The Seattle SuperSonics have a realistic chance of relocating to Oklahoma City next season thanks to a mid-June trial date scheduled Tuesday by U.S. District Court Judge Marsha Pechman in the court case between the team and the city of Seattle.
Pechman ordered a six-day trail to begin June 16 on Tuesday morning during a scheduling conference between the two parties in a Washington court. The date is a halfway point between the requested trial dates sought by the two sides.
At the heart of the legal dispute is the question of whether the Oklahoma-based ownership group of the Sonics should be allowed to buy out the remaining two years of their arena contact and leave Seattle or can only fulfill the use agreement by playing in KeyArena until 2010.
Sonics chairman Clay Bennett formally applied with the NBA in November to move the franchise to Oklahoma City for the 2008-09 season.
After Tuesday's ruling, that goal appears alive.
That wouldn't be the case if the city of Seattle's legal team was granted an Oct. 27 trial date as it requested, arguing for more time to prepare and present its case. With the 2008-09 NBA season likely starting on or around Halloween, and the NBA preseason beginning in early October, it would have been nearly impossible for the Sonics to move in time for next season.
Attorneys for the Sonics, on the other hand, had requested a March 24 trial date, which likely would have enabled the case's conclusion in time for the Sonics to relocate to Oklahoma City for the start of next season.
Pechman, however, scoffed at both the city of Seattle's request for such a distant start date and the Sonics' request to begin trial so soon despite the team's arguments of the timeliness involved in the NBA's scheduling process.
The NBA typically compiles the league-wide schedule from the end of February through its announcement in August, attempting to provide teams the most sensible road trips and back-to-back games according to location.
"We respect and appreciate the judge's decision,” said Sonics attorney Brad Keller in a statement.