If the result of the last battle has made any of you apprehensive about the battle we are going to fight now, it must be said that there is no good reason for such fears... But if a stout heart is lacking, all the skill in the world will not avail in the face of peril. Fear drives out all memory of previous instruction, and without the will to resist, skill is useless. So when you think of their greater experience you must also think of your own greater courage, and when you feel frightened because of the defeat you have suffered, you must remember that at that time you were caught off your guard and unprepared.... Even the mistakes which we made before are now a factor on our side, since we shall be able to learn from them."

Thus counseled the Peloponnesian commanders after their troops had suffered a devastating naval defeat at the hands of the Athenians, as reported by Thucydides in his lapidary history of the Peloponnesian War. Powerful, pertinent words, and especially apt as regards the shell-shocked Sonics. After the team's premature Waterloo in New Jersey, where the injury-plagued Nets ran roughshod over the Sonics' enfeebled defense (126-91), the tactical accusations started to fly out in every direction. It's Westphal's fault; Ewing, Payton, and Baker evince no cohesion; the bench isn't producing; we're paralyzed by turnovers. Sure, I'm just as inclined as anyone to lay blame (I'm growing exponentially suspicious of Westphal's rather rococo coaching technique). But, as Charles Barkley once noted in a post-game interview, everybody's a fucking expert when it comes to chalkboard analyses. If fixing a team's erroneous play were as simple as mapping a flow chart, the game would be ruled by accountants. No--there's always something else at stake in basketball. Something less amenable to cold calculation.Behind every discernible effect--whether particular (i.e., turnovers) or general (i.e., losing)--rests an ultimate cause. In the case of the frazzled Sonics and their inertial play against mid-level opponents, the ultimate cause appears to be, collectively speaking, that "a stout heart is lacking." Come on! This team is loaded to the gunnels with both talent and experience... and, yes, with or without Patrick Ewing. They've got everything they need, roster-wise. The problem, once again, is not personnel. (The fact becomes all too obvious when one takes into account the teams that have risen to crush us so far.) Look back to the passage reported by Thucydides, and the message is clear: Winning takes guts, and the vanquished need look no further than their own hearts for the cause of their misfortunes. High oratory? Yes, but true.

So, judging solely by their recent spiritual trials, one of two things is likely to take place with the Sonics this season. In the first and best-case scenario, the team as a whole figures out that it's got nothing to lose and everything to gain by putting all quibbling differences aside and becoming fearlessly--even recklessly--competitive on the court. In this instance, the Sonics might squeeze into the playoffs as the sixth or seventh seed, going up against, say, Portland or Sacramento in the first round. In the second and by far worst-case scenario, the Sonics continue to be sucked into a black hole, pulled inward and asunder by the centripetal force of intrapersonal doubt and interpersonal aggravation and blame. Should this happen, expect Westphal to be canned and Nate McMillan to take over as head coach for the remainder of the season. Forget the playoffs.

Anyone who has followed the Sonics for the past 10 years knows which scenario is more likely. Learning from their mistakes has not been Seattle's strongest suit. Be afraid.