The lead attorney for the city of Seattle and several Seattle politicians are now willing to negotiate a settlement in the lease dispute with the Sonics ownership group if those talks include the promise of a replacement franchise by the NBA.
Former U.S. Senator Slade Gorton, who NBA Commissioner David Stern last week accused of implementing a "scorched-earth policy” against the Sonics, told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer that the city's best chance at retaining the NBA is securing a replacement for the Oklahoma-bound Sonics.
"While I'd still love to see the Sonics stay, I think that is highly unlikely,” said Gorton, the lead attorney for Seattle's legal team. "What we're trying to accomplish now, in my view, is to get another team in their place.”
NBA owners by a 28-2 margin voted last week to approve the Sonics relocation to Oklahoma City. The Sonics and city of Seattle, however, are currently scheduled to go to trial June 16 in Seattle to settle a lease dispute in which the city seeks to force the team to play in Seattle through the expiration of its lease in 2010. The Sonics are seeking a ruling that allows them to pay the remaining rent and relocate in time for next season.
Seattle politicians echoed Gorton's sentiments Tuesday.
"While the initial reaction has been emotional and volatile, I think more and more people are realizing it's more important to focus on a team than on a tantrum,” said King County Councilmember Pete Von Reichbauer, who helped Seattle keep the NFL's Seahawks from relocating to California. "And I am hopeful that we can bring together the civic leadership, both public and private, in this region in order to address the long term.
"I think we should lower the volume of the rhetoric in order to hear each other a little better and maybe come to a resolution of the dispute.”
Gorton acknowledged that state leaders in Washington must come up with an arena solution before the NBA would consider guaranteeing a franchise to replace the departing Sonics. State leaders recently decided not to ap
"All the league has to do to lead to an amicable settlement is see to it that we're assured of a new team,” Gorton told the P-I.
Gorton declined further comment when reached by phone Tuesday. A spokesman for Sonics Chairman Clay Bennett also declined comment.
If Seattle officials refuse to accept a buyout the city would have to pay off the current arena debt for another five years after the Sonics relocate in 2010 should they lose the federal court case. KeyArena was remodeled in 1994 for $74 million.
Attempts to reach Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels and Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis were unsuccessful.