Sunday, February 28, 2010

If Jordan goes "all-in," he'll be a fine Bobcats owner

For those of you who may not have seen it, here's my column on Michael Jordan's purchase of the Charlotte Bobcats, which was announced Saturday.

Jordan has made quite a splash with this, but Charlotte as a city is past being starstruck. I want to see Jordan go "all-in," to literally take ownership of the Bobcats. This must be his baby.

I think it can and will work if Jordan does that.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Michael "wins" the Bobcats -- now what?

Michael Jordan has done it again, coming from behind to win what he wants.

This time, it's the Charlotte Bobcats -- his homestate NBA team. Bob Johnson announced really early Saturday morning -- the e-mail hit my in-box at 2:05 a.m. -- that he had reached a deal to sell to Jordan.

So Johnson kept his word on this one. He told me last April, in the last substantial interview he gave prior to the sale, that he wanted to help MJ own a franchise. “I know Michael wants to own a team, and I want to assist him however I can,” Johnson told me then. And that's what happened.

Will Michael be a good owner? I think he will. Others don't. Obviously, there's more news to come on this deal in terms of the way it is structured, but I feel the same way about Jordan owning the Bobcats now as I did last May, when I wrote this column advocating him buying a controlling interest in the franchise. Here are a couple of excerpts from my May 2009 Observer column:

Michael Jordan should own the Charlotte Bobcats.

He’s the logical choice – the insider with starpower who also happens to be the best basketball player ever. After some false starts, Jordan has revived the Bobcats’ roster with the help of his handpicked coach, Larry Brown.

I think Jordan could be an excellent owner if he makes a few changes to the way he does business. I certainly prefer him to an outsider with a big wallet and no deep ties to Charlotte. We could end up with another Ray Wooldridge in a mock turtleneck.

One of the problems with Jordan is that -- because we’ve watched him for nearly 30 years now -- we know his flaws like we know those of our own family. He doesn’t live here full-time. He made “Space Jam.” He gambles. He drafted Kwame Brown No.1 and Adam Morrison No.3. He hired Sam Vincent as a coach. He used to have a whole lot more money before he and Juanita Jordan divorced in December 2006.

But despite his flaws, Jordan knows basketball.... He’s very smart. And he understands his homestate.

Yes, MJ can be aloof. He doesn’t choose to relate to the common fan as much as he should. But I’ve got a plan to fix that.

So what Jordan first needs to do is first buy a controlling interest in the team from Bob Johnson.... Then he needs to make his first call to Jerry Richardson. No one relates to the average fan better than Richardson. “Big Cat” drives around on his golf cart, drops by unexpectedly at fans’ tailgate parties and sends handwritten notes so personal they get framed. The Panthers owner is rightfully beloved.

Jordan needs to learn from Richardson. There are ways to maintain his privacy but to still win over more fans, thus filling more seats and damming the red-ink river that currently runs from Time Warner Cable Arena.

When Jordan first bought a piece of the Bobcats three years ago, he said: “Now as an insider, I have the authority to change the script a little bit. That’s what I want to do.”

Here’s the perfect opportunity.

So, yes, at the end of February 2010, the opportunity is now officially here. The ball is in Jordan's hands. Let's see what he does with it.

Friday, February 26, 2010

5 sports thoughts and links

Scouting the sports world on a Friday:

1)We’re No.47?! That’s the first pick that the Panthers currently own in the 2010 NFL draft – midway through the second round. Read this blog from Charles Chandler on how that was determined.

2) J.C. Smith’s 28-point loss: Ouch. I saw the Golden Bulls beat Chowan pretty badly at Brayboy gym only a week ago, but Chowan creamed J.C. Smith when it really mattered – Thursday night in the men’s draw of the CIAA tournament. This J.C. Smith team really didn’t have the chemistry of the previous two and seemed like an over-confident bunch that underachieved.

3)UNC glory days: If you’re a Tar Heel fan upset about this awful season, you can watch WBTV (Channel 3) tonight at 9 p.m. for a one-hour special called “Jerseys in the Rafters 2.” It includes a lot of highlights and interviews from Tar Heel greats whose jerseys now hang in the rafters at the Smith Center, including Tyler Hansbrough, Phil Ford, Walter Davis and Vince Carter. Go to if you want more information on how to order the complete, uncut DVD.

