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Can Starbucks' Schultz save face with steamed Seattle?

by Berry Tramel Modified: April 16, 2008 at 1:22 am •  Published: April 16, 2008

It most definitely is Seattle's best idea from the let's-try-anything strategy of recent weeks. Ownership is at the crux of this whole matter. Whoever owns the Sonics owns the aces. Retrieve ownership, retrieve power.

The Bennett boat has left the harbor. No way he's owning a team in Seattle now. The only way the Sonics stay is if someone else owns the team, and if Bennett's not selling, then this peculiar lawsuit is the best flare.

Could Schultz win in court? I don't see how.

The emails are embarrassing. When Bennett partners Aubrey McClendon and Tom Ward ask in April 2007 if there's any way the Sonics could move that summer, Bennett responds, "I am a man possessed! I will do everything I can...”

Bennett will argue that the context is all wrong, that he still was talking about a Seattle arena deal, and nobody in Seattle will believe him, but I don't see him cracking on the witness stand.

So while Schultz claims fraud, Bennett's actions will be impossible to ignore.

Bennett spent millions of dollars on lobbyists and architects for an arena plan. And his lawyers will counter the emails with testimony from people like Washington Sen. Margarita Prentice (D-Renton).

Prentice and Bennett put together a bill, approved by the state senate, that would create a funding plan for a new arena. But the bill never got out of House committee.

"Clay Bennett went to great lengths to try to reach an agreement,” Prentice told The Oklahoman last summer. "And he agreed to a lot of things that he was never even given the chance to present to the legislature. He and I know that's true.”

Hard to argue, then, that Bennett committed fraud by never intending to secure an arena deal.

"I just think it's part of Seattle's elitist attitude that somehow or another we're too cool for sports,” Prentice said. "It's just never been allowed to get anywhere, and that's a darn shame.”

The lawsuit could, of course, be a big thorn to Bennett's hopes of moving the Sonics. This lawsuit, the KeyArena lease suit in June, one major headache after another. Create enough potholes, the theory goes, and the road closes.

As the clock ticks toward the New York vote Friday, that's Seattle's best hope. Only hope, really. Try to prove the sale a fraud. Get a judge to tie up ownership or get the NBA board of governors to abandon Stern and halt the vote and make everybody start over.

Don't blame Seattle. These are big stakes and rare commodities. NBA franchises are hard to come by. When negotiations and dialogue don't work, you start kicking and screaming and scratching and clawing.

And if such an effort saves only face for some of the people who created this mess in the first place, all the better for Mister Coffee.

Read Gregoire's letter to the NBA