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Follow the Sonics off and on the court with reporters Percy Allen and Jayda Evans.

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June 30, 2008 10:24 AM

Ballmer still interested

Posted by Percy Allen

It's a little old, but in case you missed it, here's an excerpt of Times reporter Benjamin J. Romano exclusive iinterview with Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer that ran Sunday.

Q: Do you have any interest, given what's unfolding in Seattle right now, in bringing an NBA team here or keeping an NBA team here?

Steve Ballmer: A group of us tried to see if we couldn't at least help get an arena built here, because I think it would be nice to have a basketball team in Seattle. I like the sport. I think, you know, I want us to be a first-rate community, and I think it helps attract people and say this is a first-rate place to have all the big pro sports teams.

So I'd love to see Seattle have a team, and I think it's now well documented publicly, a group of us offered to put up some money to help fix up KeyArena and, if need, be buy a team.

Q: Do you remain interested in that?

Ballmer: Well, it's sort of one of these things where you get a chicken-and-the-egg situation. The current team is moving. Somebody needs to get a new team, and you've got to get a new arena. It's not clear whether you get the arena before the team or the team before the arena. We had a team and we couldn't get an arena.

It's not clear how you football the process, but I'm supportive of everybody's efforts along those lines.

Here's a link to the entire Q&A.


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June 26, 2008 7:49 PM

Sonics land White in trade with Detroit

Posted by Percy Allen

The Sonics traded their No. 32 and 46 picks in the second round to the Detroit Pistons for Indiana forward D.J. White, who was taken with the 29th pick.

White, 6-9 and 251 pounds, played four seasons with the Hoosiers and started three. He missed most of his sophomore season because of a broken left foot.

White averaged 14.6 points duriing his IU career and is the school's 16th all-time leading scorer. White is a legitimate power forward, who is the eventual replacement to Chris Wilcox. Wilcox has a year remaining on his contract.

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June 26, 2008 6:48 PM

Sonics take Ibaka

Posted by Percy Allen

A strange draft for the Sonics continues down the road of the bizzare. The Sonics took 6-10 C/F Serge Ibaka. That's right, Serge Ibaka.

I don't know how good he is, but he's got the best bio in the draft. His full name: Serge Jonas Ibaka Ngobila. He's 18. He has 17 siblings. He grew up in Brazzaville, Republic of Congo.

His bio says: "His grandmother survived the civil unrest in the Congo in the mid-to-late 1990s in a house witih no electricity or running water. He learned basketball playing on outdoor courts wearing shoes with cardboard inserts to coer the holes in the soles."

Wow. Again, no one knows if he can play basketball. He averaged 11.3 poiints, 8.2 rebounds and 3.0 blocks in 26 games in the Spanish LEB Gold league.

it's likely the Sonics will keep Ibaka overseas to mature and bring him over next year.

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June 26, 2008 6:37 PM

Westbrook meets the media

Posted by Percy Allen

The newest Sonic Russell Westbrook conducted an eight-minute teleconference from New York with media members from Seattle and Oklahoma City. Here's the complete Q&A.

(Opening statement) "I'm very excited to be a Sonic. I'm looking forward to next season. I'm very, very excited. I've been working so hard to put myself in the best position possible. I'm very excited."

(Are you surprised you went this early?) "Not really. I worked so hard over the summer. … And it's paid off. I'm very excited."

(Did you have a sense where you would be drafted?) "I felt that I might go four. But you never know because of trades and things like that. I'm just sitting there waiting for my name to be called. And to go pretty early, I'm very happy to hear it."

(Talk about playing with Kevin Durant and Jeff Green) "Them are two good guys. I talked to Kevin Durant before the draft. He was really happy for me and congratulated me and things like that. Kevin was the Rookie of the Year last year. I'm looking forward to getting him shots. Getting him open and making him a better player as well."

(Do you consider yourself a point guard or are you a hybrid and more of a two guard?) "I consider myself playing the point guard at the next level. I've been working this summer. I've been playing point guard all my life pretty much. Now it’s my time and I can show it to the whole world playing at the next level."

(What area do you need improve?) "I see myself sometimes going too fast. Moving too fast. I see the game so fast. That's one thing I would like to improve by seeing the game slowing (and) slowing down sometimes."

(This time last year, you were trying to make the lineup and now you’re a lottery pick. Talk about the past 12 months.) "It's been real crazy. Every day I thank God and I'm blessed. I wake up every day and I thank God. Just work my tail off every day to try to become the best player I can possibly become. Now it's finally here. It feels like I'm starting all over again so I got to do the same thing again."

(How well do you know Earl Watson?) "I just saw Earl before I left LA. He was congratulating me and things like that. Earl is a real good guy. … I know Earl will teach me some things. He was teaching me some things before the year."

(How do you feel like coming to the Sonics given the offcourt troubles?) "I feel great. The Sonics are a great organization regardless of where it is. The team is great as well."

(Where you aware the team might be playing in Oklahoma City next season and are you ok with either there or Seattle?) "Yeah I'm aware that the Sonics might play in a different city. But I don’t think that’s a big issue. I feel if the team has good chemistry and it's a good organization (then) I won’t have no problem."

(What's it like going back-to-back with teammate Kevin Love? Do you have bragging rights now?) "Not really. Kevin was my roommate all last year. He's a great friend. A great teammate. I'm very happy for him and his family. This is what we dreamed of going to UCLA and it happened for us both. Going four and five. I'm very happy for Kevin."

(Explain your emotions when you found out you were going to be the fourth pick.) "I was real excited. Just like wow I’m finally here. I got a chance to walk up to shake David Stern's hands. I been thinking about that all of my childhood watching the NBA draft growing up and now it’s finally here."

