- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 26, 2007

While Seattle SuperSonics executives will gather in New York on Thursday planning to choose either Kevin Durant or Greg Oden with the second pick in the 2007 NBA Draft, fans in Seattle will watch knowing that either player’s time in the city could be short-lived.

Sonics owner Clay Bennett, who also owns the WNBA’s Seattle Storm, has said he will move the team out of Seattle if public financing plans for a new arena are not approved by this fall. Oklahoma City, Bennett’s home town, is at the top of the list of potential suitors. Kansas City and Las Vegas also could be in the running.

“It would be devastating,” said Steven Pyeatt, a 50-year-old Sonics fan and organizer of a group called Save Our Sonics and Storm. “This was our first real pro sports team. I went to the first game. I don’t want to go to the last.”

There are no imminent plans to relocate — the team is legally required to play in Seattle through next season — and Bennett has made no promises to any other cities. But Washington’s state legislature did not even vote on a plan to use county revenues to cover $278 million of the $500 million cost of a proposed arena, and there appears to be little chance of establishing new legislative support before Bennett’s Oct. 31 deadline.

“We have made it clear we want to succeed in Seattle, and we are still exploring all of our options there,” Bennett told fans earlier this year. “If, however, we find ourselves several months down the road in a position to begin a serious evaluation to find the best location for our two teams, we owe it to the business to consider a number of cities where the leadership has expressed a strong desire to attract an NBA and WNBA franchise and explore ways to make that happen.”

Despite Bennett’s willingness to move out of Seattle, the Sonics’ scoring the second pick in the draft has led to a feeling of optimism for fans of a team that has one playoff series victory since 1998. In fact, Pyeatt said the Sonics’ being awarded the second pick — they had a less than 20 percent chance of landing the first or second selection — has boosted grassroots support to keep the team in town. Excitement over Durant, a 6-foot-9 forward from Texas, is particularly high.

In recent weeks, talks among businesses looking to form a private-funding deal for a new arena have gained steam, and there have been early talks about building a new arena on land owned by a tribe of local Native Americans.

“This kid’s good enough to bring us back. … We’ve been waiting for something like this,” Pyeatt said. “Something, anything to jump start things. For 10 months now it was like pushing a wet noodle up a hill. Now, we’re seeing some momentum.”