When Clay Bennett and his partners first bought the Seattle SuperSonics, he would drive around the Puget Sound area marveling. "I couldn't get my hands around what good fortune, to have a team in that marketplace with a new facility,” said Bennett, the Oklahoma City businessman whose group purchased the NBA franchise last summer. "I really thought we would get a deal done. An extraordinary opportunity. "But lately, I don't have those same feelings.” Bennett said Tuesday that despite the splendid lottery news of last week — the Sonics will pick second in the NBA draft, giving them either Greg Oden or Kevin Durant, both projected superstars — he is out of ideas for a new arena in Seattle and has begun preliminary discussions with Oklahoma City and Kansas City about possible relocation. "My expectation and my belief is that if we leave Seattle, we're quite likely headed to Oklahoma City,” Bennett said from his office on the 31st floor of Oklahoma Tower. "But that decision has to be made with appropriate due diligence. We have to do that work. Just can't proclaim we're moving here.” Bennett said the Sonics got a "little bump” in ticket sales from the lottery news but no momentum on the arena front. Bennett said ideally the Sonics would launch the career of either Durant or Oden in the franchise's long-term home but that it was unlikely for the franchise to seek relocation this summer. "For now, without a building solution, it's our intent to play in Seattle and apply for relocation immediately after the (Oct. 31) deadline,” Bennett said. The Oklahoma City group agreed to give Seattle until Oct. 31 to produce an arena deal. Even before the Sonics were sold, NBA commissioner David Stern said it was becoming apparent Seattle was not interested in keeping the franchise. Bennett said that now is becoming apparent to him, too. Bennett cited a story in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer on Tuesday that declared the loss of the Sonics would have a "negligible economic impact” on Seattle and quoted deputy mayor Tim Ceis as saying, "In terms of our image as a city, I don't think (the Sonics' effect) matters — maybe it did 40 years ago when they first came here.” Bennett also saw KWTV's SportsBlitz on Sunday night, when Seattle sportscaster Gaard Swanson told Oklahoma viewers "nobody cares about whether the Sonics stay in Seattle.” Bennett said, "I really think that's a common, broad perspective. I'm probably as pessimistic as I've been. Not to say I've lost complete hope. We'll evaluate thoroughly any potential lead, but we're out of ideas.” Bennett said he understands the opposition to public money for a new arena but has to do what's best for his franchise. The Washington legislature declined to allow King County to vote for a proposed arena that would need $350 million in tax money, mostly from tourism taxes already in place. "It may be that this proposal doesn't fit the Seattle marketplace at this time,” Bennett said. Hence the Sonics are looking elsewhere. Bennett said he remains concerned about Oklahoma City's long-term viability as an NBA market but has concerns about Kansas City, too, which already has two major-league franchises. In conjunction with the NBA, Bennett's group is beginning to study both markets and that no other city is being considered at this time. Bennett said the lack of broadcasting revenue is the biggest drawback to Oklahoma City, and probably Kansas City, also. Bennett cited an old banker's saying: "Bad loans are made in good times.” In other words, another oil boom has Oklahoma City flush with prosperity. "It won't stay like this forever,” Bennett said. "Will companies spend dollars in down times? We're testing all that.” But Oklahoma City's two-year support of the Hornets, plus the cooperative relationship between Oklahoma City government and business leaders, still makes OKC attractive. "I think we'll get there,” Bennett said of deciding Oklahoma City is the best relocation site. "But we'll do so with involvement from the league.” In the same way that Bennett drove around Seattle, dreaming of the future, he also has driven through downtown Oklahoma City and entertained grand thoughts. "I've thought about that for a long time,” Bennett said. "Years and years. Even as I've seen how well we've done, I see a lot more to come. "Government and private business working together, working for the greater good. I believe in that concept as strongly as ever. It's what's setting Oklahoma City apart these days.”
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