Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Bobcats master Kobe -- again!

I still don't understand this.

Why do the Bobcats look like a team that could play in the NBA Finals against the L.A. Lakers in a 7-game series and not be embarrassed -- indeed, probably win -- and yet they still are only the ninth-best team in the Eastern Conference at the moment?

It's one of sports' strangest streaks, and it continued Tuesday night. Charlotte's 94-84 win over the Lakers was the Bobcats' sixth over L.A. in their last seven attempts. That's amazing -- 6-1 against the Lakers?!! -- given the Bobcats have never made the playoffs and L.A. is a championship contender every year.

The Bobcats played another superb game in this one, even though it seemed like nearly half the sellout crowd of 19,568 was cheering for the Lakers. Kobe Bryant needed 28 shots to score his 25 points -- he was 11-for-28 from the field and started 4-for-16, when the Bobcats built much of their lead.

Gerald Wallace was superb underneath, converting one difficult layup after another and ending with 21 points and 13 rebounds. Boris Diaw was a great facilitator, passing out 12 assists to go along with 11 points. Emeka Okafor had only four shot attempts, yet scored 13 points and had nine rebounds.

The Bobcats still must stay hot and hope for some major breaks to make the NBA playoffs. But on nights like Tuesday, we all got a taste of what it will feel like when they finally get there.

This was one of the best nights the Bobcats have ever had -- not as dramatic as the three-OT victory over the Lakers a couple of years ago, but more significant in terms of the playoff race.

MJ tries to psych Lakers out

Interesting pre-game scene here in Charlotte, where the Bobcats will host the L.A. Lakers tonight.

Michael Jordan spent some time a couple of hours before tonight's 7 p.m. game with Phil Jackson, now the coach of the Lakers but MJ's longtime coach with the Chicago Bulls. As Jordan exited the Lakers' locker room, he called over his shoulder: "Good luck, Phil Jackson."

When asked if such a comment was serious, Jackson said no. "Michael's team needs to win some games," Jackson said. "So right now he's trying to psych us out."

A couple of other pregame notes:

-- Laker star Kobe Bryant had a very lengthy shooting session before the game, practicing on the goals at Time Warner Cable arena for an hour longer than many of the other players. Bryant is nursing a bit of a bad ankle, but he's expected to play tonight.

-- The game should be the Bobcats' 7th sellout of the season. Two of the best players in ACC history are expected to be among that sellout crowd -- Jordan, of course, and also David Thompson, the former N.C. State star and current Charlotte resident.

-- Everyone will see a Bobcats team trying to win for the sixth time in the last seven games against the Lakers -- one of the most inexplicable sports streaks I've ever heard of, given that the Bobcats haven't made the playoffs in their existence.

-- A small break for the Bobcats: Kevin Garnett is injured and won't play for the Celtics when Charlotte travels to Boston for a Wednesday night game.

Monday, March 30, 2009

A little NFL preseason pop for Panthers

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is now on record saying he wants a 17- or 18-game regular season. Goodell has come around on a topic that has plagued me for years -- it's just ridiculous to have 4 preseason games. That's too many -- two would be a gracious plenty. (The earliest the regular season could be changed is 2011 due to various labor agreements).

The preseason games are a waste of money for fans (who are charged regular-season prices) and everyone knows it. In recent years, most teams have not played their stars at all in the final preseason game, and not very much in the first 3, either.

Which brings me to the fact the Panthers do at least have a fine first preseason game this year -- Monday, Aug.17 at 8 p.m. on ESPN against the New York Giants.

The game will be nationally televised and a rematch of the wonderful game the 2 teams played last December. Remember that one? The Panthers had a chance to win on the final play of regulation, but John Kasay missed a 50-yard FG in a swirling wind. The Giants then drove for the deciding TD in overtime to win, 34-28.

The Panthers' 2009 schedule hasn't been released yet. The NFL always releases the full schedule sometime in April -- usually in early April, but after the Final Four and before the NFL draft. I expect this to be only the first of several national telecasts for the Panthers this season -- that's what you get when you go 12-5.

Coach K and Roy: Guitar heroes??