4) And if you're either a Duke or UNC fan, check out the new video component (courtesy of Raycom Sports) on our head-to-head Duke-UNC rivalry site. It's really cool.

5) How would you like to be in business with Tiger Woods right now? Ron Green Jr. had an interesting story today about some Carolina high-roller development types who still don’t mind doing so. You can read it here.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Hey, Peppers, would $37 help??

I had an odd, touching conversation with my nine-year-old son about Julius Peppers’ departure from the Panthers this week. (I write about that departure today in this column, and why the Panthers still need to spend all that money they just saved).

Salem is the most sports-minded of our four children – heavily involved in both playing and watching sports. He doesn’t follow offseason news, though. Contracts, possible labor strikes – all that totally bores him. He just likes the games and cheers for all the local teams.

So he was stunned when his older brother told him Tuesday that Julius Peppers wasn’t going to be a Panther anymore. Salem likes Peppers, both for his multi-sport talent and because Peppers is the tallest Panther.

Salem often plays some sort of game on his bed that he made up and I don’t quite understand. It has to do with these oversized football cards that Panther mascot Sir Purr gave every kid at his school one time. It’s kind of like a version of the card game “War,” and Peppers always ranks as the most powerful card.

Anyway, he asked me why Peppers was leaving, and I told him that the Panthers and Peppers could never agree on how much Peppers should get paid to play for Carolina, so he was going to go somewhere else to play instead. I told him about Peppers’ “million dollars per game” contract of 2009, too, but numbers like that are a little beyond the comprehension of a nine-year-old. Shoot, they’re beyond my comprehension.

A few hours later, Salem came up to me while I was writing today's column on my laptop, and said:
“I wish I could give Julius all of my money.”
“Julius who?” I asked absentmindedly.
“Julius Peppers,” he said.
“Because maybe then he’d still play for the Panthers.”
I turned away from the laptop and faced him.
“How much money do you have?” I asked.
“Thirty-seven dollars,” Salem said, his face solemn.

I didn’t really know what to say to that. I told him some of the same things you probably would have in the same situation. I didn’t make a joke about it – “Oh, yeah, why don’t you give me the $37 and I’ll make sure and give it to Julius the next time I see him so he can fill up his gas tank on the way out of town” – because he was so serious.

I’m not saying that Peppers shouldn’t get a chance to play elsewhere after eight years in a Carolina uniform.

But it’s easy to forget sometimes all the little ripples a decision like this one has. All the No.90 jerseys in closets all over the Carolinas that will never be worn again. And all of the third-graders in the Carolinas with $37 stuck in a clear mason jar in their room, ready to give all of it up for one more chance to see someone they admire play one more time for the home team.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Peppers, Panthers divorce -- and it was time

The Julius Peppers circus finally closed down the tent today, with the Panthers explaining why they decided to let him go after eight years in a news conference. Basically, their decision boiled down to the fact that Peppers was going to cost too much money.

I don’t know about you, but I’m so ready for this one to be over. Aching for it to be over, really. This was the sideshow that just wouldn’t end, a “he-said, he-said” offseason distraction for what seems like forever.

Carolina painted itself into a corner once – paying Peppers $1 million per game in 2009. With an even tinier corner to play with this season, the Panthers have decided to cut ties instead of re-franchising Peppers for more than $20 million for the 2010 season.

So no more charging around the end for No.90. No more discussion about how many plays Peppers took off or how good he could have been had he had a motor that revved like Jon Beason or a heart like Sam Mills.

Peppers isn’t a bad guy, really, just a quiet one. If someone was going to write you or me the sort of checks the Panthers did for the past eight years, we wouldn’t turn it down, either.

What Peppers never gave the Panthers, however, was much of anything but stats. Peppers had little locker-room presence. He was never a natural leader and rarely tried to be one. He was a Pro Bowl defensive end for much of his career and yet he could have been more than that here.

Some team will still pay Peppers a boatload of money, although I would guess it will be a smaller boatload than the Panthers would have when they offered him that contract extension awhile back. Whatever.