(Describe the atmosphere there.) "My mom, my dad and my little brother. Up until this day it's been great hanging with my family. I love my family to death. It's just been a great experience overall. Every other player’s family is here. It's just been great. I’m very excited."

(When did the Sonics tell you they were looking at you for the fourth pick?) "When I went to work out there. When I went to work out there, they thought I did a good job. My agent let me know that they were considering for the pick. They've seen my a couple of times in LA and I just tried my best to workout every day I was in the gym because you never know who is watching."

(When did you decide you were a NBA prospect and when did you decide to enter the draft?) "At one point throughout the it never came to my mind. Every night I just prayed and thanked God every day I got an opportunity to play the game. I went out and gave it my all every game. And it gave me the opportunity to become an NBA player."

(Was there a point in the season when you started considering the draft?) "Not really. I wasn't trying to focus on the NBA or the next level. And then close to the end, I kind of thought about it. And then at the end of the year, I felt I was ready to make the next step."

(Talk about the freshman being drafted.) "Them are some good guys. I respect all of them. O.J., Derrick (inaudible). All them guys, I respect them. Some of them are the same age as me (19). They are good guys and I'm very happy for them and they’re families."

(Are you surprised there were so many freshman?) "Not at all. They are good players. They are good caliber players. They’re one of the top players in the country as freshmen so I'm not surprised at all."

(Any unusual hobbies?) "Just me. I’m a little laid back off the court. Hanging out with my little brother when I go back home. Listening to music when I’m not working out. Just being myself. Hanging out and enjoying life every day and thanking God."

(Are you surprised to be where you’re at?) "Kind of sort of. I was working every day. I never thought I'd be able to jump. Running in the sand. Doing plyometrics. It paid off at the right time and I’m very happy for it."

(How important was to stay on the West Coast?) "It means a lot, but my family is going to come to the game regardless of where I’m at. My family is always going to be with me and I'm always with my family."

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June 26, 2008 5:04 PM

Sonics take Westbook

Posted by Percy Allen

In the end, GM Sam Presti went with defense which explains why he used the Sonics No. 4 pick to select UCLA guard Russell Westbrook.

Westbrook is a lockdown defender who can defend both guard positions and the small forward spot. He's got a 6-7 3/4 wingspan, stands 6-3 and has a 36-inch vertical leap.

The Sonics ranked 27th in points allowed and Westbrook should help change that.

The questions about Westbrook is his ability to play point guard in the NBA. Darren Collison was the Bruins point guard last season and Westbrook was the shooting guard. Still, he led UCLA in assists.

Conceibably, fellow Bruin Earl Watson will mentor Westbrook for a year until he learns the position.

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June 26, 2008 4:11 PM

Live from Sonics draft headquarters

Posted by Percy Allen

Just hustled across town from the federal courthouse where the Sonics trial ended to the Furtado Center.

I wasn't the only one battling traffic. Sonics co-owner and chairman Clay Bennett beat me here by a couple of minutes. He's up in the War Room and I'm in the media room.

After a few hours, ESPN finally recanted the rumor about the Sonics swapping picks with the Los Angeles Clippers. We debunked the report hours ago thanks to a Sonics source.

Still it's believed GM Sam Presti is having numerous discussions about the pick because nobody in the draft is truly worthy of the No. 4 pick. It was believed that this was a two-man draft (Derrick Rose and Michael Beasley) but now it's a three-man draft with O.J. Mayo thrown in there.

After the top three, there's a big seperation.

The most Interesting question I've heard about the draft has nothing to do with Jerryd Bayless, Brook Lopez, Russell Westbrook or Kevin Love. A friend of mine asked: "What will David Stern say when he gets to the podium?"

Will he say: Seattle Sonics or Sonics? Last year, Stern said: "Seattle Sonics." Believe me. I checked. Got to admit, I'm a little curious.

FYI: Sonics forward Jeff Green is hosting a Draft Party at Fox Sports Grill.

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June 26, 2008 12:39 PM

Source says trade with LA Clips is bogus *update*

Posted by Percy Allen

A Sonics team source steadfastly denied an ESPN report that has Seattle sending its fourth pick to the Los Angeles Clippers in exchange for the No. 7 pick and a protected first-round pick in 2009.

ESPN writer Ric Bucher first broke the story earlier today and ESPN college basketball analyst Steve Lavin is also reporting the trade.

The team source, however, says the Sonics are not making a deal involving those picks. The source declined to verify or deny if Seattle is engaged in other trades, but repeatedly said: "What's being reported is not true. It's inaccurate."

So as it stands, the Sonics have the No. 4 and 24 picks in the first round. Seattle also has four picks (32, 34, 50 and 56) in the second round.

***UPDATE 2:20 P.M.*** ESPN's Chad Ford is now reporting that Seattle-LA trade is contingent on what Minnesota does with the third pick. Says Ford: "The Clippers and Sonics have agreed to swap picks as long as the Wolves take O.J. Mayo at No. 3. If Mayo isn't drafted at 3, the deal is off according to two sources close to the information."

A Sonics source said there is "nothing" to this report either.


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June 26, 2008 12:08 PM

The Sonics are talking trade

Posted by Percy Allen

ESPN writer Ric Bucher is reporting the Sonics have traded their fourth pick to the Los Angeles Clippers for their seventh pick and a protected first-round pick in 2009.

Before the deal, the Sonics had two first-round picks in 2009 and now it seems as if they will have three.

The Clippers covet Indiana guard Eric Gordon.

The Sonics seemingly want to move back to select UCLA guard Russell Westbrook or Bruins center Kevin Love.

