SEATTLE Morale may be low at the Sonics' downtown headquarters, but general manager Sam Presti said coaches and scouts are focused on Thursday's NBA draft and are undeterred by the city of Seattle's lawsuit against the team.
The Sonics have the Nos. 4 and 24 picks in the first round and four selections in the second round Nos. 32, 46, 50 and 56. As fate would have it, the six-day trial is scheduled to conclude at 4 p.m., which is precisely the start of the draft.
"Is it strange? I wouldn't necessarily call it strange," Presti said Tuesday at a news conference. "It's just part of the situation that we're in.
"Again we're human. It's not as if we don't know that's going on or pretend that's not going on. We understand that it's there, but as professionals and as leaders we have to be doing our job every day that we're here to try and improve and get better as a basketball team. That is really what our focus has been. If we allow it to deter us, it puts us back from a competitive standpoint and we can't allow that to happen."
Presti's sentiments counter last week's testimony from chairman and co-owner Clay Bennett and interim president and CEO Danny Barth, who said the Sonics' lame-duck status has hindered the team's ability to remain competitive in the NBA. Barth described "morale as low" and Bennett said "the process is hindered."
Over the past month, dozens of prospective draftees have worked out for the Sonics at the Furtado Center. While the team was interviewing players, the players were interviewing the team. They wanted to know about the Sonics' uncertain future in Seattle or Oklahoma City.
"We talk about what we're trying to do basketball-wise and what the vision of the team is and also about the fact that we choose to focus on the things we can control," Presti said. "And the things we can control happen on the basketball floor. . . . I wouldn't say they are necessarily concerned. I think they're concerned with getting drafted."
Speculation continues about what the Sonics will do with their six picks and four trade exceptions ranging from $1.3 million to $3.3 million. The team also has two first-round picks and four total in the 2009 draft and two first-round choices in 2010.
The Sonics have taken long looks at Arizona guard Jerryd Bayless, Stanford center Brook Lopez, USC guard O.J. Mayo and Indiana guard Eric Gordon. Each is a candidate for the fourth pick.
Presti declined to address a rumor that Seattle wants to draft Kansas State forward Michael Beasley and has offered a deal to Miami that would send forward Chris Wilcox and the No. 4 pick to the Heat for center Mark Blount and the No. 2 choice.
The Sonics GM also did not shoot down rumors about the team moving down to nab UCLA guard Russell Westbrook or Bruins forward Kevin Love.
Presti confirmed that he's engaged in trade dialogue, but said it's "highly unlikely" he'd deal Kevin Durant, last season's NBA Rookie of the Year. Conceivably, the same goes for Jeff Green, a first-team All-Rookie member. Everyone else is believed to be dangling in the trade winds.
"We take a lot of calls and we also make a lot of calls because we want to explore every avenue," Presti said. "We're taking a lot more (calls) probably this year, but that's to be expected because of the assets we have."
In his first year as a GM, Presti began building a reputation as a freewheeling executive after he orchestrated a blockbuster trade that dealt Ray Allen and a second-round pick to the Boston Celtics for their fifth pick, Wally Szczerbiak, Delonte West and a 2008 second-round pick. Presti capped his first draft as Sonics GM by swapping second-round picks with Houston.
Reviews on Presti's draft-day maneuvers are mixed. Boston acquired backup big man Glen Davis with Seattle's second-round pick and Allen helped the Celtics win the NBA championship while the Rockets drafted Carl Landry, a second-team All-Rookie selection.
The Sonics took Green with last year's fifth pick but Seattle finished with a franchise-worst 20-62 record.
"I use the word foundation a lot," Presti said. "Last year, we were able to add a player like Kevin, and that was tremendous to our franchise. This year with this draft, I think we have to be realistic that what we're adding may not have the same kind of impact, but is going to be a very good player."