Sonics fire coach Hill, remove GM Sund in shakeup
SEATTLE -- The Seattle SuperSonics began remodeling their basketball operations on Tuesday, firing head coach Bob Hill and removing Rick Sund as general manager following one of the worst seasons in franchise history.
Seattle went 31-51 in Hill's only full season as head coach, the Sonics' worst record since the 1985-86 season when they finished with an identical record. Only three times in the Sonics' 40-year history have they finished with a worse record.
Hill's contract was set to expire in June. The team said Sund will remain with the team as a consultant during the final year of his contract.
Sonics' majority owner Clay Bennett and vice chairman Lenny Wilkens will lead the search for replacements in both positions.
"Bob Hill and Rick Sund are fine individuals of excellent personal character and are basketball men through and through. They were both extremely helpful to us during this challenging year of transition. We are sincerely appreciative to them for their service and we wish them only the very best," Bennett said in a statement.
Hill's efforts to revitalize the Sonics and impress Bennett failed largely because of debilitating injuries. Robert Swift, expected to be Seattle's starting center, was lost for the season during an October exhibition game. Leading scorer Ray Allen was bothered by bone spurs in his ankles for much of the season and missed the final 16 games after opting for surgery. Rashard Lewis also missed 22 games in the middle of the season with a hand injury.
Hill, who previously coached in New York, Indiana and most successfully in San Antonio, took over for Bob Weiss in the middle of last season and went 22-30 -- his first head coaching job since 1996. Seattle closed last year 14-11 after Sund made moves to acquire Earl Watson and Chris Wilcox, earning Hill a contract extension and bolstering hopes for this season.
But there was little carry-over and the Sonics finished with the fifth worst record in the NBA.
The shakeup came a week after Bennett announced that the team likely would not play in Seattle after the 2007-08 season after the Washington state Legislature decided not to consider plans for a new $500 million arena in suburban Renton. Bennett asked for $278 million in King County tax revenues to help pay for the new arena.
If Bennett doesn't get an agreement for a new arena in the Seattle area by Oct. 31, his $350 million purchase agreement allows him to move the team -- most likely to Oklahoma City. Bennett's ownership group bought the Sonics and the WNBA Seattle Storm last July.
Now the prominent Oklahoma City businessman must find a basketball operations staff willing to endure a lame-duck season in Seattle, before the franchise potentially moves.
"While there is uncertainty as to the future physical location of our franchise, our commitment to creating a culture of competitive excellence for this organization is unwavering," Bennett said. "We absolutely aspire to win championships."
Hill told The News Tribune of Tacoma and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer he got the word from Bennett in a telephone call about two hours after undergoing outpatient surgery in San Antonio to repair a hernia that had bothered him all season.
"He felt like he had to bring in his own people," Hill told The News Tribune.
"Clay basically said he was going to go in a different direction," Hill told the Post-Intelligencer. "He said he appreciated my hard work and said I was a hell of a coach, so I basically thanked him and wished him good luck."
Hill, 58, added he hoped to return to coaching in the NBA.
"I think for me the last two years have been great. I got to do what I loved to do," he told the Tacoma paper. "The NBA can be thankless and unforgiving, but I don't disagree with his decision. He should go in a different direction. I am all for it."
Hill had the support of many of his players, most notably Allen, but publicly clashed with Watson and Damien Wilkins during the season, and pushed Sund for personnel moves that never materialized.
In March, Hill said he believed he deserved the chance to coach a healthy Sonics team in 2007-08, citing the development of young players like Wilcox and Nick Collison, and Seattle's 22 losses in games decided by six points or less.
But Bennett and Wilkens thought otherwise.
"If they replace me, they'll have had five coaches in seven years," Hill said before the season finale against Dallas. "Players get tired of coaches changing all the time."
Sund had been Seattle's GM since 2001, and previously worked with Detroit, Dallas and Milwaukee, but was hired by the Sonics' previous ownership group.
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press
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