I about fell out of my chair Sunday while watching NCAA basketball when I saw the new "Guitar Hero" ad featuring Mike Krzyzewski, Roy Williams, Rick Pitino and Bob Knight in a "Risky Business"-inspired ad for the video game "Guitar Hero."

If you haven't seen it, click here to watch.

Knight is the silliest-looking in the ad, in which Coach K and Roy are the guitar players, Knight the singer and Pitino the drummer in a makeshift band. They are dissed by Metallica in the ad, which begins hilariously (with Coach K sliding across a hardwood floor much like Tom Cruise once did in the movie) but goes downhill IMHO once Metallica shows up. From then on, it tries too hard to be funny, and not that successfully.

My first thought when I saw this ad was "I can't believe they did this." I mean, all those coaches in their skivvies? Advertising a video game? Isn't that a little demeaning?

But after thinking about it a little bit, I decided this was about like President Obama picking an NCAA bracket. If he wants to do it, I have no problem with it. Same with the coaches -- it's an entertaining 30 seconds, I'll give it that.

And Coach K and Roy will both be able to blunt criticism from 8 miles down the road since they did it together (can you imagine the snarkiness if one of them had done the ad, but not the other?)

Williams talked about the ad some Monday in a teleconference. He said all the coaches did their parts individually and by some digital magic it looks like they are together.

Williams also said he filmed his part about 3-4 weeks ago at a TV studio in Raleigh. Said Williams of the filming: "It probably would have been more fun if all four coaches had been there at the same time as opposed to each of us doing our part individually.
"But if you had all four of us there at the same time, it would have probably taken 30 days to do a 20-second commercial, because it would have been so hard to get all of us to do exactly the right thing at one time."

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Bobcats' final record will be....

In Sunday's Charlotte Observer and on www.CharlotteObserver.com, I opine that Charlotte only has a 20 percent chance of making the playoffs. As of this writing, Charlotte is No.9 in a race where only the top eight teams get in -- 2.5 games behind both Chicago and Detroit.

The Bobcats (33-40) did tie a modest franchise record tonight after beating the New York Knicks by grabbing their 33rd win. I think they would need to go 7-2 over the final nine games to earn that final spot -- 40 wins would probably do it. And 39 might.

But I don't think they'll get there. I think the Bobcats will go 5-4 over their last nine, finishing at 38-44. Of those final nine games, six are on the road (thanks in part to the Charlotte Jumper Classic and Bob Johnson).

Charlotte plays the L.A. Lakers, Boston and Orlando during this final stretch, along with head-to-head bouts against playoff contenders Chicago and Detroit (both on the road, both must-wins).

Bottom line: I don't think Charlotte will make it. Not quite. But as I wrote for Sunday's paper, at least the Bobcats will be relevant for the first time in April.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Kilgo rips CBS for UNC start time

I got an interesting e-mail from John Kilgo today in regard to my Thursday column about the way CBS routinely sets late start times in the NCAA tourney for UNC and Duke.

Kilgo, for those new to our area, is one of the most respected men around in sports journalism and broadcasting. The Observer's Langston Wertz recently named him as the best radio sports broadcaster Charlotte has ever had. Kilgo now broadcasts Davidson games on the radio. He also co-authored Dean Smith's autobiography and has been close to the Tar Heels' basketball program for decades. I'm leaving a lot out of the bio, but in any event here's a lengthy excerpt from Kilgo's e-mail to me (he gave me permission to reprint it):

Hello Scott --
Enjoyed your column today. Here are a couple of points you might consider.

1. By putting Carolina on at 10 p.m., they are penalizing the No. 1 seed in the South. By playing so late, which means about a 3 a.m. bedtime, it puts the No. 1 seed at a competitive disadvantage for the Elite Eight game. Why is television allowed to render the rest of the season meaningless just so it can have bigger ratings?

If Carolina wins Friday, either Oklahoma or Syracuse, both lower seeds, will have a competitive edge. Completely unfair and should be unacceptable. At least Duke is not the No. 1 seed. It shouldn’t have the game-time advantage over the No. 1 seed in the region.

