Sonics' practice facility still in question as team relocates

OKLAHOMA CITY -- When the New Orleans Hornets arrived in Oklahoma City weeks before the 2005-06 season, one of their first priorities was to find a place to practice.

It's also a major concern for the Seattle SuperSonics, who -- unlike the Hornets -- will be moving permanently to Oklahoma before the upcoming season. A taxpayer-funded practice facility is planned but won't be ready for at least 18 months, meaning the Sonics have to find somewhere to practice until then.

But where? No one connected with the team is saying much, only that locating a suitable temporary facility will be the responsibility of Sam Presti, the Sonics' general manager.

"Sam is going to be in town very soon and he's already done some fairly comprehensive groundwork on this issue," Clay Bennett, the chairman of the Sonics' ownership group, said Wednesday night after announcing the team's imminent relocation.

"He's going to be on the ground soon to physically look at some potential temporary practice locations and see what works for the team," Bennett said. "That will happen very quick."

During their two-year stay in Oklahoma City, the Hornets used the Sawyer Center at Southern Nazarene University in suburban Bethany as their practice facility. The 2,200-student school, which is a member of the NAIA, offered the Hornets the use of their 5,000-seat arena for free. When the Hornets began turning a profit in Oklahoma City, they paid SNU to use the arena.

Hornets officials praised the setup, and Southern Nazarene athletic director Bobby Martin said he'd consider allowing any future NBA teams in Oklahoma to use the arena on a temporary basis. But Martin said earlier this week no one from the Sonics has contacted him.

"There has been no discussion at all that I know of," Martin said. "If they're interested, obviously I'd talk to them. But they know places all over the city."

Dan Mahoney, a spokesman for Bennett, declined to comment on potential sites for the Sonics' temporary practice facility or on whether the team is considering using a college, high school or private gym.

"That is totally up to Sam Presti," he said. "He knows better than anybody what the needs are and will evaluate what's available and what meets the needs. ... Even though it's a temporary situation, he'll want the best scenario we can come up with. It's the players' office, where they work."

As for the permanent facility, the team has yet to select a location for where it will be built.

"There are several locations that are under consideration and that will be coming into focus very, very soon," Bennett said.

He promised the permanent facility will be among the finest in the NBA and will include two courts.

Construction of the practice facility will be funded by proceeds from a one-cent sales tax approved by Oklahoma City voters in March. The cost of the facility has been estimated at $25 million. Another $97 million will be spent to upgrade the Ford Center.

"We are looking right now at some architectural renderings of what the improved Ford Center will look like, and the practice facility will come next," Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett said.

"The last few months we talked about why it made sense to put the team in the suburbs or north and follow the Cleveland Cavaliers model," Cornett said. "There is growing recognition of downtown's energy and there is now some sense that perhaps a downtown location should at least be considered, and so you're going start to see ideas like that pop around."

He said he'd like to see the practice facility finished by the start of the 2010-11 season.