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June 25, 2008 11:30 AM

You decide the Sonics trial

Posted by Percy Allen

The city filed its Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law motion this morning. It's an 82-page document, which basically says the Sonics are a unique tenant who entered into a binding "special agreement" contract to play games at KeyArena for 15 years. Sonics chairman Clay Bennett knowingly took responsibility of the lease when he bought the team and there are no provisions or out-clauses.

The Sonics filed their 18-page Fact and Conclusions of Law motion Tuesday afternoon. They claim there's a monetary figure that can compensate the city for its loss.

So here's the challenge for you so-called lawyers and anyone who ever saw an episode of Law & Order. I've posted both motions and if you've got the the time, take a look and give everyone here your expert opinion.

Here's the city's motion. and here's the motion from the Professional Basketball Club..

Nevermind the week's worth of testimony or Thursday's closing arguments. Most of that stuff is posturing and will have no effect on the outcome of the trial. All of the pertinent information is here to make a decision and this is your chance to be Judge Marsha Pechman for a day.

Make it a good ruling.

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June 24, 2008 7:24 PM

Could Beasley fall to the Sonics?

Posted by Percy Allen

ESPN senior writer Andy Katz reported Tuesday night the Miami Heat could pull off a shocker and select USC guard O.J. Mayo with the No. 2 pick.

That would be a stunner considering the Chicago Bulls, which has the top pick, are telling Kansas State forward Michael Beasley that he's still in the running with Memphis guard Derrick Rose for the No.1 spot.

If the Heat does the unexpected and take Mayo, then Minnesota, which picks third, will have to resort to Plan B. The Timberwolves hope to draft Mayo, but if he's off the board they'l have to take a long look at Stanford center Brook Lopez or one of the top combo guards such as Arizona's Jerryd Bayless and Indiana's Eric Gordon.

Beasley doesn't make sense for Minnesota. Even though he shrunk at the combine (he's listed at 6-10, but is actually 6-7 without shoes and 6-8 1/4 with shoes) he's still a NBA power forward and that position belongs to potential All-Star Al Jefferson in Minnesota.

The folks in the Sonics War Room at the Furtado Center - not to mention Kevin Durant - would be ecastic if events unfolded like this on draft day. Durant and Beasley are childhood friends. During an interview a few weeks ago, Durant told me he loves Beasley and thinks of him as a brother.

A part of me thinks the Heat are posturing, which is an annual draft gimmick. It's no secret Miami President Pat Riley has doubts about Beasley, however, it wouldn't be unlike Riley to plant a story in an attempt to lure T-Wolves GM Kevin McHale into a trade offer for the No. 2 pick.

Over the next two days, we'll hear lots of crazy rumors and some involving the Sonics. Rumors on Tuesday and Wednesday tend to have no merit. Rumors on Thursday, however, are more legitimate so stay tuned.

After meeting with the media Tuesday, Sonics GM Sam Presti didn't divulge any secrets. It's his second year as GM, but he's quickly developed a heckuva poker face. He smiles, answers questions and says nothing.

Much more interesting than Presti's opinion on the draft were his opinions on Robert Swift, Mouhamed Sene and Mickael Gelabale.

Quick reminder. Swift played just eight games while recovering from right knee surgery. He tore meniscus in the knee and underwent surgery on March 4. Sene had microfracture surgery on his right knee after tearing his lateral meniscus April 4. Gelabale tore his right ACL on March. 18.

According to Presti: "Robert was in today. He looks good and continues to work toward getting back on the floor. He's made steady progress. Mo is the same thing. He's worked hard on his rehab. He's been very diligent and has been in the weight room just about every day, which has been kind of interesting because we've been bringing all of these draft prospects in and he's in there working out. Nick (Collison) is in working out. ... But Mo's been a regular. He looks good and getting strong. And then Gelly is obviously overseas, but things have progressed for him as well and he's rehabbing over there."

Presti said he's "still evaluating" when asked about their futures. Swift and Gelabale have contracts that expire July 1. Sene has a roster spot next year and will make $2.2 million next season.

Since Gelabale, a second-round pick in 2005, has returned home and he won't be available for training camp, he's unlikely to return. In two seasons, he averaged 4.5 points and 2.1 rebounds.

Obviously if the Sonics draft a center, Swift's days are numbered. Even if they don't take a center, the team isn't likely to re-sign him and save $3.6 million.

If I were GM, I'd let Swift walk and try to sign with another team, which will be next to impossible because nobody wants an unproven center recovering from knee surgeries who hasn't played in two years. Then the Supes can re-sign Swift - if they have a roster spot - just before camp for the veteran's minimum and a one-year, incentive-laden contract.

It's cold and heartless, but it's the smart move.


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June 24, 2008 12:24 PM

Sonics file motion to prevent Ceis from testifying

Posted by Percy Allen

In a motion filed earlier today, Sonics attorneys "seek an order to preclude the city from eliciting testimony from Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis that the city did not know that its attorneys, K&L Gates, were working with potential buyers to implement a the "Poison Well" strategy."

The team argues the city repeatedly told Ceis not to answer questions about his discussion with K&L Gates attorney and consultant Wally Walker asserting attorney-client privilege. The Sonic say the city should not be allowed to "ambush the PBC (Professional Basketball Club) on the last day of the trial."

The city planned to call Ceis as a rebuttal witness on Thursday to set the record straight on the relationship between city and K&L Gates attorney Slade Gorton who worked with a potential ownership group plotting to force chairman Clay Bennett to sell the team.

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June 20, 2008 8:18 PM

Gorton should have withdrawn from case

Posted by Percy Allen

This one is easy. This day belongs to the Sonics. In a landslide.

And I don't need a law degree to know the Sonics attorneys made several intriguing points. They were so good, I'm beginning to wonder if District Court Judge Marsha Pechman should toss the case out of court based on the evidence presented Friday.

