Updated: Jan. 5, 2006, 9:52 AM ET

Hill aims for a Sonic bloom

Bob Hill is the new Seattle SuperSonics coach.

And what happened Wednesday night in his first game was an old story.

The players want to show it's not their fault the team was playing so poorly -- "it must be the old coach" -- in this case Bob Weiss. The new coach Hill promised increased emphasis on defense. No lackadaisical walk-through practices. No more Mr. Nice Sonic.

The game got tight at the end, but instead Seattle held on for a 101-97 win over a Bulls team that has now lost eight in a row. The increased energy level helped them at the end. That's the kind of game that a struggling team loses, but not one with a new taskmaster.

I think the team will do well initially, as is often the case with in-season changes, but eventually revert back to its true nature.

A mediocre team.

But what Hill has going for him is management's backing, and the timing of the move. He was brought in as an assistant for this kind of scenario. The season is still early enough where he can establish a new approach before the All-Star break.

His first moves included inserting Vladimir Radmanovic into the starting lineup for the first time this year, restoring Luke Ridnour to the starting point guard and, perhaps most dramatic of all, 19-year-old Frenchman Johan Petro stepped into his defense-and- rebounding role. And seldom-used pivotman Robert Swift, 20, who committed five fouls, got eight minutes of PT. Both were first-round picks.

Petro played more minutes Wednesday night (31) than he did in all of December (19).

Is Hill playing those two because management wants him to? You'll never know exactly. But coaches who are brought in like this can end up beholden to management. When I took over in Boston in 2004, I kept hearing "play this guy, play that guy" from upstairs. What a headache.

Hill has to be careful not to go too far with developing players. If you're playing guys management wants, the team's veterans can tell, and you risk losing them. Management may say, "Put a player who's out for 15 minutes, because, what's one guy playing 15 minutes in the scheme of a full game?

I'll tell you -- the difference in winning and losing.

No matter what, I think Hill is going to look good in the way he gets Seattle to play. He's a balance between Nate McMillan and Bob Weiss. McMillan's style caused friction -- in a good way. He got that team to play better than it probably was.

In his first game, Hill's team held Chicago to 41 percent field goal shooting. The Sonics had been giving up a league-worst 49.8 percent on FGs.

Hill has been on this bench. He knows what they needed to do. He knows the dilemmas. Now he can change the atmosphere, and make the players more accountable.

He has management's backing. It was very big that they didn't name him interim. As crazy as that sounds, that's very important for how the players view you and what kind of juice you have.

The team's now 14-17, two games behind the Timberwolves in the Northwest standings.

Hill's got the early momentum. The real trick will be elevating the team in the manner of McMillan.

Talk back to the Daily Dime gang

Dimes Past: Dec. 30-Jan. 1 | 3 | 4


Jammin' James

LeBron James gets ready to jam en route to a triple double: 32 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists in a 91-84 win at Milwaukee.


Good Omen Dept.
sea

The last time the Seattle Supersonics replaced a coach in his first season with the team was back in 1977. Bill Hopkins went 5-17 before being replaced by Lenny Wilkens during the 1977-78 season. That season Wilkens took the Sonics to the NBA Finals only to lose in 7 games to the Bullets. The following season the Sonics nearly swept the Bullets in the NBA Finals... winning in 5 games.

-- ESPN Research



News And Notes
Smith

Scott: 'No Babies Allowed'
"J.R. Smith started 24 games this season. He missed four games due to an injury, but he was healthy Monday and not only didn't start, but didn't play. 'From a coaching standpoint, we have told him what we need him to do and what he needs to work on,' Scott said. 'The NBA stands for National Basketball Association, but it also stands for No Babies Allowed. It's a man's league. You have to be a professional about your position and what you have to do to stay on the court and get playing time. It's that simple.' Smith has struggled of late, contributing one or fewer field goals in six of his last eight games, but said he didn't feel any extra pressure to practice harder or differently." -- The Oklahoman

