SuperSonics one big puzzle built around No. 2 draft pick Durant


Sam Presti recites the words constantly, like one long recording on a continuous loop.

Accountability, identity, professionalism.

They are the ideals that Presti, the Seattle SuperSonics general manager, believes are the key to revitalizing a franchise that contended for titles a decade ago, only to now fall into a rut of mediocrity.

But Presti forgot to add two more words that may ultimately decide of Seattle becomes an elite franchise again &

Kevin Durant.

"We're just trying to build an organization that are built on certain core principles that are not unique to professional sports but are the way we would like to build our team," Presti said.

Durant is the focal point of the 2007 SuperSonics, who open their season on Oct. 31 at Denver with a remodeled roster minus it's two leading scores from a year ago, and a franchise rife with off-court questions about its future.

The job of new coach P.J. Carlesimo is making complementary pieces around Durant fit into a product that can somehow try and rejuvenate interest in a franchise that has soured fans with its off-court wrangling about if owner Clay Bennett will move the team from Seattle.

"We've got some good young talent and we've got some pieces we have to figure out how to put them together," Carlesimo said.

There are a handful of players returning from last year's 31-51 team, but the most recognizable faces are now in the Eastern Conference.

Gone is Ray Allen, shipped to Boston in a draft day trade that landed three new players, including No. 5 draft pick Jeff Green. Gone is Rashard Lewis, who spurned Seattle after seeing Allen get traded, then signed with Orlando as a free agent.

In some ways, the overhaul makes sense, even if it almost assured that the 2007-08 season would be a struggle. With Allen and Lewis together, the Sonics made the playoffs just once, during their surprise run to the Northwest Division title in 2005. But for all the offensive skill the duo brought to the floor, it didn't translate into success.

"Just to change the culture you have to do a total overhaul," said Nick Collison, one of the holdovers.

Producing the roster makeover was Presti, the wunderkind of the San Antonio Spurs front office, who Seattle owner Clay Bennett plucked from south Texas to remodel the Sonics into a mirror image of the Spurs.

Presti defined his principles watching the Spurs win three titles during his time in the San Antonio front office, and by watching what worked and failed for other organizations, both in the NBA and in other professional sports.

To help maintain that continuity from the front-office to the floor, Presti called upon Carlesimo, after the two worked together with the Spurs, where Carlesimo was an assistant.

"Our job is to come in and develop the team work with the team and at the end of the day we'll see how good the team can be," Presti said. "There are so many new faces &

the coach, the environment. But the focus on our organization is taking care of task at hand each day."

The centerpiece of the Sonics now and in the future is Durant, who dominated the college game in his one year at Texas, earning every major player of the year honor, then becoming the No. 2 pick in the draft behind Portland's Greg Oden.

With some talent around Durant, the Sonics could be respectable in 2007-08 &

likely not playoff good &

but this year is the building block for the future. There are significant questions, but if all break right, the Sonics could be competitive.

Among them:


162; Can Wally Szczerbiak recover from serious ankle surgery last season and resemble the player that when not saddled with injuries, averaged nearly 20 points per game and regularly shot around 50 percent from the field?


162; Can Robert Swift overcome an ACL tear in his right knee that cost him all of last season, and show the Sonics did not waste a lottery pick on the 7-footer coming out of high school in 2004?


162; Can the backcourt trio of Luke Ridnour, Delonte West and Earl Watson work harmoniously and provide not only scoring, but the perimeter defense the Sonics have lacked?


162; Can Carlesimo's preaching about the need to play defense finally sink in with a franchise that has been immune to the practice in recent seasons?


162; And, can Durant handle the lofty attention and expectations that come with being the runaway preseason favorite for being rookie of the year?

"I want to be a team player. That's what my game is all about," Durant said. "Hopefully we can progress like we did last year. Hopefully with this team and how hard we are working, hopefully we are going to do it."

As their on-court product builds its base for the future, the Sonics' off-court saga is now playing out in the courtroom. Bennett would like the 41st season of the Sonics in Seattle to be the last, if a legitimate proposal for a new arena isn't on the table by the time the season begins.

Bennett would like to get out of the final two years of the Sonics lease at KeyArena and move the team to Oklahoma City following this season. The city of Seattle is fighting Bennett's advances, trying to hold the Sonics to their lease agreement in the hopes of finding a solution that keeps the team in the Northwest.

"It's going to be an exciting year. It's a new team, new faces on the team. New coach. New GM. And I think we are going to be an athletic team," Durant said. "So, maybe here and there you'll see some nice plays."

Sonics fans just hope they see Durant for more than one season.

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