2. The colleges are to blame for this nonsense. They usually try to argue that television doesn’t set the times that teams play. You laid that lie to rest. The NCAA should grant television none of these powers. If CBS doesn’t want the tournament under fair and reasonable rules, then three other networks would be standing in line to take the games.

Why don’t the colleges learn from the Masters? They tell CBS which holes it can televise, what time it can come on, what announcers it can and can’t use, what sponsors are satisfactory and how many commercial minutes (four) it can run each hour. And they give CBS a one-year contract. CBS falls all over itself to renew each year under these far-reaching restrictions. It would react the same way for the NCAA tournament if the colleges ever grew a spine.

3. The CBS guy says his job is to get “the biggest ratings possible.” He.... can be expected to think that way. The whole purpose of the tournament should be to crown a national champion under the fairest rules and guidelines possible.... The colleges should be totally embarrassed for giving the network the power to influence the outcome of the tournament.

Best Wishes,
John Kilgo

On Duke, TV times and today's chat

Wow, Duke really got blasted.

I didn't see a 23-point loss coming there. But the Blue Devils looked about 3 steps slower than Villanova all night. And of Duke's Big Three, only Kyle Singler showed up. Gerald Henderson and Jon Scheyer were absolutely awful offensively, and that was that. You know it's bad when CBS announcer Verne Lundquist is openly cheering for Henderson to finally make a shot, as he did on one late Henderson three-pointer, coaxing it to "Get in!"

Not because Lundquist favored Duke -- you could tell he simply felt sorry for Henderson, who had one of those performances that just make you cringe. As for Mike Krzyzewski, he seemed powerless to stop the carnage in this one -- Jay Wright outcoached him just as the Villanova players outplayed their foes.

We can chat about Duke's huge loss, UNC's game tonight and whatever else you want to talk about TODAY (Friday) from noon to 1 p.m. on CharlotteObserver.com. As I mentioned in the print edition of today's paper, both the best question today and the best comment both win a free sports book for their authors. (Hint: be funny or be analytical if you want to win. Maybe ask something out of the ordinary. A question like "Will Julius Peppers be traded?" isn't going to get it done for you.)

Lastly, a postscript on my column Thursday about CBS so often making Duke and UNC play the latest game possible in the NCAA tournament. The reason a CBS exec gave me for this is that those teams have such huge fan bases that it's important to pick up the West Coast audience for them -- therefore, the later the better.

Do you have any idea, though, how many U.S. TV households fall in the Eastern Time Zone compared to the Pacific?

That would be 49 percent Eastern, 15 percent Pacific. That means we're all staying up far later to cater to an audience only 1/3 as large as ours. In some cases, that also means the game result doesn't even get in the paper (the Duke-Villanova result was not in my home-delivered Charlotte Observer today, for instance -- I live 21 miles from downtown Charlotte). I can't stand these late times.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Extend Jake? Absolutely

Panther fans will debate as to whether Jake Delhomme deserves a contract extension given that six-turnover debacle in the playoff loss to Arizona.

But to me, there's no debate: Delhomme should get the extension for 3 reasons.

1) It's the right thing to do. Delhomme is the best QB in franchise history. He has guided the team to the Final 8 of the playoffs or better 3 different times. His arm strength is as good as it has ever been. He's the best leader in that locker room. And, to me, Good Jake still outweighs Bad Jake.

2) It's practical. Delhomme counts a staggering $11 million toward the salary cap in 2009 -- that's not as bad as Julius Peppers, but it's a huge hit. Extend Delhomme even for just a couple of seasons and you can pro-rate that money, possibly cutting the salary impact this season in half. And remember, even if you sign Delhomme to a 4-year extension, that doesn't mean he's necessarily the starting QB for four years -- or even on the team for that long.

3) I don't like the alternatives. Trade for Jay Cutler? No, thanks -- the Panthers don't need that headache. Go into 2010 with Moore and McCown? Scary. Draft a QB and start him? Don't think so.