The Sonics got a lot of mileage from their "unclean hands" defense. They established a paper trail between former U.S. Senator Slade Gorton, who is the lead attorney for the city, and local investors intent on buying the Sonics.

Gorton has been up front about his passion to retain NBA basketball in Seattle, but that passion is undermining the city's case.

It's difficult to determine if Gorton's passion or his role for the city caused him to inflict pain on Sonics chairman Clay Bennett and his ownership group, the Professional Basketball Club. It's difficult to determine when Gorton was acting as the concerned citizen who loves the NBA or the city's attorney that's being paid $1 million.

It pains me to admit it, but Gorton should have withdrawn from the case early on. I think the city was negligent in not asking Gorton to withdraw from the case. And for the first time, I think the Sonics might lose what should have been a no-lose lawsuit.

We all know what Gorton has done for professional sports in this town. He's been amazing and every Mariners fan and Seahawks fans are in his debt for saving those teams. Next time you see Gorton at a game, buy the man a beer and a hot dog.

But this is different.

A cardinal rule in journalism for a reporter is you never want to be the focal point of the story. I think the same holds true for attorneys.

It's not a good sign when Paul Lawrence, the lead attorney in the city's case, is fielding questions about another attorney on the case.

I presume Lawrence and Gorton work in close proximity and I find it impossible to believe Lawrence didn't know Gorton was hatching a plan "bleed Bennett to force him to sell." Regardless of what you think about the Oklahoma City Raider (sorry JB I stole your line), the opposing lawyer shouldn't devise schemes in their off hours to force the defendant to lose millions.

That's just not ethical.

Under questioning, Seattle developer Matt Griffin all but admitted that he had a meeting with Gorton where they talked about forcing Bennett to sell the team.

The defense introduced several Gorton e-mails to former team executive and part owner Wally Walker, Safeco president Mike McGavick and Seattle real estate developer Matt Griffin about forcing Bennett to sell the Sonics.

Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis had to know about all of this. He had to know Gorton is a bulldog who wins tough fights. He had to know his bulldog would engage in this type of behavior.

As Walker said today: "I would do anything to keep basketball in Seattle."

Anything? And what about Gorton? Would he do anything? It appears so. It appears he already has.

This one is easy. Give this day to the Sonics.

The team's lead attorney Brad Keller slam dunked Griffin early and often.

And Sonics attorney Paul Taylor made Walker squirm so much on the witness stand, I thought the former team president was on trial for giving $35 million to Jim McIlvaine and driving George Karl away.

Despite repeated objections from Lawrence, Pechman allowed Taylor to introduce Exhibit 567, which may ultimately doom the city's case. The evidence is a PowerPoint presentation given by Gorton called: The Sonics Challenge: Why a Poisoned Well Affords a Unique Opportunity.

It's a 46-page detailed strategy to inflict economic hardship on Bennett. It's scary because it nearly worked. The plan had two critical shortcomings.

For starters, state lawmakers declined to authorize tax funds to help in the KeyArena renovation. And second, the plan became public.

I find it a tad bit ironic that while the city compiled reams of embarrassing e-mails from the Sonics owners to show they breached a "good faith best effort" promise, Gorton sent e-mails that are now being used against the city.

If that's not fitting, then I don't know what is.

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June 19, 2008 10:15 PM

Day 4 follies and fumbles

Posted by Percy Allen

Thank goodness for Alexie Sherman, who added a little humor to a trial in dire need of comic relief. The prize-winning author, poet and comedian was worth the price of admission. Not sure if helped the Sonics case, but who cares. He was thoughtful, passionate and thoroughly engaging.

In all honesty, I didn't know much about Alexie before today other than his column in The Stranger and his book "Smoke Signals," but he's certainly a colorful character with some interesting ideas.

Still, I thought it was strange the Seattle attorneys chose to put Alexie on the stand after economist Lon Hatamiya because the two witnesses told two different stories. Hatamiya said the Sonics impact on Seattle can be quantified using a specific set of qualifiers. He said the Sonics annually generates $187 million for the Seattle metro area.

Later in the morning, Alexie said you can't put a price on the fans feelings for their favorite NBA team.

Seattle attorney Paul Lawrence said the handful of economists and their mixed projections furthers the city's case that the Sonics are a unique tenant whose value isn't easily measured.

Now some comments on the lawyering from a layman's perspective. I've been told I have no clue about what to look for and that's probably right. But if anyone had seen Seattle attorney Jeffrey Johnson's cross exam Deborah Jay, they would come to the conclusion that Johnson struggled big time. He's just not smooth. Not like Lawrence, Brad Keller or Paul Taylor.

Again Johnson's choppy style won't decide the case, but it's sure fun to watch. Keller seems to take joy interrupting Johnson's flow with objections and almost every time Judge Marsha Pechman sustains.

She often helps Johnson with his objections and one time he asked for an objection during his cross examination. Very funny.

Also, I'm told by someone who was inside the 14th floor courtroom that it was Johnson who initiated a verbal spat with Keller and not the other way around as I reported on the trial blog. Most of the media watches the trial on closed-circuit TV on the 18th floor and it appeared as if Keller was the instigator because he walked towards the plaintiff's table and leaned over to talk with Lawrence.

I asked Lawrence about the exchange later in the day, but he declined to offer any details.

Still, it appears as if I was wrong and I apologize to Keller and everyone here.

Back to the wrap-up: Lawrence scored points against the Sonics' economist Brad Humphreys when he pointed out Humphreys findings were on the Seattle metro area and not specifically the city of Seattle.

Taylor was great early in the week when he eviscerated economist Andrew Zimbalist, but he was unable to discredit Hatamiya or refute his claims about the Sonics value. And it was smart of Keller not to try and beat up on Alexie and get the superfan off the stand as quickly as possible.

