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Saturday, July 05, 2008

Memorable Moments and Milestones in Sonics' History

As a Cleveland Browns fan who lost his team in 1995 and had to endure three years in NFL exile followed by nearly a decade of on field ineptitude, I have great empathy for Seattle SuperSonics' fans. Here is a look back at some key moments from each of the 41 seasons of Sonics' basketball:

1967-68: The Sonics posted a 23-59 record in their first season, finishing fifth in the six team Western Division; the San Diego Rockets, also an expansion team, went 15-67. Walt Hazzard--a 6-2 guard who later converted to Islam and changed his name to Mahdi Abdul-Rahman--ranked seventh in the NBA in scoring (1894 points, 24.0 ppg) and fifth in assists (493, 6.2 apg). Hazzard became the first All-Star in Sonics' history, scoring nine points in the midseason classic.

1968-69: The Sonics traded Hazzard for Hall of Famer Lenny Wilkens, who ranked ninth in the NBA in scoring (1835 points, 22.4 ppg) and second in assists (674, 8.2 apg). Wilkens made the All-Star team. Second year center Bob Rule emerged as a big time player, ranking fourth in the NBA in scoring (1965 points, 24.0 ppg). The Sonics improved to 30-52.

1969-70: Rule and Wilkens both make the All-Star team as the Sonics finished 36-46 and missed qualifying for the playoffs by just three wins. Wilkens not only served as player-head coach but he also became the first Sonic to lead the NBA in a major statistical category (9.1 apg).

1970-71: The Sonics again missed the playoffs by just three wins (38-44). After prevailing in a case that went all the way to the Supreme Court and paved the way for underclassmen and high school players to sign with NBA teams, Spencer Haywood jumped from the ABA to the Sonics and averaged 20.6 ppg and 12.0 rpg in 33 games. Wilkens won the All-Star Game MVP and ranked second in the NBA in assists (9.2 apg).

1971-72: Haywood became the first Sonic to make the All-NBA Team, earning a First Team selection after ranking fourth in the NBA in scoring (26.2 ppg). The Sonics went 47-35 but again narrowly missed making the playoffs, this time by four wins. Wilkens ranked second in the NBA in assists (9.6 apg) in his final season as Seattle's player-head coach; the Sonics traded him to Cleveland after the season.

1972-73: The Sonics took a big step backwards without Wilkens, plummeting to 26-56 despite Haywood setting a franchise single season scoring record (29.2 ppg, third in the NBA) and earning a second straight All-NBA First Team selection.

1973-74: Hall of Famer Bill Russell became Seattle's coach and led the Sonics to a 36-46 record as Haywood ranked among the league leaders in scoring (23.5 ppg, eighth) and rebounding (13.4 rpg, seventh). Haywood made the All-NBA Second Team.

1974-75: Russell guided the Sonics to a 43-39 record and the franchise's first playoff berth; they fell 4-2 in the Western Conference semifinals to eventual champion Golden State. Haywood ranked ninth in the NBA in scoring (22.4 ppg) and made the All-NBA Second Team.

1975-76: Fred Brown emerged as the team's best player after the Sonics traded Haywood to the Knicks. Brown ranked fifth in the NBA in scoring (23.1 ppg). His backcourt partner Donald "Slick" Watts led the NBA in assists (8.1 apg) and steals (3.2 spg). The Sonics again went 43-39 and lost 4-2 in the Western Conference semifinals, this time to the Suns.

1976-77: Bill Russell resigned after the Sonics slipped to 40-42 and missed the playoffs.

1977-78: The Sonics fired Coach Bob Hopkins after a 5-17 start, paving the way for the triumphant return of Lenny Wilkens. Three years removed from his playing days and fresh off of a two year run as Portland's coach, Wilkens led the Sonics to a 42-18 record down the stretch. The Sonics made their first trip to the NBA Finals but lost 4-3 to the Washington Bullets.

