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Carlesimo inherits young, talented, overhauled Sonics

SEATTLE -- Kevin Durant is the cornerstone of the Seattle
SuperSonics' future. P.J. Carlesimo gets the first opportunity to
teach Durant the ways of the NBA.

The Sonics concluded their two-month search on Thursday when
they hired Carlesimo as their coach, eight years after he was fired
from his last head coaching job. After spending the last five years
as an assistant with San Antonio, Carlesimo will take charge of a
young team still in the throes of a roster overhaul.

It is Carlesimo's first head coaching job since the 1999 season,
when he was fired by Golden State. Carlesimo replaces Bob Hill, who
was fired on April 24 after Seattle went 31-51 in his only full
season as coach.

"I wanted to be a head coach again, particularly the last
couple of years I did start to feel it was going to happen,"
Carlesimo said. "But I didn't feel like it was owed me or I would
be incomplete if it didn't happen again."

The remodeling of Seattle's roster is being orchestrated by
30-year-old general manager Sam Presti. In the past week, the
Sonics traded seven-time All-Star Ray Allen to Boston on draft
night, and free agent Rashard Lewis agreed to sign with the Orlando Magic, erasing Seattle's top two scorers from its lineup.

Carlesimo's directive will be overseeing the growth and
development of Durant and Jeff Green, two of the first five picks
from last week's draft, while also developing a current roster that
has no player older than 30. Seattle selected Durant with the No. 2
pick, then got the rights to Green, the No. 5 selection, in the
trade of Allen.

Carlesimo is also charged with instilling defensive principles
on a team that has barely played any since Nate McMillan left for
Portland after the 2004-05 season.

Presti settled on Carlesimo as his top choice for the position,
determining that Seattle needed a teacher who fell in line with the
rest of the organization's principles.

"One of the reasons P.J. is the guy is his ability to teach.
And I think we have a number of players on this team who want to
get better, and want to be coached and have come from programs
where they have been coached," Presti said. "Ultimately, at the
end of the day, it's about improving your ball club."

To learn if Carlesimo would be the correct fit for the
organization, Presti spent time with Durant's college coach, Texas'
Rick Barnes. Lengthy discussions with Barnes convinced Presti that
a Durant-Carlesimo mix would be a benefit.

It certainly didn't hurt Carlesimo's chances that he and Barnes
are close friends, and that both Carlesimo and Presti worked for
the San Antonio Spurs before both came to Seattle.

"What we're trying to do here is create a team in Seattle that
will pull from some of the core values of San Antonio, but also
some of the values that are seen in a Utah or a Chicago or other
teams that have an identity and have a culture," Presti said. "I
believe P.J., coming from a winning culture ... is important to
what it is we want to do here."

Seattle becomes the third stop in Carlesimo's NBA coaching
tenure, the previous two marked by tensions between players and the
coach, and of course, one infamous run-in with Latrell Sprewell
almost 10 years ago.

Carlesimo took the Trail Blazers to the playoffs three times in
the 1990s, but never advanced out of the first round. It was at
Golden State where Carlesimo garnered headlines for his intense,
in-your-face approach that almost immediately became an issue when
tensions developed with Sprewell, his star player.

The emotions boiled over at a practice Dec. 1, 1997, when
Sprewell responded to Carlesimo's terse command of "put a little
mustard" on a pass by choking his coach. It took several players
and team officials to break up the attack, which an angry Sprewell
renewed 15 minutes later.

"The NBA is about the players; there is absolutely no question
about that," Carlesimo said. "Hopefully, I have learned from my
relations."

Carlesimo lasted two more years with the Warriors before getting
fired after a 6-21 start to the 1999 season. He was comfortable
spending his time as Gregg Popovich's assistant in San Antonio, a
stretch of time that calmed his reputation.

"He has deep experience in the college and pro game and will
immediately instill a highly disciplined, defensive mentality with
players that play intelligently and play together," Sonics'
majority owner Clay Bennett said.

Presti and Bennett narrowed the field to Carlesimo and former
Minnesota coach and Seattle assistant Dwane Casey. On Tuesday,
Casey was informed the Sonics were "going in a different
direction."

Bennett, the Oklahoma City-based owner of the Sonics, repeatedly
has said he wants to model his franchise after San Antonio's. He
has plucked two key pieces from the Spurs: Presti, who was San
Antonio's assistant GM, and now Carlesimo.

"I feel really, really good with the kind of basketball mind
we're bringing into the program with P.J.," Presti said.