Former U.S. Senator Slade Gorton says the purpose of the city of Seattle's lawsuit against the Sonics is to force chairman Clay Bennett...

Former U.S. Senator Slade Gorton says the purpose of the city of Seattle’s lawsuit against the Sonics is to force chairman Clay Bennett to sell the team to local ownership.

“If the lease is enforced, I think the chances are very, very high somebody will come along and purchase the Sonics,” Gorton said Friday during an interview with KJR-AM. “Bennett claims that he would lose an awful lot of money under those circumstances, and I think there would be a high degree of willingness to sell. Theoretically, the lawsuit is about the next two seasons; in reality, it’s about increasing the chances of keeping them here for good.”

Gorton, whose K&L Gates law firm is representing Seattle, has plenty of experience in these cases. During his first year as state attorney general, he sued the American League when the Seattle Pilots moved to Milwaukee and the lawsuit ensured Seattle would get the Mariners. Gates also helped prevent the Seattle Seahawks from moving to Los Angeles.

“There is a major difference between the old Pilots and now our Mariners and the Sonics,” he said. “They [the Pilots] were gone. Remember, at this point, while there’s a lawsuit, they aren’t gone. I think it’s easier to keep something that you already have than to get something new. So there is that difference between the two. We’re stronger this time around than we are then.”

Gorton declined to discuss specifics of the June 16 trial and remains optimistic the city can keep the team after the KeyArena lease expires in 2010, despite NBA commissioner David Stern’s comments last week that the Sonics would likely move to Oklahoma City.

City officials have privately discussed a $350 million package, which includes $150 million from the public, $100 million in naming rights and $100 million from team owners.

“The city has plans that are part of public record for a total refurbishing and remodeling of KeyArena,” Gorton said.


• C Robert Swift suffered a torn meniscus in his right knee during Thursday’s game at Portland, the Sonics said in a statement. Swift had told coach P.J. Carlesimo he heard a “pop” in his knee during the second quarter. The extent of the injury was revealed in an MRI exam Friday, and Swift will be re-evaluated by Dr. Steve Lombardo in Los Angeles. Swift, 22, has played just eight games this season because of knee problems.

• C Francisco Elson, acquired Wednesday in the trade that sent Kurt Thomas to San Antonio, made his Sonics debut Friday. He failed to score a point or grab a rebound in seven minutes in the first half. F Donyell Marshall was expected to fly to Seattle on Friday night, but he was stuck in traffic in Cleveland and may not have caught his flight. Ira Newble and Adrian Griffin are expected to arrive Sunday. Carlesimo said it’s possible the trio will be available for Sunday’s game against the Los Angeles Lakers.

• Sonics guard Damien Wilkins and assistant coach Mark Bryant will participate in a basketball clinic today to benefit NeighborHoops, the Sonics and Storm outreach program. The clinic is for children ages 8 to 15 and takes place from 2:30 to 4 p.m. at the Al Davies Boys & Girls Club, 1620 S. 17th St., Tacoma.