1978-79: The Sonics finished with the best record in the Western Conference (52-30) and defeated the Bullets 4-1 in a Finals rematch, claiming the first and only championship in Sonics history. Dennis Johnson won the Finals MVP. Second year center Jack Sikma ranked fifth in the NBA in rebounding (12.4 rpg) and made the first of seven straight All-Star Game appearances.

1979-80: The Sonics won 56 games, setting a franchise record that stood until 1993-94, but the L.A. Lakers beat the Sonics 4-1 in the Western Conference Finals to end Seattle's quest to make a third straight trip to the Finals. Sikma again ranked fifth in the NBA in rebounding (11.1 rpg), while Dennis Johnson and his backcourt partner Gus Williams each made the All-NBA Second Team.

1980-81: The Sonics traded Dennis Johnson to Phoenix for Paul Westphal and Gus Williams sat out the entire season because of a contract dispute. The Sonics fell to 34-48, missing the playoffs for the first time since 1977. The always consistent Sikma ranked fifth in the NBA in rebounding (10.4 rpg).

1981-82: Gus Williams returned to action and made the All-NBA First Team, averaging 23.4 ppg (seventh in the NBA) and 2.2 spg (seventh in the NBA). Sikma ranked second in the NBA in rebounding (12.7 rpg) and the Sonics finished second in the West with a 52-30 record but lost 4-1 to San Antonio in the Western Conference semifinals.

1982-83: The Sonics won their first 12 games of the season but limped to a 48-34 record and a 2-0 loss to Portland in a first round miniseries. Sikma ranked sixth in the NBA in rebounding (11.4 rpg).

1983-84: Sikma ranked sixth in the NBA in rebounding (11.1 rpg) as the Sonics posted a great home record (32-9) and a lousy road record (10-31). The season ended with a 105-104 overtime loss to Dallas in the fifth game of a first round playoff series.

1984-85: The Sonics slipped to 31-51, missing the playoffs. After the season, Wilkens resigned as coach and accepted a front office position with the team. Bernie Bickerstaff became the new head coach.

1985-86: After another 31-51 season, Sikma requested to be traded to a contender and was shipped to the Milwaukee Bucks, who had gone 57-25 and made it to the Eastern Conference Finals. Rookie Xavier McDaniel provided hope for the future, averaging 17.1 ppg to finish second on the team behind Tom Chambers (18.5 ppg).

1986-87: Dale Ellis (24.9 ppg, eighth in the NBA), Tom Chambers (23.3 ppg, 13th in the NBA) and Xavier McDaniel (23.0 ppg, 14th in the NBA) each averaged at least 23 ppg as the Sonics posted a 39-43 record but got hot at the right time and advanced all the way to the Western Conference Finals before being swept by the Lakers. Chambers, a late addition to the All-Star team, won MVP honors after scoring a game-high 34 points in a 154-149 overtime victory for the West.

1987-88: The trip to the Western Conference Finals raised expectations but the Sonics won just five more games than they did in the previous season and fell to Denver 3-2 in the first round of the playoffs. Ellis (25.8 ppg, seventh in the NBA), McDaniel (21.4 ppg, 14th in the NBA) and Chambers (20.4 ppg, 18th in the NBA) each averaged at least 20 ppg.

1988-89: Chambers left to sign with Phoenix as a free agent but the Sonics added some muscle by acquiring 1988 rebounding champion Michael Cage. Ellis ranked third in the NBA in scoring (27.5 ppg) as the Sonics went 47-35 and beat Houston in the first round of the playoffs before being swept by the Lakers.

1989-90: The Sonics went 41-41 and missed the playoffs for the first time since 1985-86 as injuries limited Ellis to 55 games. Shawn Kemp, a 20 year old rookie forward who did not play major college basketball, averaged 6.5 ppg and 4.3 rpg and ranked second on the team with 70 blocked shots despite playing just 1120 minutes. After the season, the Sonics fired Bickerstaff, replacing him with Hall of Famer K.C. Jones, who coached the Celtics to championships in 1984 and 1986.