Jake is far from perfect -- and in the biggest game of the 2008 season, he was horrible. But I remain convinced signing Delhomme, 34, to a longer contract is Carolina's best alternative.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Fox supports Peppers -- of course

You've got to credit John Fox for one thing -- the Panthers' coach is unfailingly consistent.

He's always loved Julius Peppers. Fox has defended Peppers from all criticism, whether justified (that horrendous 2.5-sack year of 2007) or not. Like Tammy Wynette once sang, he has stood by his man.

And so Fox's comments Wednesday in California at the NFL owners' meetings (to reporters including The Observer's own Charles Chandler) come as little surprise. Fox doesn't think Peppers would be overpaid at $1 million per game in 2009 if he's not traded (yeah, right). Fox even makes an analogy to Elton John or Bono (which is hilarious, given Peppers' incredibly shy tendencies -- the guy is a fine football player, for sure, but he's never been an entertainer).

From reading Charles' informative post from California -- and I'd urge you to do so if you haven't already -- Fox sounded unflappable. If Peppers gets traded, the coach says he's fine. If Peppers stays, Fox is fine. But in the meantime, Fox loves the guy and doesn't even profess to care that Peppers believes he can't reach his full potential as a Panther. (I don't believe that part -- that's got to sting a little).

In any case, I give Fox kudos for finally addressing the issue -- at least to some extent -- and for his consistency. The coach always is who he is, no matter what your definition of "is" is.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Hello? Dale Jr.? Hello?

Kyle Busch couldn’t resist taking a shot or two at Dale Earnhardt Jr. after winning at Bristol Sunday.

Dale Jr. is, of course, perennially the most popular driver in NASCAR’s top series. Busch made an obvious reference to Dale Jr. in his postrace interview when he said: "For me, I don't think I would enjoy having the most fans out there. I actually like the way I am, the role I portray. And I think that there's probably too much pressure on one guy's shoulders who doesn't seem to win very often. But for us, it's a blast to go out there and do what we do."

“Who doesn’t seem to win very often.” Sadly, that’s very true. As our noted motorsports writer David Poole wrote today: “Earnhardt essentially took Busch's ride at Hendrick Motorsports before the start of the 2008 season. Since that time Earnhardt, who finished 14th Sunday, has won once while Busch has now won 10 times.”

Earnhardt now sits 19th in the standings after five races. He has never won an overall championship (his daddy won seven of them). Dale Jr. is by all accounts a great guy. I’ve had nothing but pleasurable dealings with him myself. I am forever indebted to him for turning me onto the best comedy on TV, the remarkable "The Office."

But can’t No.88 win a little more often? A Busch-Earnhardt Jr. at the top level of NASCAR would be a marketer’s dream. But Earnhardt Jr. is already a lap down in that duel – he’s going to have to pick up the pace or he’s never going to have a chance to respond to Busch where it counts.

On the track.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Wake Forest gets creamed by Cleveland State

No.4 seed Wake Forest just got blasted out of the NCAA tournament, losing 84-69 to No.13 seed Cleveland State in a game that finished around midnight Friday. It was the biggest upset of the NCAA tournament so far in terms of seeding.

So the Deacons ended up going 0-2 in the ACC tournament and the NCAA tourney this season and going only 8-7 over their final 15 games. A season that began with so much promise – 16 straight wins! – ended with an absolute whipping by Cleveland State, a team that hadn’t made it to the NCAA tournament since 1986. That year a Cleveland State, seeded 14th, also pulled off a shocker -- defeating a No.3 seed Indiana team coached by Bob Knight.

Wake Forest looked more lost in this game than it has all season. Cleveland State point guard Cedric Jackson and Vikings forward J’Nathan Bullock were both superb as Cleveland State repeatedly hid its lack of size with its wonderful quickness.

Jackson outplayed Wake guard Jeff Teague – by a large margin – and that was one of the main reasons this happened. Another: Wake’s Dino Gaudio was thoroughly outcoached by Cleveland State’s Gary Waters.

So Wake Forest, like Clemson, makes a very early exit. That leaves only the royalty of college basketball in the Carolinas – North Carolina and Duke – left after the NCAA’s first round.

