Having been part of several corporate takeovers (on both sides), it's clear to me that every decision made by Sonics owner Clay Bennett's group has been well thought out and calculated. They had a vision: End basketball in Seattle ASAP. They had a strategy: End basketball support in Seattle by alienating "casual fans," and make the team look like a balance-sheet nightmare if they continue to operate here. (By "casual fan," I mean the typical Seattleite who is not a season-ticket holder, but who will watch games on TV and attend a few games a season.)
What separates the best companies from any other company, regardless of their industry, is their ability to execute on that vision. In reviewing every tactical decision, I'd say Bennett's team has done an amazing job. Let's review the key components of their strategy, in corporate outline form, juxtaposed with alternatives that might have served the counter-objective of placating casual fans:
1. Unreasonable (Arena) Demands: The new owners shot for the moon. However, let's be clear that they were not working toward a solution. If they were solution-oriented, they would have bought more time with the Key or forced a change of the KeyArena lease to bring about more favorable terms. Alternative: What if they said they would be interested in KeyArena under new terms? What if they said the Muckleshoot arena was a great idea? Either way, that would have created more public interest and hurt their long-term strategy.
2. Key Hires and Fires: Changing personnel is the easiest way to move the needle on fan interest. If you believe that casual fans would have saved the Sonics, then the exponential impact of each of these decisions is enormous.
a. Bidding adieu to Jack Sikma, Detlef Schrempf, and Lenny Wilkens. Casual fans of Seattle identified with these guys because of their history with the franchise. Alternative: What if they maintained a role in the organization?
b. Dumping Rashard Lewis. Alternative: Casual fans identify with stars. Keep him, if only to keep team popularity high.
c. Drafting Kevin Durant, then trading Ray Allen for Jeff Green (a guy who plays a similar position to Durant). Alternative: What if Allen played next to Durant? This is a marketer's dream for the casual fan.
d. Spend no money on free agents. Alternatives: Sign Chauncey Billups? Sign anyone? Tell the fans you are going to sign Tim Duncan next year?
e. Hiring P.J. Carlesimo. Alternative: Hiring anyone other than Carlesimo, like beloved former associate Sonic head coach Dwane Casey, would have made far more sense if Bennett and Co. were interested in anything other than alienating the current fan base. Bonus: Keep all existing Sonic employees in the dark.
3. Artificial Deadlines: Projects need completion dates; if they don't have a date, they won't get done. Oct. 31 has always been an artificial deadline to demonstrate that Bennett's crew made an effort to work with the city. (Providing ultimatums only works if you hold all the negotiating chips.) Oct. 31 will be a key date presented to the relocation committee, which will clearly state that Seattle had enough time to resolve the arena problem.
All in all, Bennett's group has tactfully alienated casual fans and the city; every decision they've made has prevented any glimmer of hope for fans that the Sonics will remain the Seattle Sonics.