It was time for a divorce. Peppers will be happier with a fresh start, and so will Carolina. He called this ending "bittersweet" in an exclusive interview with The Observer, but it's an exit door Peppers has been looking for going on more than a year now.

I think the Panthers will be just as good without Peppers – remember, they were only 8-8 last season -- if they use wisely the millions they will save by letting him go.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Free Bobcats ticket winner announced

In the Charlotte Bobcats’ bumpy six-year history, I have heard this comment from a whole lot of disgruntled sports fans: “I wouldn’t go to a Bobcats’ game if you gave me free tickets.”

I’m sure that is true for some. But I now know there are a whole lot of people who are dying to go to a Bobcats game if you give them free tickets -- especially good ones like the two I just gave away. (The tickets to give away came courtesy of a buddy who lives in Gastonia, owns his own business, hits a wicked forehand, buys great Bobcats season tickets and couldn't use these particular ones).

I got close to 1,000 entries in a “Two Free Bobcats Tickets” contest we didn’t publicize much and only allowed people to enter for a period of about 30 hours.

Of those nearly 1,000 entries, only one person had the exact right answer to all three questions I asked. His name: Jeff Johnston. He lives in Charlotte and works at Wells Fargo. He has won two free floor-level seats to the Charlotte-Toronto home game March 29. He says he plans to take his nine-year-old daughter Adrianna to the game.

To review, I asked readers three questions through this blog and in my newspaper column Friday. Those questions were:

1) How many points will Cleveland’s LeBron James and Milwaukee’s Brandon Jennings score combined in their games against Charlotte this past weekend? The answer turned out to be 41 (22 for James, 19 for Jennings), and this eliminated about 98 percent of the entries. Almost everyone guessed too high, which was understandable given that the two average a combined 47.6 points.
However, exactly 20 readers got that question right, hitting "41" on the nose.

Noted Johnston: "I figured my best chance would be to guess something below the median here. With LeBron in the equation, I guessed that people would choose higher numbers more often than lower ones."

Now a guy who uses the word "median" like that you might guess is in a "math-intensive" job at Wells Fargo (he is) and was a physics major in college (he was).

2) The first tiebreaker: What would the Bobcats’ record be against Cleveland and Milwaukee this weekend? This one turned out to be easy. The correct answer was 1-1, and 18 of 20 entries were still alive after that one. "The Bobcats have been around .500 all year," Johnson said, "and so I just went with the highest probability here."

3) That brought us to the second and final tiebreaker: How many assists would the Bobcats’ Raymond Felton have combined in those two games?
The answer was 10 -- Felton had six in the Cleveland win but only four against Milwaukee in Charlotte's loss. I had a number of people who were so close – guessing either nine or 11 total assists for Felton. But Johnston had the single perfect entry.

"Felton averages just a shade above five assists," said Johnson, who described both himself and his daughter as big Bobcat fans. "So on this one, I just went with the most likely number."

Thanks to all who entered, including those who wrote funny notes with their entries and/or said they read this blog or my newspaper column regularly. I really appreciate it -- nothing makes a writer feel better than that. We’ll do another contest again some time.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Bobcats: What goes down must come up

I watched the Bobcats dismantle Cleveland in Charlotte Friday night, winning by 17, and here's my column about that.

You'll notice I started almost every paragraph with the phrase "I have never" -- it was a game like that, full of oddities (Antawn Jamison going 0-for 12?! Tyrus Thomas blocking six shots in his first game for Charlotte?!)

The win also was a real boon to Charlotte, which had lost to the 5-50 New Jersey Nets at home Tuesday. That was seriously embarrassing. Two of the Nets' five wins this season came against Charlotte. Yet the Bobcats have a 3-1 record against Cleveland, which still has the best record in the NBA (Current standings can be found here).

If the playoffs started today, the Bobcats would be a No.8 seed and face Cleveland, the No.1 seed, in the Eastern Conference. I still don't think Charlotte could beat Cleveland in a playoff series, despite whipping the Cavs three straight this season, but as I wrote today, I'm at least willing to entertain the possibility now.

One more note: there were close to 1,000 entries in my "2 free Bobcats tickets" contest. The deadline has now passed to enter, but thanks to all who did.

