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. But he also can't be excited about writing another huge check. He's been writing a bunch of those. To buy the franchise, to fund an arena proposal, to fight Seattle in court. What if Bennett says, fine. The Sonics will stay two more years. Stay two more years and leave in 2010 without paying a red-dirt cent. Leave Seattle with a debt payment on suddenly-vacant KeyArena. Stay two more years and let this revamped Sonic roster grow into a competitive team, which it is not now but should be in 2010. Stay two more years and slowly lay the foundation in Oklahoma City for marketing and promotion and business, rather than the big-bang process that will be needed if the Sonics suddenly escape the lease between now and July. Stay two more years and allow the Ford Center renovation to be completed without having to hammer and nail around NBA games, so that the Oklahoma City Sonics can debut in their glittering new home. Is that the way Bennett prefers to bring the Sonics here? I doubt it. I assume he would like to go ahead and launch. The Sonics will lose a ton of money if they have to stay two more years, although it might not be much more than he would have to pay to escape the lease. But clearly, there are advantages to waiting. Meanwhile, Seattle's only advantage to waiting is spite and desperate hope. Spite loses its savor when you realize Bennett's options. Desperation has its merits. Sports history is full of midnight deals that kept teams. But that's a serious gamble. Is Seattle willing to assume a debt on KeyArena, in hopes of convincing Oklahoma City owners to not take a team to Oklahoma City when NBA owners have given the green light? Doesn't seem prudent. So the Sonics very well might stay in Seattle two more years. Which is one more reason why they might not.