A pair of attorneys (Seattle's Michelle Jensen and Sonics' James Webb) made their debuts today, but didn't distinguish themselves.

My scorecard is tied because the city finally had a far superior day than the Sonics.

Tomorrow promises to be exciting because former Sonics President Wally Walker, Seattle developer Matt Griffin and City Councilmember Nick Licata are scheduled to testify in court.

The Sonics will rest their case tomorrow and Pechman sounds as if she's going to give the attorneys a homework assignment to occupy their time during the five-day break. After Friday, the trial will resume June 26. Pechman said she found case law and will ask both sides some questions.

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June 18, 2008 9:11 PM

Day 3 triumphs and defeats

Posted by Percy Allen

Compared to his counterparts, city attorney Jeffrey Johnson looks very young. His bio on the K&L Gates website says he graduated cum laude from Gonzaga University in 1990. So unless he sailed through school, he's probably about 40 years old.

His age isn't relevant at all, however, Johnson seems to be the least experienced of the attorneyes and at times it shows.

Still, he recovered from the opening day when he appeared to momentarily freeze after an objection and he was not allowed to introduce a letter from a sports bar owner into evidence.

A few courtroom observers said Johnson was too soft on Sonics CEO Danny Barth during his initial questioning. Johnson tried to establish the unique connection a city has with a basketball team by highlighting various charitable activities the Sonics are engaged in.

During one amusing clip, Kevin Durant, Jeff Green and Kurt Thomas read the children's tale "The Eagles Who Thought They Were Chickens" to middle school kids. One attorney told me, the city needed to hammer the point that the unique relationship can't be qualified with a dollar amount and Johnson didn't do that.

Still, Johnson might have delivered the best exchange of the day during redirect. Let me set this up.

Sonics attorney Brad Keller allowed Barth to detail a series of setbacks that the team had endured during the 2007-08 season. He mentioned a loss of $27.6 million, plummeting TV ratings, the loss of 23 employees etc.

Barth said things have gotten so bad and the fan apathy is so high towards the Sonics that no one called the team to buy or renew tickets when the Sonics claimed the No. 4 pick in the lottery.

Barth went so far as to say that the team received calls when it drafted no-name Mouhamed Sene two years ago.

Here's the transcript from Johnson's redirect on this point.

Q: And now you're talking about tickets -- you were talking about you weren't getting phone calls for next year?
A Yes.
Q You're not selling tickets for next year?
A We are --
Q You haven't let any season ticket holder that wants to renew for next year?
A We are not actively out marketing. Didn't think it was prudent to go ahead and take people's money until we knew where we were going to be.
Q You're not accepting ticket sales -- I can't give you money right now to reserve tickets, can I?
A You cannot.

That's a slam dunk in my book, however, the city's attorneys didn't score enough of them.

Seattle's lead lawyer Paul Lawrence hammered away at owner Clay Bennett all morning and his use of the phrase "the man possessed" lost the powerful effect it had early in the trial.

Still, Lawrence kept to this talking points which are Bennett is a smart businessman who knew the risks before he bought the team.

It's amazing how Keller continues to confound Lawrence and Johnson with timely objections. If you ever get a subpeona from Keller, leave the country. He's that good. Same goes for Paul Taylor.

Still as one attorney who watched today's trial told me: "Having this case before a judge makes all the difference in the world becasue a judge will look at the facts and not be swayed by the theatrics of the lawyers."

The attorney told me he thinks the Sonics crew has presented better arguements, but there's no getting around the specific language in the lease that says the Sonics have to play at KeyArena for two more years.

I'm calling it a draw for today, which allows the Sonics to maintain their narrow edge.

For some strange reason, the city has not established that the lack of fan interest in the Sonics is due to the crummy team that took the court for 82 games last season. Former Seattle Center director Virginia Anderson talked about this, but the attorneys didn't use this arguement when questioning Bennett and Barth. Barth said the Sonics were 27th in average paid attendance and yet no one asked which teams were 28, 29 and 30. Without looking it up, I guarantee you those teams were lousy. K-I-S-S.

Some quick points, co-owner Aubrey McClendon will not testify in court, which is a wise move for the Sonics. Thursday may not be as exciting as the first three days because there's no one on the witness list that has the star power of Mayor Greg Nickels or Bennett.

Author Sherman Alexie is scheduled to appear in Thursday morning, however, the next interesting witness is probably former Sonics President Wally Walker. City Councilmember Nick Licata may also provide some sparks.

Remember it was Licata who told Sports Illustrated in Feb. 2007 the economic impact of the Sonics leaving would be "near zero."

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June 17, 2008 9:50 PM

Second day scorecard for the trial

Posted by Percy Allen

The city of Seatle recovered from Monday's miscues, but then it would have been difficult to repeat the opening day blunders.

This had to be a big day for the city and Seattle attorney Paul Lawrence had a fine showing. He didn't deliver a knockout during his questioning of Sonics owner Clay Bennett, however, he hammered home the city's key points, which are:

--- Bennett is a sophisticated investor.
--- Bennett read several reports about KeyArena and the Sonics' financial troubles before buying the team.
--- Bennett promised to honor all the committments of the team when he bought the team.

"The basic premise of the case is the lease and the basic premise of the case is what PBC understood when they signed the lease," Lawrence said during a short press conference after the trial adjourned. "And they are trying to say they should be able to get out because it's hard on them. But that was a risk they assumed when they had signed the lease and we asked that they be held to the lease which includes a specific performance provision."

Lawrence introduced the famous Sonics owners emails including Bennett's "I am a man possessed" message, however, the Seattle attorney played it relatively low key and didn't attack Bennett like many expected.

