SuperSonics Suit Multiplies

An upcoming trial between the city of Seattle and the Seattle SuperSonics basketball franchise will decide whether the team will stay put for the remainder of its KeyArena lease or hit the road for Oklahoma City in the near future.

Sonics owner Clay Bennett has been lobbying to move the team for some time, after attempts to fund a new facility in the area proved fruitless and the Sonics faced a few bad seasons, racking up record losses both on and off the court.

In pre-trial documents obtained by the Seattle Times, Bennett claimed that in its most recent season, the team lost more than $30 million. Based on that, he concluded that the team could lose more than $60 million if it’s made to fulfill the KeyArena lease agreement, which ends after the 2009-2010 season.

Conversely, Bennett claimed that if the team is allowed to pack its bags for Oklahoma City, as was recently approved in a 28-2 vote by NBA owners, the team could profit more than $18 million during those same two seasons.

The city rejected an offer in April by Bennett to buy out the final two years of the Sonics’ KeyArena agreement for $26.5 million and, in filing its suit, alleged that Bennett was "breaching" the lease, the Times reported.

Bennett disagreed, claiming that part of the deal between the team and Seattle has hinged upon the city’s willingness to renovate KeyArena or build the Sonics a new home.

"The league wanted to stay in Seattle, we wanted to stay in Seattle, the sellers wanted us to stay in Seattle," Bennett testified. "We all understood that it was only through the development of a successor venue."

If Bennett’s troubles with the city weren’t enough, he’s also facing legal action from Starbucks chairman Howard Schulz, who sold him the Sonics in 2006 and claims that Bennett breached part of their agreement by failing to find a new arena to keep the team in the region.

On top of that, the people of Oklahoma City have reportedly threatened legal action should the Sonics fail to make the move, which makes the idea of a pre-trial settlement nearly impossible, ESPN legal analyst Lester Munson told the Times.

"We’re in a real staredown here," Munson said. "That’s what it is, although it’s not so much that somebody is trying to make the other side blink. It’s that all four think they have righteous positions."

The trial is scheduled to begin June 16th.