We've been duped by Bennett
By Steve Kelley
Seattle Times staff columnist
We've been duped.
We thought Sonics owner Clay Bennett really cared about staying when he brought Lenny Wilkens into a position of authority inside the franchise.
We thought he really meant it when he and Wilkens went to lobby the Legislature and ask for a new all-purpose arena that would benefit one and all.
We thought he really wanted to protect the Sonics' gold-plated first-round pick Kevin Durant with a reliable, veteran scorer like Rashard Lewis.
We thought he was serious about finding the right head coach for his young team when he interviewed the best candidate out there, former Sonics assistant Dwane Casey.
Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. And wrong.
This must be what a basketball apocalypse feels like.
We've been duped.
First, the Sonics botched the Rashard Lewis deal so badly, it made his decision to go to Orlando as easy as choosing a vacation destination.
And at a noon news conference Thursday, the Sonics will name the absolutely wrong choice to be their new head coach.
They had a 50-50 chance of getting it right and they muffed it.
They picked P.J. Carlesimo, San Antonio's assistant coach, over Casey, the former Minnesota coach.
These San Antonio guys — Sonics owner Clay Bennett, a former Spurs minority owner, and Sam Presti, a former Spurs assistant general manager — took their security blanket over the common-sense choice.
They sucked all the joy out of draft night, when Presti made all the right moves — picking Kevin Durant and trading Ray Allen to Boston for the fifth pick, Jeff Green, along with Delonte West and Wally Szczerbiak.
On that night, they opened the door to the hope the Sonics could stay in Seattle. This week, they slammed it shut.
They dumped payroll like a troubled jet drops fuel.
They lost 50 points per game in Allen and Lewis and replaced it with promise. Promise that almost certainly will be realized some day in some other city besides Seattle.
These past two days were a black-hearted Valentine from Bennett to the people of Seattle. A finger-waving salute to the state's legislators. An adios to pro basketball in this town.
Bennett is sprinting away from this city's NBA legacy. He's turning his back on 40-plus years of hoops.
Rashard Lewis? Why does Bennett need a nine-year Sonics veteran who carries a $70 million-plus price tag?
Dwane Casey? He was too close to the Sonics' more glorious past.
He coached with George Karl all the way to the 1996 NBA Finals. Coached with Nate McMillan when they shocked the league and won the 2005 Northwest Division, then took Bennett's beloved role models, the Spurs, to six nail-biting games.
Casey was too dangerous for Bennett. He had friends in Seattle. He wanted the franchise to stay. And Bennett couldn't have that.
We've been duped.
Bennett couldn't have a former Sonics assistant coaching his team.
Casey has a home in Seattle, for crying out loud. He got married here.
Yikes, he might have let it slip to the media that this team belonged in Seattle.
And we already know how much Bennett hates the Seattle media. In the job interviews with both general managers and coaches, he whined about the "unfair" treatment he has received here.
Apparently he takes no responsibility for his blunders.
Not hiring Casey is the latest.
The former Sonics assistant was the guy who could have coaxed and pushed and cursed and cajoled this young team, which will have an opening-day roster that averages between 24 and 25 years old.
Carlesimo is wrong for this team.
What happened the last time Carlesimo coached a young NBA team?
The Golden State Warriors fell into anarchy during his two-plus-year tenure when the team went 46-113.
Let's not even mention the Latrell Sprewell incident.
(OK, we just did.)
Carlesimo is a grinder. He chews on players. He wears on them.
It will take a certain, secure veteran player, like Robert Horry or Michael Finley, to play for Carlesimo. Those are players the Sonics don't have.
With Carlesimo, Bennett is looking for the second coming of Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, a great coach who can get away with being cold-hearted because he has Tim Duncan and Duncan always salved the psychic wounds Popovich inflicted on the other Spurs.
Seattle is a much different team.
In terms of maturity, these Sonics are as much like the Spurs as Bellevue High School is to the Indianapolis Colts.
Maybe Seattle will win 28 games next year. Maybe the Sonics will get lucky and Durant goes LeBron on the league and they win 35.
I'm not sure it matters anymore.
It appears Bennett is counting days, not wins. He is looking to take his young team to some naïve smaller-market city that will be thrilled, at least initially, just to have a team.
In the meantime, this season in Seattle, for Bennett, is just an inconvenient truth.