Still, Bennett contradicted himself when he tried to explain why he said he was a man possessed. His explaination simply was not believable because days after the email, he made plans to move the team.

During the trial, Lawrence asked: "So within a few days of being a man possessed to stay in Seattle, you contacted Mr. (Joel) Litvin of the NBA and started explaining to him why Oklahoma City is a good place for an NBA team; is that fair?"

Bennett replied: Yes.

Lawrence could have questioned Bennett all day, but he stopped after about 2 1/2 hours.

Bennett's attorney Brad Keller went to great lengths to detail the ownership group's effort to build an arena in Renton, which seemed a little strange. It was revealed that Bennett contacted Microsoft mogul Steve Ballmer and asked him for help with the Olympia lobbying efforts.

Keller, however, didn't undo the city's claims.

The Sonics attorneys appeared to score major points late in the day when Paul Taylor seemingly undermined the testimony of noted sports economist Andrew Zimbalist. Taylor skewered Zimbalist and accused him of plagerizing work that Zimbalist did in 2005 during a case involving the city of Anaheim and the Angels MLB team.

Taylor recounted a Kentucky case involving NASCAR in which the judge called Zimbalist a "hired gun" and said Zimbalist's approach "has not been tested and has not been subject to peer review and publication; there are no standards controlling it and there is no showing that it enjoys general acceptance within the scientific community."

The city of Seattle never objected during Taylor's line of questioning, which made it clear that they were unprepared. That was big mistake.

Even before cross-examination, Zimbalist didn't help the city. When he wasn't shouting into the microphone, he used big words and text book definitions that were difficult to understand. At one point, Judge Marsha Pechman asked him once to explain his meaning when he said "avidity."

Also, Seattle attorney Greg Narver often hurried his questions, which appeared to annoy Pechman.

If this were a jury trial, then Zimbalist's credibilty may have been damaged. However, Pechman will decide this case and she may not have been impressed by the exchange with Taylor.

It must also be noted that this blog simply scores points for sound arguements. I'm no lawyer or law professor so it's impossible for me to know with any degree of certainty what Pechman is thinking.

Still I'm a reasonalble, unbiased observer and it's my opinion that each side argued to a draw today because Lawrence didn't slam dunk Bennett and Zimbalist flubbed in the end.

My unofficial scorecard has the Sonics leading 3-2.

Finally, I think it's a curious move that the Sonics are considering bringing co-owner Aubrey McClendon to Seattle and having him testify in court.

It seems that would be a risky gamble considering McClendon has already demonstrated he can't keep a secret. You'll remember McClendon uttered the "We didn't buy them to keep them in Seattle" quote which cost him a $250,000 fine from the NBA.

Day 3 resumes Wednesday with Bennett on the stand.

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June 16, 2008 7:45 PM

First day winners and losers

Posted by Percy Allen

Sonics attorney Brad Keller scored a lot of points during his opening statement and against Mayor Greg Nickels, who often stammered and stuttered while answering.

Keller is a wordsmith and the Mayor is not, which put Nickels on the defensive early into Keller's cross examination.

The Mayor was not forthcoming with simple admissions. Several times, he declined to concede small points to Keller and when Keller showed evidence to support his claim, then Nickels looked silly.

During one exchange, Nickels refused to acknowledge that KeyArena was antiquated until Keller showed him a 2006 city task force report in which Nickels said the refurbished building was outdated and in need of renovations.

Keller produced some of the day's best lines in opening statements.

He said that while Clay Bennett's Professional Basketball Club was in Olympia lobbying for a new venue in Renton, the city of Seattle was thwarting that effort. "The landlord response was, 'You either play in my sandbox or drown in red ink.' "

Keller said former Sonics president Wally Walker, Slade Gorton and Microsoft mogul Steve Ballmer conspired in a "bleed them until they sell" strategy against Bennett. The Sonics lawyer then painted a picture in which it appeared as if the city was in on the strategy while questioning Nickels.

The K&L Gates attorneys, who represent the city, stumbled early and often.

Paul Lawrence was unspectacular in in opening arguments, Jeffrey Johnson momentarily froze when Judge Marsha Pechman upheld an objection and didn't allow him to introduce a piece of evidence and Pechman admonished Greg Narver several times for speaking too fast and not being clear with his questions. Narver was also unable to submit a 1995 video clip of KJR host Mitch Levy interviewing NBA Commissioner David Stern as evidence.

The miscues by the K&L Gates lawyers is alarming considering the city will pay in excess of $1.1 million for their service.

Former Seattle City director Virginia Anderson saved the day for the city. She held up well under cross examination by Paul Taylor. Anderson refused to be bullied and appeared to have a firm command of the facts. Often times, she refuted claims with solid evidence.

Taylor abruptly changed his line of questioning a few times, which only made him look confused and Anderson appeared stronger.

The day ended with former KeyArena manager Jyo Singh being cross examined.

For those keeping score: Sonics 2, city of Seattle 1.

The Sonics attorney are hammering at the claim that KeyArena is an outdated building in desperate need of repair and the city failed to make improvements. The city also failed in four attempts to lobby funds from state lawmakers and both sides are better off disolving a dysfunctional marriage. Oddly enough, the Sonics attorneys did not use the "unclean hands" reference, however, they're trying to establish an unethical connection between the mayor's office and the Baller group.

The Seattle lawyers are establishing that Bennett and his partners are smart businessmen who knew about the lease and the building's deficiencies when they bought the team two years ago. They arguements are simplier. They asked Anderson and Singh about lease provisions for a buyout and each said that no provisions exist.


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June 13, 2008 4:27 PM

Mayor Nickels will be the first to testify

Posted by Percy Allen

Mayor Greg Nickels is schedule to appear in court Monday morning in the case between the city of Seattle and the Sonics.