One positive note for the Deacons: Gaudio said early Saturday that he believed Wake would not lose any underclassmen to the NBA this season. He said that he had been talking to the players' parents and that the players "all know they need to come back," although he also said "nothing would shock me."

Underclassmen like James Johnson, Jeff Teague and Al-Farouq Aminu have all been rumored as early NBA entries, although everyone's star but Johnson's has fallen some lately.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Wake in trouble at halftime

Wake Forest will need a strong second half in its first-round NCAA tournament game against Cleveland State or the Demon Deacons are going to be going home very early.

Cleveland State leads, 39-30, at the half. The Vikings have led the entire half, starting the game with a 9-0 run in the first two minutes by knocking in three consecutive three-pointers. Wake Forest has looked out-of-sorts the entire first 20 minutes except for forward James Johnson, who has 15 points.

Wake Forest star guard Jeff Teague didn't score for the first 13 minutes and, as in the ACC tournament, too often seemed to look to pass rather than to shoot and/or penetrate.

Cleveland State was up by as much as 17 in the first half (29-12) as the Vikings came out shooting the ball beautifully. Wake Forest carved into that margin late in the first half to get it down to a nine-point deficit.

Still, the No.13 seed Vikings have to be very happy with their first-half performance -- and Wake Forest has to be very unhappy with theirs. The Deacons absolutely must get the ball inside more often to take advantage of their size.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Could Cleveland State upset Wake?

Wake Forest point guard Ish Smith knows that Friday night's game against No.13 seed Cleveland State could be a dangerous one for the Deacons -- in part because he got a crash course from a cop.

Recounted Smith Thursday in Miami just before the Deacons practiced in preparation for Friday night's 9:40 p.m. NCAA tourney game: "Wednesday, I think, we were leaving and I parked my car, and one of the police officers came up to me and said, "Well, good luck this weekend," and I was like, "Thank you, sir." He said, "You want to know some brief history about Cleveland State?" I was like, "Sure, why not?" He said, "The last time they were in the Tournament was in 1986.... And they upset Bobby Knight's Indiana team. Don't let it happen to you guys."

All of that was true. Cleveland State was a mid-1980s Cinderella for a brief moment, making the Sweet 16 in 1986 as a No.14 seed behind a point guard named Mouse McFadden. Cleveland State hasn't been back since. But this Cleveland State team can play -- it has wins over NCAA tourney participants Syracuse and Butler this season.

One other note: If Wake Forest does win Friday night, it has now been confirmed by team officials that the Deacons would play their second-round game at 2:40 p.m. Sunday . Their opponent would be the Utah-Arizona winner.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Is Lawson tough enough??

OK, guess when I wrote this:

"[Ty Lawson's] ability remains, but it is shrouded in mystery as the No. 1-seeded Tar Heels prepare for an NCAA tournament they have a real chance to win....

Lawson has shown that he does at least one thing slowly - come back from an injury.
"In some ways, I think he's getting closer," [Coach Roy] Williams said... "But he's got to get a lot better for us to reach the dreams that we have."

Lawson's game depends so much on speed. Right now, it's obvious that his quick cuts sometimes also bring pain.

So the key question with Lawson is this: Is he tough enough? Can he play through pain the way Raymond Felton has done so many times in his career?


Give up? That's an excerpt from a story was written EXACTLY one year ago for The Observer -- March 18, 2008. Back then, Lawson was fighting through an ankle injury. Now, it's a toe injury. There's some serious deja vu going on right now with Lawson. But I would say the same question remains:

Is Lawson tough enough?

We know he's good enough. Oh, gracious, he's good -- ACC MVP this season over Tyler Hansbrough, the guy people have called the "one-man fast break" since his freshman season, the player so important to Williams that he went to go recruit him within hours of winning the 2005 national title (which is partly why Lawson came to UNC -- he was very impressed with that).

But is Lawson tough enough? Will he play in this NCAA tournament -- it doesn't matter in the first round (when apparently he won't), because the Tar Heels could beat Radford with their second string. But after that, it will matter a lot.

And assuming Lawson plays, will he play as well as he did in the regular season? Because without Lawson at full strength, there's no way UNC wins the national title (even though President Obama has picked them to do so).

