Friday, April 30, 2010

Friday notes

Forgive me in advance if this rambles, but I am trying to empty my brain before heading off to Quail Hollow for round 2.
  • As much as it pains me to say this, I think Larry Brown is leaving the Bobcats. Not because he doesn't want to stay with the Bobcats,. but because the chance to be home with his family is just too good to pass up. Mind you, this is a hunch. I have no confirmation of this, just stating my opinion (don't want to show up in a NY Times article next week as a source). My fear when he was hired was that he would get the team into the playoffs, and then bolt for a better gig. Larry Brown is 69 years old, and I take him at his word when he says he won't coach anywhere else. Last I checked, front office guys don't coach teams, and if that is what is being thrown at him from Philadelphia, I can't imagine him saying no. He misses his family during the season. I have never asked him about it, but if that were me, it would kill me. If Philly offers him a job, I think he'll go, and I wouldn't blame him. I don't want to see him go, though. He's good for the team, the franchise, and the city. It's nice to have choices, but I don't know if I would like being in his shoes on this one.
  • Quail Hollow Championship kicked off Thursday, Bo Van Pelt's 65 leading the way. 7 birdies, no bogeys. Solid. Tiger Woods opened with a +2 round of 74. Feel horrible for Parker McLachlin who had a tournament ending adventure at the 7th. He hit 4 tee shots off line (water and out of bounds), and came home with a "Roy McAvoy." A 12 on a par 5. I know his caddie, Don Donatello, and I feel for them both. McLachlin has won on Tour before, and Friday shows you just how fickle the game can be.
  • I know science has made advances, but they haven't come up with a safe way of cloning humans, therefore I will not be at Carolina Panthers mini-camp this weekend (due to golf coverage). Hate to miss it, with the arrival of all the new draft picks, and seeing what the Panthers have left on the roster after their March purge. If you have seen the movie "Major League," you may remember the scenes where they jump around from one group of Cleveland Indian fans to the next. Even the grounds crew gets involved. They all are wondering how good they will be with a roster full of names that nobody may recognize. It's not quite that way with the Panthers, but it is close. One staffer told me they see "a new face everyday." Head Coach John Fox is the consummate football man. He knows he's going into a season with some unproven weapons, and he'll do it in the final year of his contract, yet he won't lay blame if it goes badly. Panther fans are hoping it doesn't go that way in 2010.

Will blog again if I get a moment to breathe this weekend, otherwise, see you on Sports Night at 10!

Mike Solarte


Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Bobcats Face Offseason Questions

In the wake of the Bobcats first-ever playoff appearance, one thing seems certain. If this team is ever to make some noise in the postseason it needs a franchise player. For the six years this team has been in existence, it has won games on hustle, grit and determination. All are valuable and admirable qualities, but to advance in the playoffs you need a go to guy.

Think about it, why have the Bobcats been eliminated and Oklahoma City is tied 2-2 in its series with the defending NBA Champion Los Angeles Lakers? Two words, Kevin Durant. The Thunder have someone that can go toe-to-toe with Kobe Bryant. In short, he's a game changer.

Just look at the recent list of NBA Champions. Aside from the Pistons, coached by Larry Brown, no team that has raised the trophy has been without a franchise player.

Sure, not everyone has a Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Dewayne Wade, Tim Duncan, etc. But that's the reason most every year the NBA playoffs run true to form.

The sad reality is if the Bobcats had been able to get the number one overall pick in the 2004 NBA Draft, they would have had an opportunity to select the Magic's Dwight Howard, and thus its franchise player.

Moving forward, the Bobcats face many questions. First and foremost is whether Larry Brown will stay to coach. I don't deny Coach Brown means everything that he has said about wanting to coach in Charlotte for Michael Jordan. But he has family ties to consider. His wife and kids live in Philadelphia and if they won't their husband and father closer to home, don't be surprised to see the much traveled Brown bolt.

If Brown stays, he's faced with the question of how does this team get better? The franchise has no salary cap maneuverability to go out and try to lure any of the big name free agents that will hit the market this summer. Meaning this team will still be lacking a franchise player and is likely to look very much like the same team that just got swept in the playoffs by Orlando.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Hey Look! Another Monday blog!