The Monday morning lineup includes: Nickels, former Seattle Center director Virgina Anderson, KeyArena manager Jyo Singh and Sonics co-owner and chairman Clay Bennett if time permits.

Nickels is listed as a witness for the plaintiff and the defendant.

In proceedings, the city will put up its witnesses first and the Sonics get the opportunity to cross-examine those witnesses.

The team also has a chance to put up its witnesses and they are subject to cross-examination. The City may or may not then put up rebuttal witnesses.

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June 12, 2008 8:37 PM

Pechman lays out the ground rules

Posted by Percy Allen

If you're planning to attend the trial between the city of Seattle and the Sonics, then be sure to get to the courthouse at 700 Stewart early. Only 44 seats are available to the public and they will be distributed through a lottery that begins at 7 a.m. each day.

The trial will take place in the 14th floor courtroom and begin each day at 9 a.m. There will be a morning and an afternoon session, including a morning and afternoon recess. There's also a 90-minute lunch that begins at noon.

The trial will consist of six days. It will span five days next week and conclude June 26. There will be no sessions on June 23-25.

A complete list of the do's and don'ts can be found at www.wawd.uscourts.gov. This link also includes significant documents filed in the case. This is somewhat old news, but the city's website went live on Thursday and I figured I'd pass along the info.

Some interesting points:

The court will be providing daily information about witnesses and exhibits scheduled for the following day.

Judge Marsha Pechman will not give any interviews or statements.

Once you're seated in the courtroom and the trial has started, you will not be able to leave the courtroom until the court breaks for recess. In addition, once court is in session, people will not be allowed to enter the courtroom.

All portable electronic devices (including cell phones, blackberries, etc.) must be TURNED OFF so that there are no electronic signals being broadcasted in or out of the courtroom.

You may not use your video camera, or use a cell phone to record or take pictures during the trial.

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June 11, 2008 11:09 AM

Sonics moved to Oklahoma in the D-League

Posted by Percy Allen

With just five days remaining before Monday's court trial between the city and the Sonics, maybe today's NBA D-League announcements will go unnoticed.

But I got a tip about this a few weeks ago and was never able to get any confirmation from anybody within the two leagues.

Anyway, since 2005 the Sonics were assigned to the Idaho Stampede along with the Portland Trail Blazers, which made sense because of the proximity of the Northwest teams.

Today, the league re-assigned the Sonics to the Tulsa 66ers in Oklahoma.

The league made note of several new developments in today's announcement, but did not highlight the change with the Sonics.

On the surface, the re-assignments makes no sense because the teams assigned to Idaho are the Blazers and the Toronto Raptors, which is about 2,000 miles away.

The Sonics will share the 66ers with the Milwaukee Bucks.

Clearly the NBA, which approved Clay Bennett's bid to move the Soncis to Oklahoma City, fully expects the Sonics will no longer play in Seattle.

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June 9, 2008 11:43 AM

Bayless and Gordon arrive this week for workouts

Posted by Percy Allen

The Sonics will continue with workouts this week and Arizona guard Jerryd Bayless is the headliner for the 15 players scheduled to appear.

The 19-year-old 6-3 guard is believed to be the player the Sonics will select with the fourth pick in the June 26 draft. He's a talented player touted as the second best guard in the draft behind Memphis' Derrick Rose. Rose will likely be chosen with the first or second picks.

Bayless isn't a natural point guard and some scouts believe USC's O.J. Mayo has more overall talent.

Still, Bayless seems a better fit for the Sonics. He averaged 19.7 points, 4.0 assists, 2.7 rebounds and 3.0 turnovers in 30 games for the Wildcats.

The Sonics will also bring in touted Indiana guard Eric Gordon, who is also a candidate for the No. 4 pick.

Bayless and Gordon are the big names, but apparently the team wants to get a good look at several center prospects. The Sonics had five centers visit on Sunday and six center are scheduled to appear this week.

The list includes: South Florida 6-9 center Kentrell Gransberry, California 6-11 center Devon Hardin, BYU 6-11 F/C Trent Plaisted, Florida 6-10 center Marreese Speights, UCLA 6-9 center Lorenzo Mata-Real, Arkansas 7-0 center Steven Hill

The Sonics will workout seven forwards this week. The list includes: Kansas 6-9 forward Darrell Arthur, Rhode Island 6-8 forward Will Daniels, 6-9 forward Luc Louves of France, Oklhaoma State 6-9 G/F Marcus Dove, Maryland 6-9 forward James Gist, Indiana 6-9 forward D.J. White and Alabama 6-9 forward Richard Hendrix

Those who made visits on Sunday were: Stanford center Brook Lopez, Boston College 6-11 center Tyrelle Blair, Sansas 6-11 center Sasha Kaun, Louisville 6-11 center David Padgett and 7-foot center Vladimir Golubovic of Serbia.

Lopez is also a possibility for the No. 4 pick, however, he's been falling in several mock drafts.

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June 5, 2008 4:25 PM

Love, Hibbert highlight first batch of draft tryouts

Posted by Percy Allen

UCLA forward/center Kevin Love worked out for the Sonics today at the Furtado Center. The Pac-10 Player of the Year was joined by Ohio State 7-foot center Kostas Koufos, North Carolina State 6-9 forward J.J. Hickson and 6-10 Australian Nathan Jawai.

Tomorrow the Sonics will bring in Georgetown center Roy Hibbert, UCLA 6-4 guard Russell Westbrook, Illinois 6-9 forward Shaun Pruitt and IUPUI 6-2 guard George Hill.

The Sonics have the fourth and 24th pick in the June 26 draft.