Monday, March 16, 2009

And if they were talking...

OK, I believe Panthers GM Marty Hurney when he says he and the New England Patriots aren't exchanging heated phone calls right now, feverishly trying to find a price that would be suitable for Julius Peppers to go to the Patriots.

But that doesn't mean this trade won't happen. New England has cleared enough cap room to make it a logical landing place for Peppers, who wants to play in a 3-4 system and for a winner. Conversely, the Panthers would like to ship him to the AFC so they don't have to deal with Peppers in case he happens to finally have that 20-sack season he has always teased Panther fans with but never quite delivered.

So let's say at some point -- through Peppers' agent Carl Carey or whatever -- that Carolina and New England do talk after Carey does some negotiating.

Then you know what? The No.34 pick -- which according to this nfl.com report from respected writer Vic Carucci is what would be in play for New England to give up in a Peppers trade -- really wouldn't be enough. I mean, c'mon -- is this what the market has come to for Peppers? An early second-round pick, and that's it?

That's simply not enough. So it's a good thing they aren't talking -- at least not yet. But when and if they do, there better be more on the table than that.

Calling all underdogs

Here's a stat I don't like about the 2007 and '08 NCAA tournaments: the Final Fours were composed of six No.1 and two No.2 seeds altogether.

That includes a staggering 4-for-4 on No.1 seeds in 2008 -- the only time that has ever happened. And '07 wasn't much better, with two No.1s and two No.2s making the field. You have to go back to 2006 -- a 2, a 3, a 4 and wonderful No.11 George Mason -- to get some real flavor.

So you can see why folks like my esteemed colleague Tom Sorensen are playing it so dreadfully safe in their picks this season: Tom has chosen 3 No.1 picks and a No.2 (oooh, way to go out on a limb there, buddy) as his Final Four. Recent history suggests that this may be exactly the right way to go.

But I sure hope not. As I wrote in today's paper, this tournament is already short on the little guys, but if it can just produce a few big-time upsets (and NOT a Final Four filled with four No.1s) I'll forgive it.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Hansbrough beats Va Tech -- again

The Tar Heels were prime for picking in their ACC opener against Virginia Tech Friday afternoon. Without point guard Ty Lawson, the 2009 ACC Player of the Year who was sitting out due to injury, UNC's offense is much less formidable. And its defense is average at best whether Lawson is in there or not.

But Tyler Hansbrough beat the Hokies again. Last year, in Charlotte, it was on a pretty 12-footer from the baseline -- followed by Hansbrough's scary, Frankenstein-runs-down-the-court-full-speed celebration.

This time, it was on a flailing, off-balance, in-traffic 3-footer -- in other words, a vintage Hansbrough bucket.

That put UNC ahead by 1, and then Hansbrough helped cause a jump ball while Virginia Tech worked for the final shot in the last 10 seconds. This could have been called a foul, too, which is why Va Tech coach Seth Greenberg was so incensed. I thought the TV replays shown were inconclusive and was disappointed not to see a better angle -- if my feet were held to the fire, though, I would guess it was a foul.

If a foul, though, Virginia Tech would only have gotten the ball out of bounds, still down 1 (no free throws), because UNC had one foul still left to give.

And then Hansbrough hit 2 free throws after being fouled to cinch the Tar Heels' 79-76 win.

I still don't think UNC is going to win this ACC tournament -- not without Lawson. But with No.50, you can never be sure. For four years, he's been something else.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

3 things wrong with the ACC tournament

At the risk of sounding like an 80-year-old curmudgeon, here are 3 things wrong with the ACC men's basketball tournament:

1) GREED. The ACC will barely look at a venue like Charlotte’s Time Warner Cable Arena anymore because it’s “too small” with a seating capacity of around 19,000. It far prefers arenas of 25,000 or more. That has finally come back to bite the league this season when it had to put tickets on sale to the general public for the massive Georgia Dome – the first time that has happened since 1966.

