2005-2006 Record: 35-47
Key Additions: Mikael Gelabale, Mo Sene
Key Losses: None
Last year the Sonics were an obvious disappointment to themselves and their fans. Coming off the 2004-05 Northwest Division Championship the team expected continued strength. However with the losses of head coach Nate McMillan, associate head coach Dwane Casey as well as starting center Jerome James and Antonio Daniels they were never able to get positive momentum. 30 games into the season new coach Bob Weiss was fired and top assistant Bob Hill was inserted as head coach. One of his first moves was to insert the teams’ last two first round draft picks into the rotation to get them experience. At the trade deadline the team dealt three players who were not going to be back and in return picked up PG Earl Watson and PF Chris Wilcox. Over the last 26 games they accumulated a record of 14-12 giving them high hopes heading into the upcoming season.
The Sonics had a relatively slow off-season as the team believes that they addressed a good deal of their deficiencies at the trade deadline. They did resign Chris Wilcox for the next three years. In addition they signed last years second round pick Mickael Gelabale to a two year contract. Gelabale is not a player I have seen play in anything more than a scrimmage as of yet, so I asked a fellow blogger who follows the Sonics from France to give a short breakdown of his game. He has long arms, good lateral speed and good positioning which should make him be a good defender but he really lacks strength. On offense, he’s a good midrange shooter and a good slasher. He has a very good shot selection; sometimes maybe too good as he passes up shots at times that he shouldn’t. With the tenth pick in the draft the Sonics selected Mo Sene, another seven foot center out of Senegal. While some didn’t like the selection, there’s a value around the league placed on young talented big men and the Sonics have three of them on the roster.
This year as with the teams of the past few years the offense will again be the strength of the team. With PG’s Luke Ridnour and Earl Watson getting the team out in transition and putting pressure on the opposing teams defense they’ve got a strong 1-2 punch. Sharpshooters Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis return opening up lanes for their teammates as their defender can not leave them airspace to get off uncontested shots. Power Forward combination Chris Wilcox and Nick Collison look to be a nice mix of flash and substance, around the league and by many fans, Collison’s ability to make everything easier for his teammates is often overlooked. Wilcox brings energy and excitement that has not been seen in the Northwest since Shawn Kemp left 10 years ago. The center spot is at this point still up for grabs as youngsters Robert Swift and Johan Petro have both worked out all summer improving their games. In the last few days it appears as though Swift will open the year as the starter. Be on the watch for the rookie Mo Sene who is an early camp favorite of Coach Hill, at the Rocky Mountain Revue Sene was one of the more surprising players in the league blocking over four shots per game. While raw offensively, Hill loves his hustle and determination and presence on defense.
The biggest weakness of the team should be again on defense. With Ridnour, Allen and Lewis all players not known for their defense there is a tremendous amount of pressure on the other players to get stops. Earl Watson is definitely one of the top man defenders in the league, in fact when he’s on the court the team is nearly ten points better per 100 possessions. The young Centers all have the ability to be better defenders than they were last year based on experience alone. Gelabale was known in Europe for his defensive ability and there’s no reason that a player with Chris Wilcox’s athletic ability can not improve on that end of the court with proper coaching. This year Coach Hill gets a full camp to work with the guys to put the defensive system in place that he wants, this should give the team more time to gel on that end of the court. With the full camp comes new assistant coach Gordon Chiesa whose new defensive plan all but eliminates the switching defense and forces the players to accept responsibility for this end of the court. Chiesa was on Jerry Sloan’s staff for years and is respected around the league for his defensive mind and attention to detail. However, unless one of the centers steps up on that end of the court the team will never be better than middle of the road on D.
I believe the goal for this team is to return to its form of 2004-2005 when they won 52 games and the Northwest Division. While I’m not one to believe they’ll get back to that level I feel they’ve got a pretty good chance to win between 44 and 46 games. They’re certain to get overlooked by national reporters because they didn’t make the big off-season moves. What’s not taken into account is they made their off-season moves at the trade deadline last year acquiring Chris Wilcox and Earl Watson. After those deals they were 14-12 in their last 26 games, which would net the team about 45 wins if extrapolated over a full season. Throughout the year the young big men of the Sonics should continue to improve. Combine that with a much more disciplined work ethic instilled by Coach Hill and the addition to Coach Chiesa to the staff I don’t see why they wouldn’t be able to keep that pace up for a full season. With the way the division looks that might be enough to win them another NW Division title.