1990-91: The Sonics again went 41-41 but this time that was good enough to make the playoffs, where they lost 3-2 in the first round to number one seeded Portland. Early in the season the Sonics traded McDaniel to Phoenix for Eddie Johnson and then in February the Sonics sent Ellis to Milwaukee for Ricky Pierce. Kemp's playing time more than doubled and he averaged 15.0 ppg and 8.4 rpg. Rookie point guard Gary Payton averaged 7.2 ppg and led the team in assists (6.4 apg).

1991-92: The Sonics fired Jones after an 18-18 start. Interim Coach Bob Kloppenburg went 2-2 before George Karl took over and led the Sonics to a 27-15 mark in the second half of the season. The Sonics beat Golden State 3-1 in the first round before losing 4-1 to Utah. Pierce led the team in scoring (21.7 ppg). Kemp averaged 15.5 ppg and 10.4 rpg, increasing those numbers to 17.4 ppg and 12.2 rpg in the playoffs.

1992-93: The Sonics tied Houston for the second best record in the West (55-27), earned the second seed based on a 3-1 head to head record and beat the Rockets in overtime in game seven of the Western Conference semifinals. Number one seeded Phoenix defeated Seattle in game seven of the Western Conference Finals. Pierce again led the team in scoring (18.2 ppg) but the Sonics increasingly were becoming Kemp and Payton's team. Kemp averaged 17.8 ppg and 10.7 rpg to earn his first All-Star selection, while Payton averaged 13.5 ppg and 4.9 apg while ranking ninth in the NBA in steals (2.2 spg). Nate McMillan ranked fourth in the NBA in steals (2.4 spg) and was a steadying influence at both ends of the court.

1993-94: The best regular season yet in Sonics' history (63-19, best record in the NBA) came to a shocking ending with a 3-2 first round loss to eighth seeded Denver. Kemp led the team in scoring (18.1 ppg) and rebounding (10.8 rpg), while Payton ranked second in scoring (16.5 ppg) and led the Sonics in assists (6.0 apg). Both players made the All-Star team; Kemp also made the All-NBA Second Team and finished seventh in MVP voting, while Payton made the All-NBA Third Team and the All-Defensive First Team, the first of nine straight selections to that squad. Payton finished sixth in MVP voting. McMillan led the NBA in steals (2.97 spg), while Payton ranked seventh (2.3 spg). Newly acquired Detlef Schrempf and Kendall Gill provided depth.

1994-95: Another strong regular season (57-25) ended in first round failure, this time a 3-1 loss to the Lakers. Kemp (18.7 ppg, 10.9 rpg) and Payton (20.6 ppg, 7.1 apg) both made the All-Star team again. Kemp joined Payton on the All-NBA Second Team. Payton ranked third in the NBA in steals (2.5 spg), while McMillan slipped to fifth (2.1 spg).

1995-96: Seattle posted the best record in the West (64-18) and survived a tough seven game Western Conference Finals versus Utah to advance to the NBA Finals, where the 72-10 Chicago Bulls won the first three games en route to a 4-2 victory. Kemp (19.6 ppg, 11.4 rpg) and Payton (19.3 ppg, 7.5 apg, league-best 2.9 spg) both made the All-NBA Second Team. Payton also won the Defensive Player of the Year award and finished sixth in MVP voting.

1996-97: The Sonics tied for the second best record in the West (57-25) but this time the head to head tiebreaker favored the Rockets, who beat Seattle in seven games in the Western Conference semifinals. Payton finished sixth in MVP voting and made the All-NBA Second Team after ranking 10th in the NBA in scoring (21.8 ppg) and third in steals (2.4 spg). After the season the Sonics traded Kemp in a three way deal that brought Vin Baker to Seattle.

1997-98: The Sonics again tied for the second best record in the West (61-21) but suffered another second round playoff loss, this time a 4-1 thumping by the Lakers. Payton averaged 19.2 ppg, ranked seventh in the NBA in assists (8.3 apg) and finished fourth in steals (2.3 spg) to earn his first All-NBA First Team selection and claim third place in MVP voting. Baker averaged 19.2 ppg and 8.0 rpg, making the All-NBA Second Team and finishing eighth in MVP voting. After the season, George Karl left to become Milwaukee's head coach and was replaced by Paul Westphal.

