<
>

Sonics owner Bennett supports coach, GM

SEATTLE -- The pause lasted nine seconds before Clay Bennett
broke the silence with a wisecrack.

"See, now you're getting into things I don't know what I'm
talking about," he joked.

Bennett, the owner of the NBA SuperSonics and WNBA Storm, was
asked Thursday about the future of Sonics' head coach Bob Hill and
general manager Rick Sund in relation to Bennett's visions for the
team. While the pause was noticeable, Bennett quickly expressed
support for the Sonics' basketball management and his hope that a
team 10 games under .500 can reverse its struggles.

"We completely support Bob and Rick and we have a hope that
this season can still turn around. ... We won a couple of nice
games the last two games and showed us all what this team could
be," the Oklahoma City businessman told The Associated Press.

Most of Bennett's attention since assuming ownership of the
franchise on Oct. 31 has been focused on developing a new arena
complex to replace KeyArena, the current home of the Sonics and
Storm.

And the arena issue took up the majority of Bennett's interview
with the AP on Thursday. But the chairman of the Professional
Basketball Club LLC also spoke about the on-court product he
purchased in July for $350 million.

Bennett said he feels too much attention is being placed on the
arena issue, with not enough attention focused on the Sonics --
although Seattle is 15-25 and in last place in the Northwest
Division entering Friday night's game against Milwaukee.

Seattle lost six in a row before beating Utah last Friday and
followed up by beating Eastern Conference-leading Cleveland on
Tuesday. The Sonics were without All-Star Ray Allen for nine games
earlier this season and have been without second-leading scorer
Rashard Lewis since he injured his right hand on Dec. 23.

"I am concerned and disappointed that focus has been taken off
of the team," Bennett said. "We're hopeful that we can get this
done, find an answer for a new building, focus attention on team
operations and building a winner. I'd love to see nothing more than
these guys pull it off, and they can. But it's a difficult
environment they're performing in."

Bennett wouldn't mind seeing the Sonics get on a winning roll
and build some momentum toward the arena issue. Bennett is well
aware of 1995, when the Seattle Mariners' run to the American
League West title created momentum to help get legislation passed
for the construction of Safeco Field.

"The Mariners' experience is known to everyone here, and (if)
that sort of success story could take place on the court it would
certainly benefit the landscape," Bennett said.

Unlike the Sonics' previous ownership group -- the Basketball
Club of Seattle, headed by Starbucks Corp. chairman Howard Schultz
-- Bennett didn't completely rule out increasing the team's payroll.
The owner said he would consider recommendations or requests from
his coach or GM for additions to the roster even if it meant
exceeding the NBA's luxury tax level. This year's luxury tax is at
$65.42 million and Seattle's payroll is about $56 million.

Hill has repeatedly stated his wish for the team to acquire a
veteran center.

"We're always going to be available to consider any
recommendation that would get us better," Bennett said.