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Stern: Sonics Leaving Seattle Is Inevitable

By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 17, 2008

NEW ORLEANS, Feb. 16 -- In his annual state of the league address, NBA Commissioner David Stern said the SuperSonics are in their last days in Seattle, hinted at expanding the league with a five-team European division in the next 10 years and stated that there is no evidence that former referee Tim Donaghy influenced the outcome of games.

For almost two years, Stern has spoken with pessimism about Seattle because the city has failed to build a suitable, NBA-ready arena for the Sonics. He said Saturday that he has accepted the "inevitability" that the team will move.

"It's apparent to all who are watching that the Sonics are heading out of Seattle," Stern said. "There's not going to be a new arena. There's not going to be a public contribution, and that's everyone's right. I mean that sincerely."

After owner Clay Bennett threatened to move the team to Oklahoma City, Seattle officials filed a lawsuit in September to force the Sonics to keep its lease at Key Arena through the 2010 season.

But Stern said that he encouraged Bennett to make an offer to pay the remaining two years of the lease and an outstanding bond of $30 million. The offer was rejected by the city, he said.

"I feel actually badly that the team, when it leaves either now or in two years, is going to leave behind an unpaid debt," Stern said.

He has previously stated that the city would not receive another team if the Sonics left.

He sounded more positive about possibly expanding the league into Europe, where cities such as London, Berlin, Rome, Madrid and Paris have or are in the process of building NBA-ready arenas. "What we've always said was that if there were the appropriate arena structure, if there were the appropriate fan affinity, and there was the pricing structure that would be necessary for a team to compete in the NBA, then it would seem to be an opportunity for us to grow," Stern said.

When asked the extent to which former referee Donaghy had an effect on games, Stern responded: "We have no evidence at this point that he affected the outcome of particular games. The government, as far as we know, has no such evidence either."

Donaghy pleaded guilty last summer to felony charges of wire fraud and providing inside information to gamblers. He resigned after he was found to have bet on NBA games. He will be sentenced in April.

Howard, the Dunk

Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard finally won one for the big guys. The 7-foot Howard became the first player 6-10 or taller to win the Slam Dunk Contest since Larry Nance in 1984.

In one of the more creative contests -- and the first to be decided by fans at home -- Howard prevailed over defending champion Gerald Green with an array of difficult dunks.

Howard's first dunk was arguably his best. He lobbed the ball from behind the backboard, caught it in midair with his right hand, brought the ball underneath the backboard and slammed it with his left hand.

Hawks Add Bibby

A point guard was traded to another conference on Saturday, but it wasn't Jason Kidd going to Dallas. The Atlanta Hawks, who have the league's longest playoff drought, acquired point guard Mike Bibby from the Sacramento Kings in exchange for point guards Anthony Johnson and Tyronn Lue, forwards Shelden Williams and Lorenzen Wright and a 2008 second-round pick. The Hawks haven't been to the postseason since 1999.

Don't Move

Wizards forward Caron Butler didn't let his strained hip flexor keep him from participating in practice for the East all-stars on Saturday. But he only rebounded shots for his teammates.

"I didn't even tease myself," Butler said, laughing. "If I moved around a little bit and I felt a little bit better, I would've asked Ray [Allen], can I have my jersey?"

Butler said he spoke with Boston forward Kevin Garnett, who has missed the past nine games with an abdominal strain. Garnett told Butler to take his time coming back and that he respected his game.

"I got some good strong veteran advice. He's going through the same thing," Butler said. "That's good coming from one of the best to ever do it. "

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