1998-99: The Sonics missed the playoffs after posting a 25-25 record in the lockout shortened season. Payton ranked seventh in the NBA in scoring (21.7 ppg), fourth in assists (8.7 apg) and seventh in steals (2.2 spg). He made the All-NBA Second Team but Baker's numbers dropped precipitously (13.8 ppg, 6.2 rpg).

1999-2000: The Sonics improved to 45-37 but lost 3-2 to Utah in the first round of the playoffs. Payton returned to the All-NBA First Team after having the best all-around season of his career, ranking seventh in the NBA in scoring (career-high 24.2 ppg), fourth in assists (8.9 apg) and eighth in steals (1.9 spg).

2000-01: The Sonics posted a solid 44-38 record but missed the playoffs. Westphal was fired early in the season and replaced by Nate McMillan. Payton made the All-NBA Third Team after averaging 23.1 ppg (13th in the NBA) and 8.1 apg (fifth in the NBA). Third year forward Rashard Lewis finished second on the team in scoring (14.8 ppg).

2001-02: The Sonics squeaked into the playoffs with a 45-37 record but pushed San Antonio the distance in the first round before being blown out 101-78 in game five. Payton made the All-NBA Second Team after ranking 11th in the NBA in scoring (22.1 ppg) and third in assists (9.0 apg).

2002-03: Payton feuded with management during the first half of the season before being dealt to Milwaukee with Desmond Mason for Ray Allen, Kevin Ollie, Ronald Murray and a draft pick. The Sonics finished 40-42 and did not make the playoffs.

2003-04: Allen averaged 23.0 ppg but missed 26 games. The Sonics went 37-45 and did not qualify for the playoffs. Lewis averaged 17.8 ppg and scored a career-high 50 points in the second game of the season, a 124-105 victory over the Clippers in Tokyo, Japan.

2004-05: The Sonics won the newly formed Northwest Division with a 52-30 record and beat Sacramento 4-1 in the first round of the playoffs before falling to the eventual champion San Antonio Spurs in six games. Allen ranked 10th in the NBA in scoring (23.9 ppg) and made the All-NBA Second Team, while Lewis averaged 20.5 ppg (20th in the NBA) to earn his first and only All-Star selection. After the season, McMillan resigned and became Portland's coach. The Sonics replaced him with Bob Weiss.

2005-06: Weiss lasted just 30 games (13-17) before being fired and replaced by Bob Hill, who was not able to turn things around (22-30). The Sonics missed the playoffs despite another strong season from Allen (25.1 ppg, 10th in the NBA) and Lewis (20.1 ppg). An Oklahoma City based group bought the Sonics, prompting concerns that the team might relocate.

2006-07: The Sonics slipped to 31-51 and missed the playoffs but the bigger concern for Seattle fans was the declaration by majority owner Clay Bennett that he would move the team unless the city helped to finance construction of a new arena. Allen averaged a career-high 26.4 ppg but played in just 55 games. After the season, the Sonics replaced Hill with P.J. Carlesimo and traded Allen to the Celtics for fifth overall pick Jeff Green, Wally Szczerbiak and Delonte West. The Sonics also drafted Kevin Durant with the second overall pick.

2007-08: The Sonics posted the worst record in the West (20-62). Durant struggled with his shot for most of the season but finished strongly and won the Rookie of the Year award after averaging 20.3 ppg. After the season, the team reached a settlement with the city of Seattle and finalized plans to move to Oklahoma City. NBA Commissioner David Stern--reversing his previous stance--left open the possibility that the city would get another NBA team to continue the Sonics' legacy.

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posted by David Friedman @ 12:47 AM

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2 Comments:

At Saturday, July 05, 2008 8:49:00 AM, Anonymous S.Tiku said...

David,

From my memory, i thought seattle lost to the san antonio spurs in the 2004-05 season, not sacramento, and they lost 4-2.

 
At Saturday, July 05, 2008 11:13:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

S. Tiku:

You're right. I corrected the error.

 

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