The contest winner will be announced no later than Monday morning on this blog and in The Charlotte Observer.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Tiger's apology: I give it a "C" and here's why

Like much of America, I watched Tiger Woods’ 13-minute apology Friday, a story that was handled by the TV networks as if it had the significance of a moon landing. I would give his apology a “C” grade overall. That grade comes from my totally subjective average of the following 5 factors.

Level of contrition: A. Tiger called himself “selfish,” “foolish,” “deeply sorry,” “embarrassed.” He also said: “I was unfaithful. I had affairs. I cheated. What I did is not acceptable, and I am the only person to blame.” He also said of his multiple affairs: “I felt that I had worked hard my entire life and deserved to enjoy all the temptations around me. I felt I was entitled.” In other words, he at least sounded like he knew this mess was all his fault.

“Control” factor: F. Woods’ refusal to take questions – and yet to invite selected journalists to more or less serve as “props” for this made-for-TV event – prompted a boycott by a prominent association of golf writers. This was Tiger's biggest mistake -- not answering at least a few questions. Tiger has done thousands of press conferences. He could have talked about what he wanted to, skipped over what he didn’t and made himself appear a lot more human and a lot less controlling.

“From the heart” factor: B. It sounded to me like Tiger actually wrote the statement, or at least most of it. I’ve been around him enough that I don’t think he had a scriptwriter craft this one -- it sounded the way he usually sounds, except he was talking about affairs instead of putts. He didn’t cry. And while that was genuine – he shouldn’t manufacture tears if he didn’t have any – that did make it seem at times a little too polished, the hugs at the end a little too perfect.

“Don’t blame the wife” factor: C. Tiger said his wife Elin deserves “praise,” not “blame.” He said she had never hit him. He did not say much else about her, except to tell the paparazzi to leave her and his kids alone. Bet that'll stop 'em.

Actual news factor: D. Tiger’s statement made for good TV – people will remember where they were when they watched it – but it didn’t answer a lot of questions, including anything about what happened Thanksgiving night; specifics about what had been incorrectly reported about his life (he asserted there were many falsehoods out there); when he is coming back to golf and whether he and his wife planned to stay together.

About the only thing I actually learned from the statement that I didn’t know before Friday at 11 a.m. was that he is trying to return to Buddhism, the religion his mother raised him in as a youngster.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

FREE Bobcats tickets (if you're Nostradamus)

Want two really good, totally FREE seats for the Charlotte Bobcats’ home game against Toronto on March 29th?

Then get ready, Nostradamus.

I’m giving away two great seats to that Bobcats-Raptors game Monday, March 29 – the seats are just six rows from the court, located directly across from the Bobcats’ bench, and courtesy of a great friend of mine who is a season ticket-holder -- to the reader who can best do this.

1) Guess how many points Cleveland’s LeBron James and Milwaukee’s Brandon Jennings score COMBINED against the Bobcats this Friday and Saturday night. (Example: If you think LeBron is going to score 30 and Jennings 20, guess 50. You only have to guess the total number, NOT what each player will score).

2) Tiebreakers: Tell me whether the Bobcats will go 1-1, 0-2 or 2-0 in these two important games. Also, tell me how many total assists Raymond Felton will have in these two games.

If more than one person gets the combined number of points exactly right and aces the tiebreakers as well, I’ll have a drawing for the tickets.

The winner will be announced Monday morning on this blog and in the newspaper.

To enter, you must e-mail me your answers at by 6 p.m. Eastern time on Friday.

Remember, don’t put your guess in the comments on this blog – that doesn't count. You have to e-mail me at
You also MUST include your full name, hometown and a phone number or the entry won't count. Only one guess per person. Good luck!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Tiger to talk -- on his terms, of course

Tiger Woods will finally talk Friday.

It's been a long time coming -- too long -- but Woods is going to try and get in front of the sordid story that has dominated the golf world for months. His problems with his wife and the reports of countless affairs for the best golfer on the planet have made Woods the butt of jokes.

The way Woods is doing this is curious, though. Here's the statement from Woods' website about what he's doing.

Tiger Woods will be speaking to a small group of friends, colleagues and close associates at 11:00 a.m. EST on Friday at the TPC Sawgrass Clubhouse in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. Tiger plans to discuss his past and his future, and he plans to apologize for his behavior.