For those that check out the blog, my deepest apologies. This is a crazy time of year, and finding a spare minute or two to knock out blog thoughts is tough to come by. I've found one right now, so here goes:
  • Full marks to the Charlotte Bobcats for making the playoffs for the first time, but alas, their run will come to an end in either game 4 or 5. Orlando (right now) is a hideous matchup for them, as the Magic are deadly from outside, and the Bobcats aren't hitting enough shots, due in large part because they are hoisting 3's, rather than attack the rim. I'm not gonna rail on the guys, they have had a memorable season. Just wish they could have pulled out game 3. We might have a series on our hands, but the 0-3 hole is a tough climb in any sport. It has been done in baseball and in hockey, but never in basketball. Things have to be radically different for it to happen in this series. While hopeful, I am also realistic. I wish them well.
  • Quail Hollow week is here, and the PGA Tour players are heading into Charlotte. A ginormous field ready to hit the classic layout at Quail Hollow. I love this time of the year, but loathe it in the same breath. As someone who played competitive golf for many years, it is quite hard for me to cover a golf tournament, when I would much rather be playing in it. So I guess I don't loathe the tournament. I loathe not playing in it. Yeah, that's it. Gonna be a great week of golf, and hopefully we get good news from the Weather on the One's team (read no rain during daylight hours). So far, so good.
  • Speaking of Quail Hollow, one of my favorite guys on tour is up to his charitable endeavors once again. Check out Stewart Cink's TweeOff by clicking the link. It's to benefit the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.
  • Things are heating up in the Sprint Cup Series, and not just in terms of points, and standings. The Jeff Gordon-Jimmie Johnson scrap from Texas continued into Talladega. The Texas stuff I thought was simply two guys racing hard. Looked that way. At Talladega, Johnson (or perhaps his spotter) was squarely to blame. Would love to be a fly on the wall to hear how Mr. Hendrick deals with this one. Is another "cookie summit" in the works? Time till tell, but Richmond is up this Saturday night. Short track=short fuses.
  • Last, but certainly not least, the Carolina Panthers drafted fairly well, and with a purpose. The players they chose appear to set them up for a radical change on the offensive side of the ball. Jimmy Clausen could be a long-term starter. Brandon LaFell could be the #2 receiver the Panthers have wanted Dwayne Jarrett to be. Bringing in Armanti Edwards from Appalachian State could help in the return game, as well as at the receiver post. Keep in mind, though, Carolina has 2 fairly significant running backs to carry a bulk of the workload. Don't look for Carolina to go "Air Coryell" in one season, but my guess is the passing game may be utilized more this coming season.

Things to keep an eye out for on Sports Night this week: We'll visit with Cup Series driver Clint Bowyer on Tuesday, plus the show hits the road Thursday thru Saturday night at Quail Hollow. We'll have baskets full of coverage from the golf course every day this week, leading up to the presentation of the blue blazer Sunday afternoon.

Finishing up some things here at the house, then out to the golf course. Hope to hit y'all again later this week, but I can't make any promises!

Mike Solarte


Monday, April 19, 2010

Bobcats, NHL, NASCAR and more

** Have to give the Charlotte Bobcats are pat on the back for the way they hung tough against Orlando in their playoff opener on Sunday. Down 22, they looked like they were getting run out of the building, but they kept punching, got Dwight Howard in foul trouble (although several replays after he picked up his 5th foul showed the referees had several options to give him number 6), and played hard, even without Stephen Jackson over the final quarter. Orlando may win this series, but they found out Sunday the Bobcats are ready to go toe-to-toe.

The 2 days between games will help the Bobcats, by allowing Jackson to rest and heal a hyper-extended left knee. Jackson did play in the 3rd quarter, but Head Coach Larry Brown sat him down as a precaution. Brown is thinking big-picture. The series didn't end on Sunday, and he'll need Jackson as healthy as possible. Had Jackson not gotten hurt, I wouldn't have ruled the Bobcats out of a win in game 1. Vince Carter built a small condominium with his 4-19 performance from the field, so it proved anything can happen in the playoffs. I would expect both teams to play better in game 2, which doesn't bode well for Charlotte. The Magic are deeper and more talented, plus they are experienced (Eastern Conference finalists last year). Still, anything can happen.

** The NHL Playoffs are well underway, and some terrific hockey being played all across the league. So far, every team in every series has won at least one game, showing the post-season for what it is: hard to survive and advance. I never produced my series-by-series picks, but I'll say it here. The Stanley Cup Final should match Chicago against Pittsburgh. I would take Chicago in a 6 game series, but that's just a prediction.

** Charlotte Checkers 2nd round series with Cincinnati is tied at 1-1. Checkers dropped game one 4-3, then blanked the Cyclones 5-0 in game 2. Charlotte is the better team, based on what I have seen. Cincinnati used the Checkers aggressiveness against them in game one, and the Checkers responded well in game 2. Checkers should advance to the conference finals to face Reading, as the Royals are up 3-0 over Florida in that series as of Monday.

** No, I haven't forgotten about the NFL Draft, which begins Thursday night. Couple reasons I haven't been trailing that puppy. 1) The Panthers off-season moves are looking more and more like they are going to do what they can to field a team. I know the guys on the roster will play their guts out, but I worry there won't be enough talent to fill the holes left by the departures of several veterans. That's what the draft is for, I know, yet the Panthers don't own a 1st round pick. Their first selection comes in round two (Friday), 48th overall, unless they do a trade to acquire a higher selection. 2) There is enough draft fodder out there to keep the foaming at the mouth football fans happy. 3) I will never profess to knowing as much about the draft as those that only follow the league. That in mind, we hope to have Daniel Jeremiah, from on Sports Night on Wednesday from New York to talk about the draft and what the Panthers might do.

