Fireworks explode over Bank of America Stadium during the 2014 Fan Fest. (Photo by Rogelio Aranda/Charlotte Observer))
Everyone loves fireworks, right? Which means that in my opinion the Carolina Panthers have upgraded their annual Fan Fest again this year compared to most years in the past. It's still free, but now it will include a fireworks and laser show at the end.
Fan Fest is always one of the best bargains around for Panthers fans, especially those around Charlotte, who generally have to drive to Spartanburg to go to training camp to see the team work out for free. This year Fan Fest will be held on Friday night, Aug. 7, at Charlotte's Bank of America Stadium. Fans will also receive a 2015 team roster photo card with a 2015 schedule. The team stopped doing controlled "full tackle" scrimmages in this event a long time ago -- too much potential for injury -- but seeing Cam Newton flying around like an airplane (below) followed by fireworks and lasers isn't a bad way to spend a free Friday night. Having it on Friday, to me, seems a far better idea than the old Saturday afternoon Fan Fests that were generally an endurance contest due to the heat.
Stadium gates open at 6:30 p.m. with on-field performances by the TopCats, Sir Purr, PurrCussion and the Black & Blue Crew. The Fan Fest Sponsor Village, located at the North Gate, will include tents with interactive games, giveaways, music and inflatables. (And if you have kids, you need to show up early for that).
The Panthers will take the field at 7:30 p.m. for a practice that will last a little less than two hours. The fireworks and laser show will begin at 9:30 p.m.
Strollers and video cameras will be permitted inside the stadium for Fan Fest only.
Transparent, plastic, vinyl or PVC bags smaller than 12" x 6" x 12" will be allowed after inspection. All other stadium policies remain in effect. Stadium policies can be viewed here. If you are hungry for real football, the Panthers open the regular season Sept. 13 at Jacksonville.
What I learned at the Jeremy Lin press conference in Charlotte Monday:
1) Coach Steve Clifford plans to play Lin and Kemba Walker together at times. "He can play with Kemba and that's what I like," Clifford said. While Walker is a point guard only, Clifford envisions Lin as a combo guard who can team with Walker when the team goes with a smaller lineup, which would mean Nicolas Batum would shift to forward (Batum, Clifford believes, can play shooting guard and both forward positions -- the "2, 3 and 4," in basketball lingo).
Clifford notes that one of the trends in the league is "downsizing." Many teams make do with only one true post player on the floor at a time now, and sometimes none (the best example being Golden State, which uses small forward Draymond Green as a center in what I believe is its most effective lineup). This will also be a way for Lin to get more minutes than he would as only Walker's backup. Walker averaged 34 minutes per game last season.
2) Lin believes the primary way he can help the team is to attack the rim. As Lin said in his press conference: "One thing I ... really wanted is to get back to who I am as a player, which is trying to be aggressive, playmaking, always on the attack. I'm always charging toward the rim and that's going to create easier shots for this team."
Lin also had this message for the Hornets' fans: "We want to make the playoffs. And we don't want to just sneak in at the eight spot."
3) Lin also thinks that some of the criticism of his game is outdated and is a residue from the "Linsanity" days of 2012, when he made the cover of Sports Illustrated for two straight weeks but then had his game picked apart after being placed on that high pedestal.
Lin said he was worked on each of the four primary criticisms from those days -- too many turnovers, questionable shooting percentage, inability to go left and defense -- to the point where he believes he is a more "refined" and "all-around" player than he was in 2012 when he briefly set the league aflame.
4) Clifford said the perimeter spots are all set in the starting lineup -- Kemba Walker at point guard, Batum at shooting guard and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist at small forward (Lin will be a reserve). The interior rotation, he said, is more uncertain -- although the coach noted that Al Jefferson was "still our best player" and said he believed Jefferson was doing everything he could to return to being the player he was two years ago.
The Charlotte Hornets agreed to terms with Lin Wednesday, according to a source, with the signing expected to be made official Thursday (UPDATE: The Hornets now have made it official). Lin has fallen a ways since his "Linsanity" days in New York in 2012 -- he appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated for two consecutive weeks in February 2012, and he remains the first American of Chinese or Taiwanese descent to play in the NBA. Lin was courted as a backup this time, behind Kemba Walker at point guard, and apparently he's fine with that since he displayed the Hornets' logo on his Instagram account as a way of "announcing" his signing Wednesday night
Lin will not be the savior for the Charlotte Hornets. He will not, by himself, lead the Hornets to "the promised land," to use the analogy that GM Dave Gettleman used when the Carolina Panthers announced Cam Newton's $103-million signing recently. Lin is a good NBA player but not a great one -- don't overhype this move.
But he will fit better with this team than Lance Stephenson ever did, and at a much more reasonable price. He's shaky defensively but he can score (he has a career average of 11.7 points per game). And the one thing the Hornets have proved this offseason is that they are going to put some more points on the scoreboard even if it means they are less effective defensively.
So at least their games are going to be more entertaining. And I am not a huge fan of Brian Roberts, so making him the third point guard instead of Kemba's primary backup makes sense to me. This is a good move for the Hornets, and hopefully it will be a good move for Lin, too. He did not do well with the L.A. Lakers last season, but he's a fine scorer and really good in the pick-and-roll, and I can see situations where he gets hot in the third quarter and Steve Clifford plays a hunch and leaves him in during the fourth and lets him play alongside Walker.
It gives the Hornets more scoring options, basically, and that's a good thing for such an offensively challenged team (Lin will more or less take the roster spot of Mo Williams). It's not going to be Linsanity around here, but this will be a better team with Lin on it.