While Tiger feels that what happened is fundamentally a matter between him and his wife, he also recognizes that he has hurt and let down a lot of other people who were close to him. He also let down his fans. He wants to begin the process of making amends, and that's what he's going to discuss.

His remarks will be open to a press pool for live coverage. It is NOT a news conference.

Here's the Associated Press preview of Woods' talk.

And this comes directly from the AP's story, referring to Woods' statement coming on Friday rather than, say, Monday, when no big tournament was being played in Arizona: The timing is peculiar. It will be held during the third round of the Accenture Match Play Championship in Arizona, sure to steal attention away from the first big event of the year. Accenture was the first sponsor to drop Woods when he became embroiled in the sex scandal.

"He's got to come out at some point," Rory McIlroy said. "I suppose he might want to get something back against the sponsor that dropped him. No, I don't know. It just went on for so long. I'm sick of hearing about it. And I'm just looking forward to when he's getting back on the golf course."

I'm looking forward to Woods getting back on the golf course, too, as are many others. Selfishly, I hope he'll play in Charlotte again in 2010. But I hope, first and foremost, he's got his life straightened out.

Because although he can control who he talks to Friday, it was Tiger's lack of control that has put him in this place to begin with.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

On 49ers and Lutz's 'stache

I wrote a column you can see here about the Charlotte 49ers' turnaround from 11-20 last season to what is soon going to be a 20-win season this year -- and a possible NCAA berth for the first time in 2005.

Many things are different about these 49ers -- their top three scorers are all new to the court this season in Shamari Spears, Derrio Green and Chris Braswell. The older players have accepted a change in their own roles gracefully, head coach Bobby Lutz said, which has made the turnaround possible.

Lutz also has a mustache again for the first time in five seasons -- partly because of a student campaign to "Bring Back the 'Stache." He said he's going to shave it off once the season is done, but that may be awhile.

It's a good time for Charlotte to be good, too. Lost in the shadow of Davidson and Steph Curry for much of the past three seasons, the 49ers have now returned to the local college hoops spotlight. With an RPI hovering around 40 at the moment, Lutz thinks if they finish in the top four in the Atlantic 10. Right now they are tied for second, with a three-game homestand coming up.

Rock Hill Olympian: "The time is now! Whoo-hoo!"

Big day today for the only two "locals" we have in the Winter Olympics -- speedskaters Lauren Cholewinski (Rock Hill, SC) and Heather Richardson (High Point, NC). (UPDATE: Cholewinski finished 30th in the race. Richardson was a surprisingly high sixth. Both thought they would be happy with a finish somewhere around the top 20 in this event. Here are some more details about their race).

Both skaters were active on Twitter or Facebook today in advance of their race. Wrote Cholewinski on Twitter: "THE TIME IS NOW! WHOO-HOO I GET TO SKATE IN THE OLYMPICS TODAY! DOES IT GET ANY COOLER THAN THAT?"

Wrote Richardson on Facebook: "Today is the day! I just want to thank everyone so much for their support again and I'm gonna try my BEST!"

Cholewinski, who wore pink skates for her race, said afterward that she would have liked to have finished higher but still called the Olympic experience "amazing" and "overwhelming."

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Gerald Wallace you never knew

In advance of today's NBA all-star game, I have written a long piece on first-time all-star Gerald Wallace and his background that you can read here.

Even at that length, I wasn't able to fit everything into the story that I wanted to. So here are 3 things that I didn't get into the story about Wallace, the only player who has been on the Charlotte Bobcats' roster since the beginning.

1) Wallace is fascinated by police work and thinks he would like to be a police detective when the NBA is over. He likely would pursue this dream in or around Childersburg, Ala., where he grew up and plans to return after his career ends.

2) Wallace's home game-day routine goes like this: Get up. Go to shoot-around. Come home. Take a nap. Wake up. Go to Chick-Fil-A. Get two sandwiches (no pickle). Come back home. Eat them in front of the TV while watching "Law and Order." Depart for arena.

3) Wallace is one of the few professional athletes in Charlotte to employ a full-time personal assistant. More of them should do so -- Jodi Hopkins, who fills this role, seems like money well-spent to me.