** PGA Tour comes to Charlotte next week for the Quail Hollow Championship. For all that can be wrong in sports, golf reminds us of what can be right. Jim Furyk won the Verizon Heritage in Hilton Head on Sunday in a playoff, but only after Brian Davis called a 2-stroke penalty on HIMSELF. Davis clipped a piece of grass found in a hazard on his backswing (a rules violation that you may have committed in our rounds, but probably never called on yourself). To the naked eye, it's nothing, but in golf, the rules are the rules, enforced by the players. Hats off to Davis for upholding the game's tradition and values.

Mike Solarte


Monday, April 12, 2010

Monday....back at it.

Catching up on the weekend.
  • Congrats to Phil Mickelson on winning The Masters on Sunday. He did it in spite of a driver that wanted to put him in Atlanta, rather than Augusta National. He also did it with his wife, Amy, looking on. Her battle with breast cancer is well documented, and it was obvious what that winning putt meant to the Mickelson's personally. It was also the 180 degree opposite story from where the tournament started. All eyes on Tiger Woods, back from his self-imposed hiatus, after his extra-marital affairs came to light. At the end of 72 holes, and brilliant golf shots from the world's best, here stood Phil and Amy. Embracing. Smiling. Crying. Loving each other for the world to see. It was the Anti-Tiger Story.
  • Not dumping on Tiger, got to hand it to him for his finish. His first tournament back, and he was, well, nearly Tiger-esque. No doubt there was rust. He hit some poor shots that he normally doesn't hit. He three-putted from 4 feet at the 17th on Sunday (really). Still, he showed he has the game to contend at the highest level, even after an extended lay-off. Again. He did it after knee surgery, too. I did have a bit of an issue with his post-tournament comment that he was going to take some time off, and evaluate when his next tournament will be. Time off? After 1 week? Doesn't sound like Charlotte will be on his schedule, but one never knows. For the record, he has until 5pm on April 23rd to commit to playing at Quail Hollow.
  • Charlotte 49ers got Alan Major as their next Head Coach for the men's basketball team. The school introduced him Monday, and as the replacement for Bobby Lutz, he looks like a good fit. The long-time assistant coach finally gets his shot to run the show. A 5-year deal, worth $450,000 dollars per season, minimum. At 41 years old, he's not exactly an up-and-coming "young" coach (think Butler's Brad Stevens for that definition), but as Charlotte A.D. Judy Rose told me earlier, he's hungry. He's preaching defense first, boring for players, but a good start, given Charlotte's propensity for allowing points last season. Time will tell how good he will be, but he made a solid first impression.
  • Charlotte Checkers are into the 2nd round of the ECHL playoffs, and will face Cincinnati next. Checkers needed 4 games to dispatch the Toledo Walleye, so their Ohio caravan continues with games in Charlotte Friday and Saturday, before going on the road for games 3, 4 and, if necessary, 5. Games 6 and 7 are in Charlotte, also, if necessary.
  • Charlotte Bobcats appear destined for the #7 seed in the NBA's Eastern Conference playoffs, and if they slot there, they would face Orlando. Certainly a tough opening round opponent, given how tough the Magic are to defend. Big inside, and good shooters on the perimeter. Charlotte is fairly banged up, as Stephen Jackson, Gerald Wallace, Nazr Mohammed, and Tyrus Thomas are all dealing with bumps and bruises. A first-round exit isn't out of the question, but a first-round upset is also possible. If they play "Larry-Ball," they have a shot. That means, limiting their own 3-point shot attempts, driving the lane, sharing the ball. That is what got them here.

The NHL Playoffs begin this week. I'll try to drop a prediction in here before they drop the post-season puck!

Mike Solarte


Friday, April 9, 2010

The Masters and more...