2) WRONG DAY FOR FINAL. The ACC tournament final should be mammoth. It should be huge. It should be a showcase.
Instead, it gets totally crushed publicity-wise within about 3 hours of ending by Selection Sunday. I know this is a tradition, but still… the league would be wise to make its final a Saturday afternoon or evening event, so the champ could at least have a wider window to bask in. The solution: make the tournament Wednesday through Saturday instead of Thursday through Sunday.

3) TOO MANY TEAMS. I understand the financial realities. I know why the ACC expanded. But oh, how I long for a tight, eight-team, three-day tournament. This current 12-team monstrosity means the best team you see on Day 1 is only the fifth-best team in the ACC -- it's a slow day where I can always hear the cocktail glasses clinking, to borrow a Roy Williams analogy. Wake me when Day 2 rolls around.

For Lucas, it was time

On a personal level, I'm sorry to see Panthers CB Ken Lucas go. He was a class act -- demonstrated most vividly by his forgiveness of WR Steve Smith after getting sucker-punched in the nose during training camp. Here's Charles Chandler's story about Lucas's release.

On a professional level, however, it was time. Lucas was a liability for the Panthers late in the 2008 season. Teams would throw the ball time and again at him. And while CBs Chris Gamble and Richard Marshall certainly weren't immune to getting burned, either, it was Lucas who was MFT (Most Frequently Toasted).

It's obvious Carolina really doesn't want Lucas at this point, and that's the right decision. Even after his release, he still counts more than $8 million in "dead money" against the salary cap this season. That's a ton.

But Marshall, honestly, is a better cover corner right now than Lucas. This position just became a spot of bigger need in the NFL draft for Carolina, too. The nickel corner in the NFL is practically a 12th starter on defense, so Carolina now needs to find one of those on its bench or at a modest price to defend against the 3-wide receiver offenses of today's world (New Orleans, Arizona, etc).

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Writing Rodney Rogers

If you haven't read my exclusive interview with former Wake Forest basketball star Rodney Rogers -- who is now paralyzed from the shoulders down after a dirt-bike accident three months ago -- here's the link.

I began pursuing this interview in January, talking to some folks around Rodney. I thought his story could be told in an inspirational, straightforward way once he was ready to talk. At the time, though, there was a major complication -- Rodney's body had been so battered by his accident that he couldn't talk much (his ventilator also complicated things).

But Rodney has improved. He got out of ICU a month ago, and he got out of the hospital (Shepherd Center in Atlanta) on Monday. This was a huge step for him, and I congratulate him for it. Rodney and his fiancee Faye Suggs have moved back to a new house in the Raleigh-Durham area.

I owe a large debt to Rodney, his fiancee Faye Suggs, his good friend Robert Doggett and several people with good Wake Forest connections for helping me tell this story.

I am getting the question today about how to contact Rodney, and here's the address for anyone who would like to do so:

Rodney Rogers
c/o Wake Forest University
P.O. Box 6242
Winston-Salem, NC

Rodney really appreciates cards, letters and words of encouragement. There's a long road ahead for the ACC's 1993 Player of the Year, but as anyone who saw him play basketball knows, he's quite a battler.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Rodney Rogers: An exclusive interview

In Wednesday's Charlotte Observer -- as well as in The (Raleigh) News and Observer -- I will have a long story on Rodney Rogers that I hope you enjoy.

For those new to ACC country, Rogers is the former Wake Forest basketball star from Durham who was the ACC's Player of the Year in 1993. He then had a solid 12-year NBA career that ended in 2005.

I visited for a couple of hours with Rogers Saturday in Atlanta, three months after Rogers sustained a serious spinal-cord injury on a dirt bike that has paralyzed him from the shoulders down.

Now 37 years old, Rogers has no use of his arms and legs now. But he has improved over the past three months. He has totally regained the ability to talk, for instance. And while he understands his current situation completely, he says he has not lost his faith in God. Or his hope.

“I told God that I need to be able to walk and use my hands again," Rogers told me in our interview. "Because I’ve got a lot of stuff to do."