It's unlikely that Seattle would use its first pick to select Love, however, it's believed that he's drawing interest from Minnesota, which has the third pick. Rumors continue to swirl that the Sonics are shopping the fourth pick and looking to move back in the lottery and possibly take Love.

On the surface, taking Love doesn't make sense because his game is similar to Nick Collison, another undersized big man. However, Collison is one of a few Sonic veterans with high trade value and the team could deal him for a high pick in next year's draft.

Koufos and Hibbert are both projects and possibilities for the 24th pick whereas Westbrook appears to be a more solid choice late in the first round.

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June 4, 2008 10:11 PM

Witness list revealed in Sonics trial

Posted by Percy Allen

In a late filing Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge Marsh Pechman unveiled the potential witness list for city of Seattle and the Sonics owners.

The list includes Mayor Greg Nickels and Sonics chairman Clay Bennett. Sonics co-owner Aubrey McClendon and NBA president Joel Litvin will testify through a deposition.

Other prominent witnesses include: city councilman Nick Licata, former Sonic James Donaldson and former Sonics president Wally Walker.

The Sonics owners have argued against KJR talkshow Mitch Levy and Stranger writer Sherman Alexie as witnesses and Pechman is scheduled to rule on Friday.

Here's a complete list of the potential witnesses.

For the plaintiff (the city of Seattle): sports economist Andrew Zimbalist, Todd Menenberg (expert), Lon Hatamiya (expert), former Seattle Center Director Virginia Anderson, former Boeing executive Bob Watt, KeyArena manager Jyo Singh, Sonics chairman Clayton Bennett, Sonics interim president and CEO Danny Barth, former Sonic James Donaldson, former Sonics employee Matthew Wade, The Stranger writer Sherman Alexie, KJR talkshow host Mitch Levy, Mayor Greg Nickels, city councilman Nick Licata, Sonics co-owner Aubrey McClendon, Oklahoma City city manager James Couch, Bennett spokesman Brent Gooden, NBA president Joel Litvin, Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce president Roy Williams.

For the defendant (the Sonics): Barth; Deborah Jay (expert), sports facilities advisor Mitchell Ziets, Associate Professor at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Brad Humphreys, Bennett, McClendon, Couch, former Sonics president Wally Walker and developer Matt Griffin.

These witnesses may also testify for the defendant: Seattle deputy mayor Tim Ceis, Seattle city councilman Richard Conlin, Seattle Center Director Robert Nellams, Mayor Nickels, former Sonics executive Terry McLaughlin, former Bennett spokesman James Kneeland, K&L Gates lawyer Gerry Johnson, attorney Slade Gorton, city employee Bill Alves, an employee from the architectual firm HOK Sports and an employee from real estate services firm Cushman & Wakefield.

Pechman also established a pre-trial order of evidence. The city has submitted roughly 320 pieces of evidence/exhibits while the Sonics owners have a little over 100.

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June 3, 2008 8:42 PM

City argues on behalf of KJR talkshow host and Stranger writer

Posted by Percy Allen

In a late filing Tuesday, attorneys representing the city of Seattle responded to the Sonics motion to prevent KJR talkshow host Mitch Levy and The Stranger contributing writer Sherman Alexie from testifying at the June 16 trial.

The team's attorneys filed a motion last week seeking to bar Levy and Alexie because neither "has any relevant testimonial knowledge." The attorneys described the case as a "media circus" and "giving Mr. Levy a speaking role in the trial will not help."

In Tuesday's motion to U.S. District Court Judge Marsha Pechman, the city argued that Alexie "is an award winning poet, novelist, screenwriter, director, and 10-year holder of season tickets to the Sonics. Mr. Alexie, if allowed, will offer a unique and important perspective on the intangible benefits the Sonics bring to the City of Seattle, including athletic excellence and a racially diverse entertainment opportunity."

"Mr. Levy, if allowed, will explain the symbiotic relationship between Seattle's professional sports teams and KJR (Seattle's only all sports station), and how KJR historically has provided the Sonics with free marketing and publicity through live interviews of Sonics players, coaches and management," the motion states.

"Mr. Levy will explain that despite KJR listeners' significant interest in the Sonics, PBC unilaterally decided to discontinue the team's historical practice of making players, coaches and management available for live interviews during the recently completed 2007-08 season. This refusal to promote and market the team to an enthusiastic audience, at no cost to PBC, further illustrates the self-inflicted nature of PBC's claimed losses."

Pechman is scheduled to make a decison on the motions on Friday.

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June 2, 2008 4:35 PM

SOS to rally on courthouse steps

Posted by Percy Allen

Save Our Sonics president Brian Robinson is hesitant to use the word rally to describe an event that will be held June 16 outside the downtown US Federal Courthouse, however, the grass-roots group is asking fans to arrive at noon as a show of support for the city's case against the basketball team, which begins earlier that day.

Robinson is unsure how many people will attend so he's trying to keep expectations low.

SOS has asked several former Sonics to attend including Xavier McDaniel, Detlef Schrempf and Gary Payton. The federal courthouse is located at 1010 Fith Ave.

More details will be released in the next couple of weeks.

In March, the group organized a rally at the state Capitol in Olympia which drew about 250 supporters.

***UPDATE/CORRECTIONS*** The rally will begin at 11:30 and the address is 700 Stewart NOT 1010 Fifth Ave.

And just to be technical, Brian Robinson is the co-founder of SOS along with Steven Pyeatt.

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Recent entries

Jun 30, 08 - 10:24 AM
Ballmer still interested

Jun 26, 08 - 07:49 PM
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Jun 26, 08 - 06:48 PM
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Jun 26, 08 - 06:37 PM
Westbrook meets the media

Jun 26, 08 - 05:04 PM
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