him to make a few cash calls to his partners.

Maybe Seattle can wear down this artful dodger and, like Nintendo did with the Mariners and Paul Allen did with the Seahawks, the city can take back this team from these not-so-good ol' boys.

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

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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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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