Given time, NBA Sonics expect to soar with revamped roster
For those who buy futures in the stock market, the flyer they should take in the National Basketball Association this season is the Seattle SuperSonics. With a host of newcomers on its roster for tonight's opening game, Seattle is a team in transition - unusual since the Sonics went 48-34 last season and made the playoffs. Among those gone or traded from the club are guard David Thompson (an unsigned free agent), forwards Lonnie Shelton and Greg Kelser, and backup center James Donaldson.
This group might have remained intact if the Portland Trail Blazers hadn't swept Seattle in the opening round of the playoffs. But Sonics coach Lenny Wilkens obviously saw something he didn't like and decided to do take action.
Three starters - center Jack Sikma, forward Danny Vranes, and guard Gus Williams - remain along with reserve guard Fred Brown, who is entering his 13th year with the club. The two new starters will be forward Tom Chambers and guard Al Wood. Both played last year with the San Diego Clippers.
''Basically I'm pleased with our personnel, and think we'll really benefit from the trade that brought us Chambers and Wood,'' Wilkens explained. ''One of the things we were looking for was more aggressiveness.
''Generally teams that make it to the playoffs, the way we have in the past, don't go in for a lot of changes because they don't want to risk breaking up a winning combination,'' Lenny continued. ''But we don't want to be competitive only in our own division; we want to be competitive with the entire league. Anyway, the problems that come with breaking in new people will become pluses later on.''
In Sikma, Wilkens has a six-year veteran who can run with any pivotman in the league; who twice has gone over 1,000 rebounds in his career; and whose minutes played are usually among the highest in the NBA.
Sikma, of course, will be getting help on the boards from Chambers, another tough rebounder who can score. As the third member of the front line, Vranes may not make a big impression in the box score (he seldom does), but as a role player Danny does all the unselfish jobs that lead to victory.
The starting backcourt provides an interesting blend of an established superstar (Williams) with a young player still finding his way (Wood). Gus has already earned a reputation as one of the most versatile backcourt men in the league, while Al is just beginning to cash in on his potential after two years in the NBA with Atlanta and San Diego.
This makes for a very formidable starting five although the thing Wilkens probably likes best about his team is the potential he has sitting on his bench.
In addition to Brown and veteran center Steve Hawes, rookies Scooter McCray and Jon Sundvold will probably see plenty of action. And when a defensive specialist is needed, Charles Bradley, a guard-forward cut by Boston but acquired this week by the Sonics, may get the call.
While Chambers has been injured, Wilkens has been starting McCray, a 6 ft. 8 in. forward out of Louisville, and getting a nice balance of points, rebounds, and assists. Even though McCray still has a lot to learn, Scooter is probably going to get more floor time than most rookies.
Another first-year player that Lenny likes is Sundvold, a 6-2 guard out of Missouri who has an impressive shooting range.''
Although Wilkens realizes the Sonics may not jell until mid-season, he plans on being patient.
''Whenever you bring in this many new people, it takes time to establish the kind of chemistry that veteran teams generate automatically,'' Lenny said. ''It's going to take us awhile to learn how to react to each other in clutch situations. But if the talent is there, and we think it is, the wait will be well worthwhile.''