Sonics and Bennett announce settlement

Bye bye Seattle, Hello Oklahoma City.

The city of Seattle and the SuperSonics reached a settlement Wednesday just before a federal judge was to rule in their KeyArena lease dispute.

Terms of the settlement were expected to be announced Wednesday night at simultaneous news conferences with city officials in Seattle and Sonics owner Clay Bennett in Oklahoma City.

A source told The Seattle Times the two sides have been discussing a deal that would involve the Sonics leaving town for Oklahoma City in exchange for up to a $75 million payment to the city.

Bennett may not have to pay the entire amount if the city gets another team, the source told the Times.

At issue was whether the team can move immediately to Oklahoma City or must play out the final two years of its Seattle lease.

U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman, who presided over the sometimes contentious trial was set to rule Wednesday afternoon, but instead posted the following order on the federal court Web site:

“The parties have settled the case. Details of the settlement will be released by the parties.”

The settlement came six days after the trial concluded, and would indicate that the Sonics may be headed to Oklahoma City for the 2008-09 season. In April, the NBA Board of Governors approved Bennett’s application to move the team to Oklahoma City, pending the outcome of the trial between the team and the city.

The trial was centered on the lease agreement between the city and the team that called for the Sonics to play at KeyArena through the 2009-10 season.

Sonics lead attorney Brad Keller contended that Bennett should simply be able to write a check to satisfy the final two years of the lease. Keller argued that the “specific performance” clause the city rested its case on should not apply in a garden-variety dispute between tenant and landlord.

During the trial, the Sonics also made much of what they called underhanded tactics designed to drain Bennett financially and keep the team in Seattle.

Bennett and his ownership group, the Oklahoma City-based Professionally Basketball Club LLC, previously offered to pay the city $26.5 million in February to buy out the final two years of the lease. They were rebuffed.

Alex Fryer, spokesman for Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, declined to comment on any possible settlement Wednesday afternoon. Calls to Bennett representatives were not immediately returned.

How much the PBC will have to pay the city as part of a settlement could be close to the $60 million Bennett said the team would lose if the Sonics were forced to honor the final two years of the lease in Seattle, playing at the smallest venue in the NBA.



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