The Sonics are headed for Oklahoma City. No one really argues otherwise anymore, and to quote my old pal Howard Schnellenberger, "the only variable is time.”
The Colonel probably never has laid eyes on an NBA game, but his words are apt. Here come the Sonics, this summer or in 2010. The only question is when.
And the answer remains circular.
The Sonics might be here sooner than later because they are willing to wait it out in Seattle. The Sonics hold all the cards. Most major-league franchises do.
But the Sonics are in a stronger position to negotiate out of a lease than most:
•They have the backing of the commissioner. Have you listened to David Stern in recent weeks? His remarks are becoming more and more pointed.
Stern was blunt the other day, when he told Portland television stations that if Seattle's "expressed desire to bleed current ownership for three more years is acted upon, then we'll take the bleeding with them and the chances of there ever being a franchise in Seattle again are not very good.”
•They have a destination. George Shinn's primary problem in pulling the Hornets out of Charlotte was that he didn't know where to go and ended up shakily in New Orleans.
The Sonics have everything aligned in Oklahoma City, from a renovated arena, to a negotiated lease to the upcoming NBA visit, which should be mere formality. The league's not in the business of allowing votes on questionable relocations.
•Finally, the Sonics are willing to step away from the table. Seattle wants the Sonics to fulfill the lease into 2010. To which the Sonics can say, OK.
Of course the Sonics would rather come on and get about the business of making Oklahoma City an NBA success story.
But if the Sonics stay two more years, it harms Seattle much more than it harms the Sonics.
Think about it. Sonics chairman Clay Bennett has offered a lease payout of almost $27 million.
Bennett is not excited about two more seasons of hemorrhaging finances for a lame-duck franchise.