In Jason Reid's astute documentary, Sonicsgate, which will screen at Portland's Baghdad Theater on Feb. 20 as part of the Beer & Movie Fest, a common refrain among Seattle SuperSonic fans irate with Clay Bennett was that the carpetbagging owner set a fire sale in motion intent on creating a surge of apathy as he stealthily tried to move the team to Oklahoma City (which, of course, he ultimately succeeded in doing).
"Man, our new teams are great, but we aren't so good anymore, are we?"
These suspicions arose during the 2007 off-season, when Bennett's handpicked general manager, Sam Presti, traded the Sonics' two stars, Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis, to the Boston Celtics and Orlando Magic, respectively. Those teams would go on to become the Eastern Conference's NBA Finals representatives in the years immediately following the deal (Lewis' Magic lost to the Lakers in 2009; Allen's Celtics beat L.A. in 2008).
At the Sonics' 2007 draft-day party, the elation of selecting Kevin Durant with the #2 pick quickly turned to shock and anger when it was announced that Allen, one of the greatest sharpshooters of all time, had been dealt (along with the rights to Glen "Big Baby" Davis) for the rights to Jeff Green, as well as veterans Delonte West and Wally Szczerbiak, who were, in turn, dealt to the Cleveland Cavaliers before the year was out. (The media's reaction to the trade was decidedly more mixed.) Meanwhile, Lewis essentially left for Orlando without the Sonics making an honest effort to sign the free agent. (He was technically dealt for a second-round pick and a $9 million salary cap exemption, which became veteran center Kurt Thomas, who was eventually dealt to Phoenix for a pair of first-round picks.)
Both ex-Sonics were great during their teams' initial playoff runs. But the 2010 versions of Allen, now 34, and Lewis, now 30, are beginning to show some wear and tear. Lewis is posting his worst points-per-game average since his first year as a starter with the Sonics. As for Allen, his scoring frequency is the lowest since his rookie year in Milwaukee, and his 3-point percentage the lowest of his career, prompting trade rumors.
After an abysmal inaugural season in Oklahoma City, the Thunder have exceeded even the rosiest projections by establishing themselves as a contender for a playoff spot in the ultra-tough Western Conference. Durant is one of the game's 10 best players, Green is solid as can be, point guard Russell Westbrook is having an All-Star-caliber year, and rookie lottery pick James Harden already is a potent offensive weapon off the bench.
The verdict? That sabotage theory trotted out by so many Sonicsgate subjects has proven to be complete and utter bullshit. Regardless of Bennett's ulterior motives, Presti knew exactly what he was doing when he detonated the Supes' middling roster. If fans have a legitimate beef with the Sonic front office, it's with the regime that drafted Robert Swift, Mo Sene, and Johan Petro -- 21 feet of worthlessness who were fitted for jerseys before Bennett took control of the team. The truth may hurt, but it's the truth nonetheless.