The Seattle Supersonics’ NBA return is long overdue. 15 years have passed since the new owners of the Supersonics franchise decided to move the team to Oklahoma City and rebrand them as the Thunder, snatching away the city of Seattle’s beloved NBA franchise.
It remains unclear when the NBA will officially greenlight its expansion plans. But when they do, the city of Seattle will be the first in line to regain their beloved NBA team. But until then, let’s take a trip down memory lane and re-assess the best signings in the Supersonics franchise’s 41 years of history.
Like many other teams, the Supersonics had its fair share of troubles with attracting the best of the best free agents. But in their own way, they managed to attract a few helpful pieces to supplement multiple contending iterations that the team mostly built through the draft and through trades.
With that said, here are the nine best free agent signings in Supersonics history.
9. Damien Wilkins
The son of Gerald Wilkins and the nephew of Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins, Damien Wilkins had huge shoes to fill in his lineage. His father played 13 seasons in the NBA, averaging double-digits in scoring 10 times during his career, while the Atlanta Hawks legend’s resume speaks for itself.
Wilkins, simply put, did not live up to the high standard his predecessors set. However, he had a respectable career nonetheless. Picked up by the Supersonics off the scrap heap in 2004, the 6’6 wing ended up having a 10-year career in the NBA, not too shabby especially for a player who went undrafted.
Damien Wilkins spent five years with the franchise, including one after the team’s relocation to Oklahoma City. During that span, he averaged 7.6 points per game.
8. John Brisker
Not too many people are familiar with John Brisker, which is understandable, especially when his last moment on an NBA court came 48 years ago in 1975. Even then, his contributions are worth remembering especially when this list isn’t exactly teeming with quality pickings.
Brisker was a bonafide star in the ABA for the Pittsburgh Condors, averaging 26.1 points and 8.1 dimes during the team’s last season in existence. After the Condors franchise folded, Brisker jumped ship to the Supersonics. However, he was unable to carry over his incredible production. In three subsequent seasons with the Supersonics, John Brisker averaged a relatively paltry 11.9 points and 4.0 rebounds. Brisker would then retire from the NBA in 1975 at the young age of 27. Not too long after that, Brisker would suffer a mysterious disappearance after getting entangled with the wrong people.
7. Jerome James
Jerome James didn’t exactly arrive to much fanfare when he signed with the Supersonics in 2001. He was a huge presence on the interior, a necessity during the early 2000s, and he was also capable of anchoring the defense with his intimidating shot-blocking.
While James didn’t play heavy minutes, the Supersonics heavily relied on him. He suited up for 252 games for the team, starting 160 of them. But his best moment in a Sonics uniform came during his swan song with the team in 2005.
During the 2005 playoffs, Jerome James had an incredible purple patch. In 11 postseason games, the 7’0 big man averaged 12.5 points, 6.8 boards, and 1.5 blocks per game, showcasing his worth as a two-way force for a team that went toe-to-toe with the eventual champion San Antonio Spurs.
In fact, this would earn James a five-year, $30 million deal — huge money during its time, especially for a player who didn’t exactly have the longest track record of stellar play. He would go on to be one of the New York Knicks’ worst signings of all time. But that does not affect his standing on this list, especially when his best basketball came as a member of the Supersonics organization.
6. Antonio Daniels
Much like Jerome James was, being a huge part of a team that won 52 games, claimed the Northwest Division crown, and competed against the eventual champions in the second round of the playoffs has to count for something. And Antonio Daniels certainly played his part to a T for the last Supersonics squad to make the playoffs.
Daniels was as solid as it gets for a backup point guard, filling his role well behind starting floor general Luke Ridnour. In 146 games as a member of the Sonics organization, the 6’4 point guard averaged 9.7 points and 4.2 assists, being worth every penny of the $4.4 million he bagged from the team in two seasons.
5. Ruben Patterson
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There’s not a more preposterous nickname in NBA history than Ruben Patterson’s “Kobe Stopper”, the former Supersonics forward’s moniker. Patterson, according to an article from 1999, reportedly called himself that after shutting down his former Los Angeles Lakers teammate all the time in practice, while the “Kobe Stopper” himself said that it was Shawn Kemp, a player with the more apt nickname of “Reign Man”, who blessed him with that title.
Whatever the case may be, Patterson made a living out of annoying his opponents defensively while making a few timely shots here and there. Some of his best seasons came in a Supersonics uniform after Seattle signed the defensive specialist from free agency after just one season with the Lakers.
In two seasons (157 games) with the Supersonics, Ruben Patterson averaged 12.3 points on 51.3 percent shooting while adding 1.3 steals a night. The drawback was that Patterson never learned to space the floor, hampering his overall impact. But for the price of $1.8 million in two seasons, the Supersonics certainly got their bang for their buck.
