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Sonics name Wilkins team president as rumors of move swirl


Lenny Wilkens added another title to his resume on Friday, being named the president of basketball operations for the Seattle SuperSonics.

Majority owner Clay Bennett made the announcement on the same day he was doing damage control after speaking to the Seattle Convention and Visitors Bureau earlier this week and indicating the Sonics are seriously looking at Las Vegas as a potential new home after the 2007-08 season.

"If, however, we find ourselves several months down the road in a position to begin a serious evaluation to find the best location for our two teams, we owe it to the business to consider a number of cities where the leadership has expressed a strong desire to attract an NBA and WNBA franchise and demonstrated a willingness to explore ways to make that happen," Bennett said in a statement Friday.

Bennett's group also owns the WNBA Seattle Storm.

Reached later Friday, Bennett spokesman Jim Kneeland said Bennett has not had any formal discussions with officials from either Las Vegas or another potential future location for the Sonics, Kansas City. Bennett was at the NBA board of governors meetings last week in New York when commissioner David Stern announced a committee of owners will study the proposal that Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman submitted about how his city would handle a possible NBA team.

"That whole Las Vegas thing came out of the fact he was asked a question about it being a forgone conclusion the team was heading to Oklahoma City, and he said 'we're looking hard at Las Vegas right now,'" Kneeland said. "It kind of grew out of that whole notion. He didn't walk in to make a grand announcement."

Washington state's legislative leaders declined to vote during their just-concluded session on a proposal to use county taxes to help build a new $500 million arena in the Seattle suburb of Renton.

The Sonics' lease at Key Arena runs through 2010, but the Sonics aren't obligated to play in Seattle past next season without a new arena deal, and Bennett said after the failed legislative foray that he doubted they would do so.

Oklahoma City would seem to be the likely destination if the Sonics do move, since Bennett is from there and the city strongly supported the New Orleans Hornets over the last two seasons.

"Of course, we know Oklahoma City and we know what this remarkable marketplace can do, based on the way it exceeded all expectations over the past two years. We have said all along, as has NBA Commissioner David Stern, Oklahoma City deserves an NBA team, and, we would add, a WNBA team," Bennett said.

Whether Wilkens would remain part of the organization if it leaves Seattle is a looming question that wasn't answered on Friday, as Wilkens was not made available for comment.

Wilkens' main task as team president will be filling openings for general manager and head coach. Bob Hill was fired earlier this week as head coach following a 31-51 season that was Seattle's worst since 1985-86. GM Rick Sund was also removed from his position, though he will remain with the organization as a consultant during the final year of his contract.

Wilkens will lead the search for both jobs, although Bennett and the rest of his ownership group will have final say on the hires.

Wilkens, who is also vice chairman of Bennett's ownership group, has a long history in Seattle, coaching the Sonics to their only NBA title in 1979. He also played in Seattle for four seasons &

as player-coach for three of those years &

and returned as head coach from 1977 through the 1985 season.

Wilkens has repeatedly said he has no interest in returning to coaching or taking over as general manager.

"Lenny's experience and insights into the NBA and professional basketball will be very helpful during this transitional period," Bennett said. "Lenny and the other members of our basketball operations group will be working with me to improve the team and return the Sonics to prominence in the league."