David Stern came to the defense of his beleaguered referees again Thursday, saying they don't manipulate games or engage in other criminal activity.

Speaking to the media at an NBA finals that has been increasingly overshadowed by the Tim Donaghy scandal, the commissioner said Game 6 of the 2002 Western Conference finals might have been officiated poorly, but honestly and not illegally.

Donaghy contended this week in a court filing that two "company men" worked that game, in which the Los Angeles Lakers used a huge free-throw advantage in the fourth quarter to avoid elimination against Sacramento.

"The allegations about that are incorrect," Stern said. "Not true."

He said he felt bad for Boston and Los Angeles players in the finals, and especially the officials who have to "defend themselves against allegations by one of their fallen brethren."

Stern acknowledged the FBI investigation into Donaghy's claims did include questions about Dick Bavetta, one of the officials who worked that game, but reiterated the message he has repeated for a year, saying, "the only person now being sentenced for a crime is Mr. Donaghy."

Donaghy admitted to betting on games he officiated, taking cash payments from associates and providing them information to win their bets.

Scheduled to be sentenced next month, Donaghy's making the league very uncomfortable in the meantime.

His latest accusations — that the league gave special treatment to star players and sought to extend series for better ratings and that some officials enjoyed special relationships with players — have reignited of conspiracy theories.

$10M COULD BUY OUT SEATTLE LEASE: Seattle has already rejected owner Clay Bennett's $26 million offer to take his SuperSonics to Oklahoma City immediately.

Now the Sonics are trying to make that deal look sweet compared to what could be coming.

Seattle's oldest professional sports franchise, with 41 years in town, is seeking to break the final two years of its lease at KeyArena by paying the city a sum of no more than $10 million — $5.1 million for the 2008-09 season and $4.9 million for 2009-2010 — which the team believes would satisfy the rental agreement with the arena.

That is one of the new key assertions in the trial brief filed for the team's upcoming court battle with the city of Seattle.

The Sonics' brief states they lost $30 million this past season when they were 20-62, their worst-ever record. It also asserts the team's dispute with the city is a garden variety tenant-landlord impasse that should not require "specific performance."

The city, which also filed its brief Wednesday, argues the lease explicitly requires "specific performance" — that is, the Sonics need to play in KeyArena until 2010.

MAYO WORKS OUT FOR KNICKS: O.J. Mayo can already see the bright side if he gets drafted by the New York Knicks: New coach Mike D'Antoni's up-tempo game should give the big guard plenty of action.

Might take the sting out of falling to sixth in the draft and joining one of the NBA's most woeful franchises.

Not that Mayo's ride has been the smoothest lately, either. In the past month, he's been dogged by multiple reports that he had cash and gifts funneled his way by an agent, in violation of NCAA regulations. The 20-year-old has denied receiving any improper benefits.

Subsequent reports have said that California authorities are investigating whether an associate of Mayo's used a charity's credit card to purchase the benefits.

On Thursday, still beaded with sweat after working out privately for Knicks officials at their training center, the 6-foot-5 guard shrugged off the idea that he might be thrown off his game by the allegations.