4. Reggie Evans
Reggie Evans didn’t exactly have the most well-rounded game during his 13 seasons in the NBA. He wasn’t a good post scorer, at all, which was a hallmark of the great big men of his time. He wasn’t capable of spacing the floor either, and he wasn’t exactly an elite defender. Despite standing at 6’8, Evans averaged a measly 0.1 blocks per game. But Evans, all throughout his career, had a singular goal every night — and that is to grab every rebound possible.
It was the Supersonics that unearthed Evans after the 6’8 scrapper went undrafted in 2002. He quickly became a rotation fixture for the team, averaging 20.4 minutes per game as early as his rookie season as he proved to be a valuable hustle piece for a team that needed someone to do the dirty work on the interior. He then started 79 games for a Sonics team that won 52 games and pushed eventual champion Spurs to six games in the second round. In 262 games with the Sonics, Evans averaged 4.0 points and 7.1 boards.
3. Slick Watts
Is there a better name in NBA history than Slick Watts? It’s hard to know for sure. With a given name of Donald Earl, Watts earned his ‘Slick’ moniker thanks to his clean-shaven head as well as his “slick” moves on the court, an crafty point guard with groundbreaking cunning, especially for his time.
Watts signed with the Supersonics as an unrestricted free agent in 1973, and he immediately endeared himself to the Seattle community with his generous and kind personality, not to mention his solid play on the hardwood. In 4.5 seasons with the team (337 games), Watts averaged 10.1 points and 6.7 assists. He led the NBA in steals and assists during the 1976-77 season, no mean feat.
But the greater impact Slick Watts had came off the court. Watts continued his generosity off the court when his playing days ended by being involved in teaching and mentorship within the Seattle community. According to Watts Basketball, the Supersonics legend “believes it is important that we instill our youth with the value of giving back to our communities”, a privilege most NBA players have given their affluence in life.
2. Gus Williams
In 1977, the Supersonics were a middle of the pack team in the Western Conference despite having solid pieces such as Slick Watts, Fred Brown, and Dennis Johnson. But during that same year, Seattle added three key pieces to the team in three different ways. First, they drafted Jack Sikma with the eighth overall pick of the NBA Draft. Secondly, they traded for 7’1 center Marvin Webster to function as their beast in the paint. And thirdly, they picked up Gus Williams in free agency, luring the athletic guard from the Golden State Warriors with the promise of a bigger role.
However, to begin the 1977-78 campaign, the Supersonics struggled, winning just five of their first 22 games. That was a legitimate underperformance for a team that improved in key areas. But when Hall of Fame coach Lenny Wilkens took over, the Supersonics began playing at a championship level, thanks in large part to Williams’ breakout campaign.
Gus Williams averaged 18.1 points and 3.7 assists, emerging as one of the best players for a deep Supersonics team. Under Wilkens, they won 42 of their next 60 games, entering the playoffs as a dangerous lower seed. They made it all the way to the NBA Finals and pushed the eventual champion Washington Bullets to the brink.
Williams would go on to put up five more high-level seasons for the Supersonics, including two All-Star campaigns. He would end up averaging 20.3 points and 6.0 assists in 477 games with the franchise.
1. Spencer Haywood
Spencer Haywood’s greatness speaks for the Seattle Supersonics speaks for itself. In five seasons with the team (326 games), Haywood put up monster stats, averaging 24.9 points, 12.1 rebounds and 2.4 assists on 46.3 percent shooting from the field. He was a solid go-to-guy for the team for a few years, making the All-Star team four times in a Supersonics uniform. His tenure may not have brought too much success on the court, as the Supersonics made the playoffs just once with Haywood as their leading man.
For his on-court contributions alone, Haywood deserves the number one spot on this list, and it isn’t particularly close. But what puts him over the top is the incredible story behind his entry into the NBA in 1970.
After just one season with the Denver Rockets of the ABA, Spencer Haywood made the bombshell decision of signing with the Supersonics. However, the NBA made it so that talented youngsters needed to be four years removed from their high school days so they could be eligible to play in the league. However, Haywood and the Supersonics fought hard to combat that rule, even taking their case all the way to the Supreme Court, which later ruled in favor of the talented 6’8 forward.
Haywood had to endure a plethora of problems in his debut season in the NBA, as he had to overcome the stigma of being an “illegal” player who took roster spots from veterans whom many thought were more worthy of a place in the league. But after that tumultuous season, he ended up being a beacon of hope for elite youngsters who finally had the choice to turn professional as soon as they could, thanks to Haywood and the Supersonics’ bravery.