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Wednesday, March 24, 1999 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Sonics Game Day

Seattle Times Staff Reporter

The Sonics signed John Crotty, ending their search for an experienced point guard to back up Gary Payton. Crotty's signing also ended, at least for now, the Sonic career of Moochie Norris, whose time in Seattle had begun in fairy-tale style.

To make room for Crotty - who had been waived by the Trail Blazers - the 6-foot-1 Norris was released yesterday.

"I know it was a tough choice," Norris said. "But it was a decision they had to make to get a veteran point guard. It's something they wanted early in the year."

Norris will continue to chase his hoop dreams with the Fort Wayne Fury of the CBA.

"I'm going to finish doing what I was doing," he said, "so I can get back here."

The diminutive point guard was well-liked by teammates, and became a fan favorite. He made the team after he gave fits to Payton during training camp.

Norris' high point came on Feb. 7, when he swished his four three-point attempts to lead the Sonics to a 91-88 victory over the Trail Blazers at KeyArena.

But after that game, Norris's play suffered.

"I was playing well early but I stopped playing and I lost my confidence," Norris said. "And that's what hurt me, or else I would still be here."

Seattle had placed Norris on the injured list because of insomnia and activated Drew Barry. That move sealed Norris' fate.

Norris "was a great story," General Manager Wally Walker said. "It was a tough call. We told him, `We wish you well, we'll stay in touch. You never know.' He made a very favorable impression."

The 6-2 Crotty turned down three other teams to sign with Seattle for the rest of the season. Seattle signed Crotty to the pro-rated minimum, and he will be eligible for the playoffs.

Last season Crotty averaged 3.7 points and 2.4 assists in 14.5 minutes. This season he appeared in only three games and demanded a trade.

For Crotty, the March 11 trade deadline came with bad news and good news: He was still on the Blazers, but that night, his wife, Kara, gave birth to their second child, Connor.

"I'd like to be able to give the team a lift when Gary's out," said Crotty, who also will play alongside Payton. "Give us some energy, give us a shot in the arm. That's what I've done my whole career and that's what I'd like to do here."

NEXT: WASHINGTON

When: 7 tonight.

Where: KeyArena.

TV: Fox NW. Radio: 950 AM.

Records: Seattle 13-11,

Washington 10-15.

Probable starting lineups

P SEATTLE Ppg Rpg Apg

C Olden Polynice 7.7 8.9 1.0

F Detlef Schrempf 13.1 7.0 3.4

F Billy Owens 8.0 4.4 2.1

G Hersey Hawkins 9.7 4.0 2.8

G Gary Payton 21.8 5.3 8.2

P WASHINGTON Ppg Rpg Apg

C Terry Davis 2.9 3.9 0.2

F Otis Thorpe 9.0 6.5 1.6

F Juwan Howard 19.2 8.8 2.8

G Mitch Richmond 20.8 3.0 2.6

G Rod Strickland 14.7 4.9 10.2

Notes: Gary Payton is shooting a career-low 41.6 percent from the field. . . . Olden Polynice is on pace to finish the season with the worst free-throw percentage in NBA history, at 20.8 percent. Injuries: Seattle - G James Cotton (hamstring tendon strain, left leg), C Jelani McCoy (sore back) and F Vin Baker (ligament tear, right thumb) are on the injured list. Washington - C Lorenzo Williams (stress fractures, both feet), C Jahidi White (right knee surgery) and F Randell Jackson (left patella tendinitis) are on the injured list.

Copyright (c) 1999 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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