Hopkins makes sure Wallace gets everywhere he needs to go and takes care of everything he doesn't have time to do. "She makes it a lot easier for me to focus just on basketball," Wallace said. I owe a personal thanks to Hopkins as well for helping me track down so many of the people in Wallace's life -- I interviewed his wife, several of his best friends, his older brother Courtney Castleberry and his mother Alice Castleberry for this story.

Again, if you read the story here, you'll see how important Wallace's mother has been in his life. There have been other factors, too, but his mother -- now fighting bone cancer -- is No.1.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Scheyer my frontrunner for ACC Player of Year

I've posted a column in the aftermath of Duke's 64-54 win over North Carolina Wednesday night that you can read here.

One of the things in the column was this description by UNC's Larry Drew of Jon Scheyer, who burned the Tar Heels for 24 points Wednesday night.

"He's as crafty as you can get," Drew said. "You just don't like playing against players like that. He can shoot the ball well. He's quick enough. He's smart. He knows about angles. He’s a good actor. And he can shoot."

So Scheyer is a thespian (the acting part, which I assume means Scheyer is good at looking like he's fouled). He's a mathematician (the angles). He's a master craftsman (the craftiness). And he can shoot -- which is the biggest thing, so much so that Drew mentioned it twice.

Olympic oddities (including one from Rock Hill)

I wrote a column today about Lauren Cholewinski, a speedskater who grew up in Rock Hill, S.C., and now will compete for the U.S. Olympic team in Vancouver.

Lauren's story is an oddity, for sure. Of the 216 U.S. athletes in these Winter Olympics, she's the only one from South Carolina. The only one from North Carolina is another speedskater -- Heather Richardson of High Point, who I also featured today.

So that's less than one percent of the U.S. team hailing from the Carolinas overall. That's not that unusual, although occasionally we produce a bobsled pusher (they are frequently former football players). We don't get a lot of snow and ice around here, so it's understandable. But speedskating can be practiced in a roller rink on inline skates, which is where both Cholewinski and Richardson got their starts.

I've covered three Summer Olympics now for The Observer and one Winter Olympics (I am not going to Vancouver -- our newspaper is not sending anyone this time). I prefer Summer Olympics overall, as I like the mix of sports better and there are usually more folks from the Carolinas involved (particularly in swimming and track and field). But the Winter Olympics do have their own rewards -- they are more manageable because there are far fewer events and they are often more picturesque.

It would be stunning if either Cholewinski and Richardson won a medal in Vancouver. They are far more likely to contend at the next Winter Olympics, in 2014 in Russia. But I'm glad they made the team. I talked to both of them and they sound genuine. They know they'll never make a living at speedskating -- Richardson wants to be a dental hygienist and Cholewinski may end up as a pilot -- but they are living an Olympic dream they've had for a long time right now.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Duke beats UNC by 10 as the ball clanks

That certainly wasn't the prettiest Duke-UNC game you'll ever see. Get this: Duke was 3-for-28 from two-point range in the first half and still led by a point, 28-27. The Blue Devils ended up winning, 64-54.

Both sides shot badly, defended passionately and it ended up about like you thought it would, with Duke winning by 10. The game was lower-scoring than I expected, though -- the outcome reminded me of when Matt Doherty in desperation played a slowdown offense against Duke in the 2002 ACC tournament. It kept the game closer but failed to change the outcome (Duke won, 60-48).

But Roy Williams wasn't trying to slow it down -- his team just doesn't score well from the half-court offense. Mike Krzyzewski's didn't either for a large part of the game, but then Jon Scheyer and Kyle Singler took over late and the Blue Devils (8-2 ACC) maintained their conference lead. UNC (2-7 in the ACC) remains in 11th place.

I was in Chapel Hill for this one and thought the Tar Heels played harder than usual, with more fight than they've shown for much of the season. That's kind of a damning statement, isn't it? But a true one. That's the sort of intensity that they always need.

Check out for more coverage of the game.

Live from the Smith Center -- UNC-Duke

I'm in Chapel Hill awaiting the tipoff of the Duke at UNC college basketball game. We're trying something a little different tonight -- I'm going to blog live from courtside as the game goes on. You should be able to find that link either right here or at

Come join me on your computer as you watch the game live on TV or listen on the radio or however you do it -- I think we'll be posting comments from readers too.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Is SI's Brooklyn Decker the anti-Peppers?

