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No. 2 SEATTLE SUPERSONICS
Tim Kurkjian
November 10, 1997
From this point on, SuperSonics president-general manager Wally Walker should again be known as Wally Wonder, as he was during his playing days. On Sept. 25 he traded unhappy power forward Shawn Kemp, who had vowed to sit out the season rather than play with the Sonics, in a three-way deal that brought to Seattle the Bucks' power forward Vin Baker, who is deliriously happy, an inch taller than the 6'10" Kemp, two years younger (at 25) and possibly a better all-around player.
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November 10, 1997

No. 2 Seattle Supersonics

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BY THE NUMBERS

1996-97 TEAM STATISTICS
Record: 57-25 (first in Pacific)

SEASON AVERAGES

Points per game (rank)

FG pct. (rank)

Rebounds per game (rank)

Turnovers per game (rank)

SuperSonics

100.9 (4)

.467 (8)

40.0 (22)

15.0 (8)

Opponents

93.2 (7)

.441 (8)

39.9 (9)

18.7 (1)

From this point on, SuperSonics president-general manager Wally Walker should again be known as Wally Wonder, as he was during his playing days. On Sept. 25 he traded unhappy power forward Shawn Kemp, who had vowed to sit out the season rather than play with the Sonics, in a three-way deal that brought to Seattle the Bucks' power forward Vin Baker, who is deliriously happy, an inch taller than the 6'10" Kemp, two years younger (at 25) and possibly a better all-around player.

In one attitude-cleansing move, the Sonics were transformed from a troubled team to one that's very capable of making one last title run in what will probably be the final season for 37-year-old swingman Dale Ellis, 33-year-old guard Nate McMillan and 36-year-old forward-center Sam Perkins. "There's an excitement that hasn't been here the last three or four years," says coach George Karl. "Seattle has been a team of perseverance. Now, with our young people and the guys we've added, we have the emotion that had been missing."

The reason is Baker. He's a better passer than Kemp: He averaged 2.7 assists last year to Kemp's 1.9. "Vin will pass," says Karl. "Vin likes to pass." He's a better ball handler: He had 3.1 turnovers a game last year to Kemp's 3.5. He's as good a jump shooter, although Kemp, whose hero is Dr. J, stopped shooting the 15-footer after apparently deciding that slam-dunking on the break to make the nightly highlights was his thing. "Shawn is a dominant player when he rebounds the ball," says Karl. "When he was spectacular, he didn't have as much to do with winning as he did when he was rebounding." Moreover, Baker will be less likely to disappear during a game, as Kemp sometimes did. Over one three-game stretch last season, Kemp had 19 points and 22 rebounds. He scored fewer than 10 points in a game nine times; Baker did it twice.

Few fans appreciate the fullness of Baker's game because he was stuck with the Bucks, steady and near-invisible losers in the Midwest Division, during his first four years in the NBA. "Not many people have seen him play, especially people on the West Coast," says Walker. So here's an introduction: Baker is a three-time All-Star. Last season he, Lakers center Shaquille O'Neal and Wizards forward Chris Webber were the only players in the league to average at least 20 points and 10 rebounds and shoot at least 50% from the field. For his career Baker has averaged 18.3 points and 9.5 rebounds a game, and shot 49.4%. Only seven other active players (minimum: 5,000 career points) are able to match all of those numbers.

"Now it's time to start chasing championships," says Baker of his role with the Sonics, who have won 55 games or more for five straight years and reached the Finals two seasons ago. "I get a chance to flip the script here in Seattle. Now my game is going to explode."

Igniting Baker's game will be the West's best guard, point man Gary Payton. Last summer, when Baker was still a Buck, he spent two weeks in Europe on the Nike tour with, among others, Payton. Baker kept saying, "I'd love to play on the same team with that guy." As for pairing at forward with 6'10" Detlef Schrempf, who is a superb passer, Baker says, "When I call home, I don't tell everyone how much it rains in Seattle. I tell them that I'm playing with Detlef."

The Sonics love players with long, athletic bodies and fast games. Says Baker, as if on cue, "I love to run. The Western Conference is perfect for my style." Baker has two things to prove in Seattle: that he can deliver during the postseason, in which he never played as a Buck, and that he can adjust to Seattle's gambling, pressing defense.

"I'm so excited about this trade because it's just like it was in Milwaukee when I was drafted so high [No. 8 out of Hartford in '93] and no one knew who I was. Then I surprised them," Baker says. "They won't be as surprised here, but they will be surprised. I'm not worried about being compared to anyone.

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

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