Iverson Wants A Gold Medal
"Jerry Colangelo, chairman of the Phoenix Suns, met with Allen Iverson before last night's game, and came away with Iverson very much on a preliminary list to be invited to try out for the U.S. National Team that will compete in this summer's World Championships in Saitama, Japan and, hopefully, in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. 'It went great,' Iverson said of the meeting. 'He asked me if I was interested, and I am. I want to play. I had a good experience in 2004, but we won the bronze. I really want to win a gold medal.' Colangelo intends to interview 30 to 35 players. ... Colangelo already has met with numerous candidates, and plans to meet this week with Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O'Neal of the Miami Heat and Tim Duncan of the San Antonio Spurs." -- Philadelphia Daily News

Read the entire Intelligence Report on ESPN Insider Insider


Veteran Middle Reliever

Bob Hill's debut as Sonics coach was a success. It's his third midseason hiring, having joined the Knicks in December 1986 and the Pacers in December 1990.


Extreme Behavior
Wade

Wednesday's Best
Paul Pierce, Celtics forward: Didn't have the gaudy triple-double of King James, but his superior shooting night earned him the Daily Dime honor. Made 11-of-17 FGs for 31 points, along with 10 assists and eight rebounds in the 109-106 win over Charlotte.

Davis

Wednesday's Worst
Zach Randolph, Blazers forward: Put the earplugs in. Some serious clang time from a season 45 percent shooter. He shot 1-for-14 from the field. The mere five points from Portland's finest may partly explain a 106-75 trouncing by the Spurs.

Quote of the Day

marbury
"I was telling myself, 'Marko, this team needs a point guard out there.'"
-- Wolves guard Marko Jaric, often self-critical, asserted himself for 22 points in a 91-78 win over the Mavs.

See how all 183 who played stacked up

-- Andrew Ayres



Knowing The Score

If I was David Stern, I'd be concerned. Not somebody-just-hacked-into-my-Swiss-bank-account concerned, but worried nonetheless.

I'd be worried because the low-scoring games that were supposed to be eradicated by last year's rule changes are proving to be stubborn pests, and I'd be worried that the cure I introduced might be as bad as the original disease.

As we all know, the powers that be in the NBA have a financial interest in producing fast-paced, high-scoring basketball games -- even if the coaches don't. Up-and-down, flowing games help generate fan interest, which helps sell tickets and merchandise, which ultimately benefits everyone.

That's how things worked during the glory years of the late 1980s and early '90s, but over time the pace slowed and defense gained the upper hand. The nadir was reached in the spring of 2004, when the Pistons and Pacers competed in a well-played, hard-fought and completely unwatchable Eastern Conference finals.

See John Hollinger's full story



Elias Says
dirk

Dirk Nowitzki was 6-for-6 from the line in the Mavericks loss to the Timberwolves, extending his franchise-record streak of consecutive free-throws made to 56, the longest for any NBA player since Reggie Miller made 60 in a row late last season (March 18 to April 6).

Elias Sports Bureau | More from Elias Insider



Call Them Disapproval Ratings
Brown

As disappointed as some were about the poor start Larry Brown got off to with the Knicks, December provided another blow. The Knicks won just two games in the month, and lost to Orlando twice and Atlanta once - all by double figures. Another large factor in their 2-12 December was poor defense.

New York allowed over 103 points per game - nearly nine more than during November. One positive is that Jamal Crawford seems to have found his way into the good graces of coach Brown, and is enjoying his most productive stretch of the season.

See NBA coach approval ratings



Sun Flare
Mike (Hollywood): Will the Suns be even better with Leandro Barbosa back? They look like the class of the Pacific at this point.

John Hollinger: Frankly, I've been amazed -- AMAZED -- at how well Phoenix has played. Understand folks, that team is much better than their record -- in terms of victory margin they're right up there with San Antonio and Detroit, and this is without Stoudemire. They're No. 2 in the league in Defensive Efficiency right now, believe it or not. I'd be shocked if they didn't win the Pacific, and I'm sure Barbosa's impending return will help that process along.

See John Hollinger's chat Insider

 

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