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NEW YORK — If a writer can’t get an easily checkable, exceptionally vital fact correct in a prickly news story markedly rampant with purportedly contentious conversation between a coach and his players and his bosses, why should we accept anything of import as being accurate?

A couple days ago, a Tacoma News Tribune byline story alleged coach Nate McMillan is fuming — at having to play an up-tempo style. Fuming, despite the fact his Sonics are 9-8 minus the inclusive unavailability of injured All-Star Ray Allen and top draft choice Nick Collison (12th pick in last June’s draft), the traumatic effect on Rashard Lewis following his brother’s death and the team’s 26th ranking in experience.

Additionally, McMillan is supposedly bent out of shape because his white-collar roster conflicts with his hardcore approach to the game and recently ranted after an ugly road loss in Utah, “Forget the CEO. Forget the general manager. From now on, we are doing things my way.”

The next day, we’re led to believe, Sonic CEO Wally Walker and GM Rick Sund hastily summoned McMillan for a “clear the air” meeting to try to regain some semblance of unification.

According to the writer, McMillan told his superiors, you have given me a flock full of “cupcakes” — finesse players and offensive-minded players.

Sounds like an exhaustively fed-up, hamstrung coach about to take leave of his senses and his situation.

The writer also reputed there is a chasm so expansive between McMillan and management, if the Sonics begin to falter as they sail into the teeth of their schedule, then someone probably will leave the team.

And that someone most likely is Mr. Sonic. We’re then notified McMillan has but one year left on his contract, “at his option,” and, if he feels things aren’t coagulating, he could simply choose to walk away, say, to North Carolina where the expansionist Bobcats reside.

A meaty paragraph ensues in which we’re advised of McMillan’s bond with Charlotte team president Ed Tapscott and GM/coach Bernie Bickerstaff.

“Was there a meeting? Yes. But it was nothing out of the ordinary,” Sund said yesterday in a phone interview. “Our owner calls it every six weeks or so to go over where we are, if we like the direction we’re headed, who we like an d don’t like. This was your typical get-together.

“Would we like the team to be tougher? Yes. That’s why we drafted Collison, to complement our shooters. He goes hard to the boards (20 rebounds in an NCAA tournament game last season) and does a lot of dirty work.

“It’s no revelation we’re a finesse team. We know who we are and we’re doing damn well considering the adversity we’ve faced. If you had told me before the season we would start 9-8, I would have said you were nuts. Particularly after everything that’s transpired.”

Sund promised I wouldn’t get burned three weeks or three months from now by branding the News Tribune “expose” much ado about nothing. He vows the story is factually inexact and completely out of proportion to reality.

“I don’t know what Nate says to the players behind closed doors,” said Sund, who learned from Jerry West and Wayne Embry not to invade the domain of the coach.

“It’s his locker room, he can say anything he wants to get their attention and maintain control.

“But I do know what’s said in our meetings and I’ve never heard Nate use the term ‘cupcakes.’

“The thing that worries me is that Nate could lose the players if they believe it’s true.”

What about McMillan’s contract? Does he own an escape clause at the end of this season, as reported?

“That, too, is totally false,” Sund underlined. “When I signed with Seattle a couple years ago, I insisted on having the same number of years as Nate, no more, no less. I wanted him to know we’re in this together. And we’re both under contract for one more season after this.”

At last, David Stern got one suspension right and nearly nailed another.

Tim Duncan definitely deserved a game off without pay for sending referee Jack Nies sprawling with a blindsided two-handed shove.

What do you expect out of Duncan?

The guy’s an out-and-out hood. This is the way you act when you grow up on the mean streets of the Virgin Islands.

Karl Malone also got docked a game (ironically, he missed his first career chance to compete against the Jazz) for elbowing Steve Nash, who needed two stitches to blunt a bleeding lip.

Clearly, repeat offenses represent nothing to Stern. Malone has been intentionally elbowing unsuspecting opponents for almost two decades with maximum joy and minimal punishment.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
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