Big news today on two fronts:

1) Julius Peppers says the Panthers' silence is kind of a turnoff.

I love this! Peppers not liking the fact that someone else is basically giving him the silent treatment? Wow, now he knows what reporters (and, occasionally, the Panthers' front office) have felt like for most of his 8-year career in Carolina. (Kudos to local radio station WFNZ for getting this interview, and getting Peppers to talk about his situation -- a little. It sounds like things are mostly status quo -- Peppers knows someone is about to pay him huge money and he'll go wherever that money leads him).

2) Matthews native Brooklyn Decker has made the cover of Sports Illustrated's annual swimsuit issue (you can see the cover and a story about this here).

Decker, 22, is married to tennis star Andy Roddick. Both of them, incidentally, are worth following on Twitter if you do that sort of thing: @BrooklynDDecker and @AndyRoddick. I have never met Decker but she has always seemed to stay true to her North Carolina roots in various interviews (she says on Twitter that she always misses NC when she travels).

In other words, I believe Decker is the anti-Peppers in at least two respects. She doesn't mind serious media exposure and she has left N.C. behind due to her work but now misses the place (as opposed to Julius, who last year really wanted to leave N.C. behind but ended up being forced to stay).

Monday, February 8, 2010

What Panthers can learn from Saints

I'm writing a column on this topic that will be posted soon (UPDATE: here's the full column posted on our website), but here's a preview of the first couple of paragraphs:

The New Orleans Saints provided a blueprint Sunday for the way you win a Super Bowl as an underdog against one of the best quarterbacks in history – something the Carolina Panthers couldn’t quite do six years before.

Namely, you take risks. When one fails, you take some more. If you go down, you go down utterly spent.

Before we go any further, answer me this: Can you imagine Panther coach John Fox calling for an onside kick to open the second half in a big game with his team down, 10-6?

If you can, your imagination is better than mine. Fox just doesn’t do things like that.
But he should. Every now and then, he should.

This part isn't in the column, but is interesting to me: Six years ago, Carolina also faced a favored team from the AFC with a great QB (New England and Tom Brady). Much like in the Saints-Colts game, Carolina got a late field goal just before halftime and went into the locker room down four (14-10 -- it was 10-6, Indy, in Sunday night's game).

New Orleans coach Sean Payton came out and called for an onside kick on the first play of the second half.

John Fox, of course, didn't do that in the same situation. And I'm not saying he should have -- Carolina then quickly held New England to a 3-and-out on the first series of the third quarter and almost won that Super Bowl (losing 32-29). I'm just saying he never would have thought about such a thing, such a risk, such a wild, bold play. And that, to me, is one of his failings as a coach. There's a lot to like there, too, but he's not going to think outside the box for you like that.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

My take on Bobcats' possible sale

I've written a column for Friday's Observer that you can find here about selling the Bobcats -- both in the "Bob Johnson should sell this team" sort of way and also the "The Bobcats still haven't sold themselves to this community" sort of way.

As I point out in the column, the on-court product has never been better in 5-plus seasons for the Bobcats. At 24-24, Charlotte would -- if the season ended today -- be the No.6 seed in the Eastern Conference. The Bobcats would face No.3 Boston in a first-round series in that scenario.

I also advocate in the column for Bob Johnson to sell the team to somebody. I think it will help the team greatly from a PR perspective and force more people to inwardly give the Bobcats a chance. And this team deserves a chance from area sports fans. Again, you can read the column here.

Why the Colts will win big Sunday

Indianapolis vs. New Orleans. Super Bowl Sunday. The quarterback duel to end all quarterback duels. The two No.1 seeds from their respective conference playing in the Super Bowl for the first time since the 1993 NFL season.

Going to be close, right?

No, it won’t be.

I like Indianapolis to win this game, 34-20, and there’s one simple reason why.

Although the Super Bowl pregame talk has been dominated by offense, defense will decide this one. I don’t like New Orleans’ chances of getting pressure on Peyton Manning, and I don’t like the Saints’ chances of ever stopping Manning once he gets time to throw.

