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Seattle SuperSonics 2003-04 Season Preview

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By Mark Bodenrader, NBA Editor

2002-03 FINISH: 40-42

OFFSEASON ADDITIONS: G , F , G

OFFSEASON LOSSES: C , G , C , G

PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP: PG , SG , SF , PF , C

COACH: Nate McMillan

(Sports Network) - The Seattle are rebuilding a lot faster than expected thanks to an advantageous trade the team pulled off last February.

While ultimately deciding to trade the team's best and most popular player -- -- to Milwaukee was tough, the split was softened by the new franchise player the Sonics received in return.

George Karl, then the ' coach, was so desperate to succeed in last year's playoffs that he set his sights on acquiring the savvy Payton, whom he had coached during his tenure in the Emerald City. Luckily for the Sonics, Karl was willing to trade 28-year-old , one of the league's brightest young stars in his prime, for the 35-year-old Payton, who had threatened to leave Seattle anyway when his contract was up after the season.

After acquiring Allen the Sonics went 18-12 over the remainder of the regular season and came up just four games shy of a postseason spot. Meanwhile, the barely made it into the playoffs as the seventh seed before being ousted by New Jersey and Payton bolted for the soon after.

The Sonics continued to stock up on young talent at the 2003 draft, in which they had two of the top 14 picks. Seattle ended up filling a couple of needs by selecting power forward out of Kansas (12th) and point guard of Oregon (14th).

Unfortunately, Collison injured both of his shoulders in training camp and was set to undergo season-ending surgery on them.

It's the first bit of bad luck this franchise has experienced since the era.

BACKCOURT

Allen averaged 24.5 points, 5.6 rebounds, 5.9 assists and 1.59 steals in 29 games with Seattle last year and all would have been career-highs had they been for an entire season. There's no doubt that three-time All-Star wanted to make Karl pay for trading him, but Allen will need to recapture that inspiration in his first full season for Seattle since he's the new leader of the team.

Allen's game is one of the most well-rounded in the NBA. Besides the numbers stated above, he shot 35 percent from three-point range with Seattle and 92 percent from the free throw line.

The presence of Allen has also allowed head coach Nate McMillan to try something he had wanted to do for a while, which was move to point guard and take full advantage of his unselfish game. Last year, Barry thrived after the acquisition of Allen and finished the campaign averaging decent numbers of 10.3 points, 5.1 assists and 4.0 rebounds.

But Barry is probably most comfortable behind the three-point arc, as he shot 40 percent from downtown in 2002-03. Such a threat opens things up for the penetrating Allen and vice versa.

Backing up Barry and Allen are a couple new additions to the Seattle roster -- Ridnour and .

Daniels, who can play both guard positions, signed with the Sonics as a free agent over the summer. Last year, he got lost on Portland's deep bench and averaged only 3.7 points, 1.3 assists and 13.0 minutes in 67 games.

However, Daniels proved during his time with San Antonio that he is a very capable backup. He owns career averages 7.1 points and 3.0 assists per game over six years and once shot over 40 percent from three-point range (2000-01 with ).

Ridnour comes into his rookie campaign as the only true point guard on Seattle's roster. Fortunately, with Barry and Daniels both able to direct the offense, the 6-2 Ridnour can be eased into the rotation.

The sharp-shooting Ridnour starred at nearby Oregon, where he averaged 19.7 points and 6.6 assists in his junior season before declaring for the draft. But his lack of quickness has raised doubts about is ability to adapt to the pro game.

FRONTCOURT

The Sonics are still waiting for 24-year-old to evolve into a full-blown star, but those plans might have taken a hit with the addition of Allen, who seems better suited to be the team's No. 1 scoring option.

Last year, Lewis averaged a career-high 18.1 points in 77 games to go along with 6.5 rebounds. He also honed his deadly three-point shot (35 percent) and began working on a complimentary post game, which should feed nicely off Allen this season.

Still, most feel the 6-10 Lewis has the ability to be a 20-and-10 player and with his contract up after this season, the Sonics have to decide whether or not they are willing to shell out big bucks to retain the inhibited small forward.

Then again, without Lewis, Seattle would lack a second scoring option that is essential to completing in the NBA.

The loss of Collison for the season kills the team's depth up front and most likely means will be the regular starter at power forward for Seattle. However, Radmanovic is not you typical power forward, considering he tossed up 293 three-pointers last season and shot 36 percent from beyond the arc.

If McMillan chooses to instead go with a bruising approach at power forward he will likely turn to , who hauled down 6.6 boards in 20.4 minutes a game last year as a rookie.

With the underrated signing on with the during the offseason, the weakest aspect of the team's starting lineup now exists at the center position, which will likely be held down by by default.

James started just 16 of his 51 games played last season and averaged only 5.4 points and 4.2 boards. But James provides size (7-1, 272) and the ability to block shots (1.61 bpg in 2003-04), which will suffice for McMillan.

Spelling James will be and , two acquisitions at the pivot that just haven't worked out for the Sonics.

Seattle would love for Booth to grab the starting spot and earn the pricey contract the team signed him to prior to the 2001-02 season. But the oft- injured Booth averaged only 2.9 points and 2.3 rebounds in 47 games last year.

Potapenko is another disappointing center taking up valuable cap space with a ridiculous contract. He saw action in just 26 games last season and averaged 4.0 points and 3.4 rebounds, missing most of the season recovering from knee surgery.

CRYSTAL BALL

Allen is a legitimate All-Star and Lewis will soon be one, which makes Seattle a team on the rise. However, concerns about depth still linger, so the underrated McMillan must again work his magic to hide the team's flaw. Allen will most likely regain the form that made him so dominant at the end of last season, so the pressure is on Lewis to make himself that superstar the team thinks he can be. If he can, Seattle has a great chance at snagging one of the final two playoff spots in the West.

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