Read more about Rodney Rogers in Wednesday's Charlotte Observer or in The (Raleigh) News and Observer.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Disappointment for Davidson

The reason tournaments like the Southern Conference are so dramatic is the all-or-nothing aspect. These mid-major tourneys are like the ACC tournament was back in the 1970s, when only the tourney winner went to the NCAA and everyone else was left hungry.

Davidson has had the "all" part of things each of the past 3 years, but they got the "nothing" Sunday night. Their 59-52 loss to Charleston in the tournament semifinals in Chattanooga Sunday night turned the Davidson postgame locker room into a tomb. Everyone looked like they were either on the verge of either crying or hitting something -- or both.

I just don't see how Davidson gets an NCAA at-large bid now. The Wildcats' best non-conference wins are against West Virginia (a very good one) and N.C. State (not much of one). The Wildcats (26-7) are far more likely to go to the NIT, where they are guaranteed a bid because of their 18-2 SoCon record in the regular season.

Charleston and Chattanooga will play for the NCAA spot guaranteed to the Southern Conference on Monday night. By then the Wildcats -- who won that NCAA bid in 2006, 2007 and 2008 -- should already be back home. They found their mojo at just the right time in 2008, but this is 2009. And as much fun to watch as Stephen Curry (5-for-18 Sunday night) was this season, this Davidson team simply wasn't as good as the '08 version.

7 FTs in 1 second for Davidson

I am in Tennessee, covering Davidson in the Southern Conference tournament, and saw something in the Wildcats' quarterfinal 84-68 win over App State Saturday I've never seen in a basketball game before.

Davidson shot 7 free throws in one second of game time.

Not a huge deal, but a strange one. This was late in the first half, against Appalachian State. Davidson's Bryant Barr was fouled on a shot with 12 seconds to go. He missed the first shot (FT 1). He got to shoot it over because of a lane violation -- and missed (FT 2). He shot his second official free throw and missed (FT 3).

But Davidson's Andrew Lovedale hustled for the rebound and was fouled while doing so. This incensed App coach Houston Fancher. He got a technical for protesting. That brought in Stephen Curry to make the 2 FTs for the technical (FTs 4 and 5).

Then Lovedale got to shoot two because he got fouled (FTs 6 and 7). He made one.

All of this, and the game clock only moved by a second. It was like watching a free-throw drill at a basketball practice.

One other note: Davidson coach Bob McKillop got his first technical of the season in this game for protesting some calls in the first half.

Davidson plays College of Charleston tonight in what should be a very good semifinal. The teams split in the regular season. When they played at Davidson a month ago and Charleston won, I thought Charleston was more athletic in 4 out of 5 positions on the court (the only exception being Curry).

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Panthers and T.O.? Oh no

So now Terrell Owens is a free man once again, having been cut by the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys apparently decided Owens wasn't worth all the drama, even though he's had at least 1,000 yards receiving in each of his 3 seasons there and scored a total of 38 TDs in those 3 years.

Somebody will hire T.O. again, of course. Even though he's 35 years old. If you look at his stats, he's been extremely productive for a long time.

But it shouldn't be Carolina. Carolina already tried a version of T.O. once, with Keyshawn Johnson, and that didn't work out. The role of "Veteran Wide Receiver To Gracefully Play Second Fiddle to Steve Smith" is already nobly played in Charlotte by Muhsin Muhammad.

And while Owens has been more productive than Moose if you look at the past several years, he's just not worth it. What he gives you in TDs he subtracts in team morale. T.O. is evidence that while there is no "I" in "T-E-A-M," there has always been a "me" if you just flip the letters around a little.

He doesn't fit with what the Panthers are trying to do here, and they should stay far away from him.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

A sad ending for "Batman"

You may or may not remember the story of the minor-league baseball player who got traded for 10 bats last May (retail value: $665). It was one of those strange items that made the player in question -- John C. Odom -- the answer to a trivia question.

Odom seemed to enjoy the publicity from the unusual trade at first, but 3 weeks after the trade, he left the team that traded for him. Six months after that he was dead. A medical examiner said Odom died in Georgia at age 26 from an accidental overdose of heroin, methamphetamine, the stimulant benzylpiperazine and alcohol.

Here's the full story about the odd trade.