It's late on a Thursday, but knocking out some thoughts that have rattled in my brain for a bit. Here goes...
  • What an amazing first round leaderboard at The Masters. The ageless veterans like Fred Couples (age 50, opening round 66), Tom Watson (age 60, opening round 67), with the stars of today like Phil Mickelson (67), K.J. Choi (67), PGA Champ Y.E. Yang (67), Ian Poulter (68), and of course Tiger Woods (68). I have to admit, it was nice watching Tiger play, and not have to think about all the turmoil that surrounds him. The galleries at Augusta were supportive and kind, which is expected there. I don't know how other tournaments will view him down the road, but for now, Augusta is his safe-haven. Seeing Couples and Watson go low on day one was stirring stuff. Their best days on the PGA Tour long behind them, they managed to conjure up those old familiar feelings and paint a masterpiece of golf. The odds are against them holding it together for 72 holes, but think back to the British Open last year, when Watson was flawless for 71 holes. Had he managed to come home with a par at the last, he would have taken home the Claret Jug, and made believers of us all. What other stories will unfold amongst the pines and azaleas? I can't wait to find out.
  • The Charlotte Bobcats are going to the playoffs. Couple points of irony in that. First, the Bobcats ended up clinching the spot against the New Orleans Hornets, a.k.a. the artists formerly known as the Charlotte Hornets. Second, Raymond Felton, the one guy that has made the playoff predictions virtually every year he's been with the team, was the guy that knocked down the game icing free throws, rendering the buzzer-beating 3-pointer moot. As of this writing, the Bobcats hold the 7th spot, which would mean a match-up with the Orlando Magic. However, 4 games are left to play, and with a little help, the Bobcats could reach the #6 seed, and a meeting with Boston (if they hold the #3 seed). I'm not sure which match-up I would want to see, given the Magic are so versatile, and the Celtics have simply crushed the Bobcats on a couple of occasions. Still, there will be NBA Basketball in Charlotte beyond April 14th, and that, is a good thing.
  • The Charlotte Checkers playoff series returns to the Queen City on Friday night for game 3 of their best-of-five against the Toledo Walleye. Charlotte was thumped 7-2 in their opener, but returned the thumping, 6-1, in game two. The series is going at least 4, and my guess is it ends in 4, with the Checkers holding home ice advantage. All of the remaining games are slated for Time Warner Cable Arena.
  • Speaking of hockey, congrats to the city of Raleigh, and the Carolina Hurricanes on being awarded the 2011 NHL All Star Game. A fun weekend of events with the Skills competition on Saturday, then the showcase game on Sunday. Mark your calendars for Jan. 29-30, and do what you can to get in to see it. Admittedly, All-Star games in general are fairly pointless, but with hockey, you will see the speed and grace of the players at full song. Don't bother looking for defense--you won't find any. You will see high speed action, and goaltenders looking for support payments from their defensemen. It's fun.
  • Charlotte 49er coaching search appears to be stalled at the moment. Thoughts were the 49ers would have some announcement on a new Head Coach by this past Tuesday. As we hit Friday, no word from the school. Jeff Goodman of saying via his Twitter page on Thursday that Ohio State's Alan Major & Russ Springmann of Texas are in the running. Will have to wait this one out, but the program can't go much longer in finding Bobby Lutz's replacement. UNC-Wilmington's search has surpassed 70 days, much too long if they want to have a shot in the recruiting game.

Will blog back at you next week. Enjoy the weekend, and The Masters! I know I will!

Mike Solarte

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Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Duke Does It

If you needed any more reason to keep the NCAA Tournament at 65 teams (or 64 +1), this year's big dance was it. You had and unlikely National Championship game between the team many thought was the worst of the #1 seeds, and a #5 seed from the Horizon League. Throw in the large number of upsets to the "powers" of the college hoop season, and you have March Madness.

Congrats to Mike Krzyzewski and Duke on the title. I will not be in that long line of people trying to bash them, or take anything away from the task they completed. I find it funny that people are quick to hammer Duke for being "smug," after winning a title. Really? What makes them smug? Because they are a group of players that are talented, work hard, keep up their grades, and stay out trouble? If that is smug, I'll take that any day over being a fan of a team who expects to be in the Final Four every year. Getting to the Final Four is not a birthright. Duke never views it as such.

Plenty of hate floating around the internet about Duke on the day after. It's a shame people are so angry about a Duke title. Oh, and for the record, Duke is NOT my team. I don't have a rooting interest in college sports, because my school no longer has an athletics program. I just can't stand bitterness for a team of college kids. Be bitter when your professional team isn't getting it done. You have a vested interest in them if you buy tickets to see the games. Makes me wonder why this guy is grinding an axe.

Full marks to Butler, and Head Coach Brad Stevens for their run to the title game. That is a well-coached, hard-nosed, fun team to watch. They scrap, claw, and fight for every possession. I don't think there are enough good things to say about what they did, and how they did it.

Would be nice if folks thought the same about Blue Devils.

Mike Solarte

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Friday, April 2, 2010

Let's Play Two!

A little something to get you ready for Monday... one of the greatest days in sports... Major League Baseball's Opening Day!

"And they'll walk out to the bleachers; sit in shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon. They'll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they'll watch the game and it'll be as if they've dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick, they'll have to brush them away from their faces.

The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It's been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of all that once was good, and could be again. Oh people will come, Ray, people will most definitely come. "
--James Earl Jones in Field of Dreams

Good luck to your team of choice. Play ball!

Jason Brown