Sonics owners exchanged e-mails last April suggesting their desire to move the NBA team to Oklahoma City, according to e-mails obtained by lawyers for the city of Seattle. The e-mails came at a time when team owners were publicly indicating a willingness to keep the Sonics in Seattle. The exchange began one day after the Washington legislature declined to vote on a $500 million arena plan, a move Sonics chairman Clay Bennett called “quite likely a debilitating blow to our efforts to develop a world-class facility.” In an e-mailed conversation between Bennett, Aubrey McClendon and Tom Ward dated April 17-19, 2007, the owners shared their desires to have the team in Oklahoma City for the start of the current 2007-08 NBA season. The e-mails were obtained during the city of Seattle’s discovery process in its pending federal court case against the team and were first reported by The Seattle Times. At the time of e-mail exchange, Bennett publicly had granted Seattle officials until Oct. 31, 2007 to come up with a new arena plan to replace the outdated KeyArena. “Is there any way to move here for next season or are we doomed to have another lame duck season in Seattle?” Ward wrote. Bennett replied: “I am a man possessed! Will do everything we can. Thanks for hanging with me boys, the game is getting started!” Ward: “That’s the spirit!! I am willing to help any way I can to watch ball here next year.” McClendon: “Me too, thanks Clay!” McClendon was fined $250,000 by the NBA for comments last August when he told The Journal Record that the ownership group “hoped to come here” when they bought the team. Bennett declined comment on Thursday. The league will hold its owners meetings next week in New York City, and two NBA sources have confirmed that the owners will vote on the move next Friday. NBA bylaws state that league owners must vote on relocation applications no sooner than seven days after an appointed relocation committee makes a recommendation to the board of governors and no later than 30 days. A majority of the league’s 30 owners is needed for final approval. How the e-mails might impact June’s trial is unclear, however. Attorneys for the city of Seattle first sought to obtain e-mails from the ownership group’s eight members in early February. Sonics attorneys initially agreed to turn over pertinent e-mails from Bennett and McClendon only, claiming that electronic documents from the group’s six other owners was unnecessary and perhaps illegal since the parties work at private firms. U.S. District Court Judge Marsha Pechman, who is presiding over the case that is scheduled to go to trial June 16, later ruled that the Sonics must turn over e-mails from the six primary members. Seattle attorneys attached the e-mails to a motion filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in New York seeking to obtain documents from the NBA that might be useful in the upcoming trial. In its 25-page brief, the city of Seattle contends that Bennett also “deceived NBA Commissioner David Stern about the ongoing conspiracy” to move the team. In an e-mail dated Aug. 18, 2007 — one week after McClendon’s initial controversial comments and four months after the owners’ e-mail conversation — Bennett told Stern that he had not discussed a move with the other owners. “As absolutely remarkable as it may seem, Aubrey and I have NEVER discussed moving the Sonics to Oklahoma City, nor have I discussed it with ANY other member of our ownership group,” Bennett wrote. Paul Lawrence, a lead attorney for the city of Seattle, said the e-mails are currently being used only as evidence to compel the NBA to turn over what might be significant related information to the Sonics case. But Lawrence said the e-mails most likely will be used in June’s trial. Sonics owners are attempting to escape the final two years of their KeyArena lease by paying off the remaining rent. Seattle attorneys are arguing that under a clause known as specific performance the team must play in Seattle until the lease expires in September 2010. “One of the issues in specific performance is the good faith and the clean hands of the parties to a contract,” Lawrence said. “In addition, as argued in the motion, there are credibility issues raised by the e-mails where the owners of the Sonics appear to have said one thing to the NBA that is contradicted by e-mails that were produced in litigation.” Berry Tramel contributed to this story.