The Colts simply have a better defense (and a better pass rush, because Dwight Freeney is going to play). That’s the difference here. Even if you say these quarterbacks, in this season, are just about equally great, these defenses are not equal. The Saints will need a ton of turnovers to keep pace with Manning, because I just don’t see the Colts punting much. They’re going to score – a lot. No way around it.

And while New Orleans will undoubtedly get in the end zone some, too, I don’t think it will be enough. I think these two No.1 seeds are not going to produce a super-close Super Bowl.

Colts by 14. Sayonara to the Saints.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Marcus Lattimore is for real

Last fall I went down to watch Duncan (S.C.) Byrnes play and write a story on one of the best football programs in the Carolinas.

The most highly-recruited player on that team was RB Marcus Lattimore, who said tonight in Spartanburg he would attend the University of South Carolina (choosing the Gamecocks over Auburn). Lattimore was rated the No.1 high school running back in the country by most of the major scouting services.

And Lattimore is absolutely for real -- I saw him that night in person and have watched him on TV as well. He is NOT the best high school RB I've ever seen -- that title remains with Nick Maddox, who while at A.L. Brown in Kannapolis looked like Barry Sanders. Maddox was dazzling in large part because no one could catch him, which led to all these runs where he'd break 4 tackles and outrun 3 other guys.

Lattimore is more workmanlike -- still fast, but not like Maddox. But I think he'll be a better collegian (Maddox had an OK career at Florida State but was not spectacular and never made it in the NFL). Mainly, he's bigger -- more of a slasher. Once other players caught up to Maddox's speed, he became an average college player.

Lattimore has more pitches to go to -- at 6-0, 214 pounds, he's got that strength-size-quickness combo that makes coaches salivate. He's good on first-and-10 or third-and-1. I would bet he will start from Day One of his official freshman season in South Carolina.

And according to this story by The (Columbia) State's Joe Person, Lattimore had some fun with this announcement too. How about using former Panther Stephen Davis as a straight man? (Lattimore called Davis, a former Auburn star, up to the front. Davis gave Lattimore an Auburn cap, but then Lattimore pulled out a USC cap from under it). Gotta like the presentation on that one, but I'm sorta surprised Davis played along with it.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Posturing, Panthers and Peppers

It wouldn't be February around here without our annual Julius Peppers watch now, would it?

As reported in today's Charlotte Observer, Peppers' agent Carl Carey says (hopefully?) that he believes the Panthers have "moved on" from Peppers. And that they are giving Peppers the "silent treatment." And that Carey called the Panthers to initiate discussion and that they -- horrors! -- have yet to call him back.

Now what does this tell us besides the fact that the Panthers may have a bad case of telephone etiquette, assuming you believe Carey's side of things on this?

The Panthers claim nothing at all. General manager Marty Hurney released a statement Sunday night saying nothing had been finalized in terms of the Peppers decision (the team would have to put a "franchise tag" on him, if it wanted to do that, in the window from Feb.11-25).

Where does the truth lie on this one?? I would guess that, as usual in these posturing/negotiating sessons, somewhere in the middle. To say that the Panthers are totally uninterested in Peppers -- who was again their best defensive lineman in 2009 and just made the NFL's All-Decade team for the 2000s -- is naive. Obviously, they would want to sign him if they thought they could get him for a reasonable price.

But to say that the Panthers are salivating over themselves with the idea of signing Peppers is also incorrect. They certainly aren't going to make him the NFL's highest-paid defensive player anymore, as they were once prepared to do.

My guess here is they are playing a bit of hardball -- making Carey and Peppers wait, making them anxious and then -- boom -- one last offer and/or discussion at some point in February and then it's take it or leave it.

Will they franchise tag Peppers again, at a cost of more than $20 million for 2010?

I don't think so, even in what is likely to be an "uncapped" year. Even though Peppers played well for 2009, it didn't work out for Carolina as a whole, as the team finished 8-8, so I think Carolina won't rent him again for such a high price.

But the beauty of this whole thing is that I could be wrong, you could be wrong, Carey could be wrong, Hurney could be wrong -- you never know when it's February, and the name "Julius Peppers" is on the calendar.