Friday, June 10, 2011

Friday Free for all

Emptying my brain of all things sports before heading to the weekend.

The Carolina Panthers wrapped up 2 weeks of player-organized workouts on Thursday, with more than 40 players on hand. Considering there were some players who did not take part in any or all of the workouts (for a variety of reasons), any number between 40-50 should be looked at as a good sign.

Impressive turnout, considering that the Panthers went 2-14 last season. The workouts were minimally about implementing schemes and systems, and more about team building. Last year, I didn't get the sense that the players in the room didn't like each other. I did sense that the losing was grating at the team. Can't blame them They worked very hard, and got very little in the way of results. Looking at between 40-50 guys showing up to get as jump on the time lost is a positive sign. Shows me these guys truly care about their work, and improving. Players of lesser character would have taken the chance to get away, and not bother. I like the commitment shown by these guys here.

Of course, there are some players that elected not to take part, and in a lot of cases, the reasons are justified. Guys coming off surgery, players who may or may not be back with the team next season. It makes sense. I am not calling anybody out on this,as I understand their reasons for not being there. The decision not to work out is not a reflection of their desire to get better or be with their teammates. I will say that there are guys that didn't participate that I would love to see back in Panthers colors next season.

On the NFL theme, the talks that have been taking place between players and owners are an encouraging sign. If they are talking, there is a chance a deal can be reached, ending the lockout, and getting football back on the field and out of the courts. I'm not ready much into any of the talks, other than to say, the more the talk, hope remains alive that a season will begin on time, with minimal damage done to the on-field product. Carolina has already missed one mini-camp, and OTA's would be underway right now. The coaching staff is behind the 8-ball in getting their systems in place, and the players are behind in getting acclimated to a new staff. Judge the Panthers fairly, if they get out of the gates slowly. This team simply won't have enough reps under their belts to be at full speed when they get going, even if the season begins on time. The same is true for every team with a new coaching staff this season.

The NBA Finals have gotten good, rally good if you are a fan of the Dallas Mavericks. The Mavs own a 3-2 lead heading back to Miami for game 6 on Sunday. Dallas finally got a big night from their bench in game 5, giving them the lift they needed. The Mavs have done a nice job of weathering the Heat, and their big three of LeBron, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh. I can't say enough good things about the way Wade has played in this series, but to overlook what Dallas has done to this point would be unfair.

The critics are gunning for LeBron, and they are stockpiling ammunition. Sadly for James, he's handing them the bullets. LeBron has just 11 points in the five-4th quarters of this series. For the guy that has become the face of the NBA, and considered by many to be the best player in the league, he simply has to be better in crunch time. He hasn't been nearly as aggressive to the rim, which is a major strength of his game. He has settled far too often for jumpers. He has done a good job of trying to get others involved, but for Miami to have a chance at this title, LeBron has to be more selfish. He has to be the guy drawing the contact in the lane, taking it strong to the cup, and becoming the focus. Wade has been amazing, but LeBron has to be LeBron to give Miami a chance.

Flipside of things, the Stanley Cup Finals are tied heading into Friday night's game 5 in Vancouver. This series has seen everything. A Canucks player biting the finger of a Boston Bruin player (which went unpunished by the NHL in one of their worst disciplinary decisions ever), another Bruins player knocked out of the series due to a vicious head shot (which drew a 4-game suspension from the league in a competent decision by the NHL disciplinary folks), and Boston goaltender Tim Thomas get physical with Vancouver's Henrik Sedin (a clean play by the NHL rulebook, and drew no penalty). On my twitter account , I posted that, for the first time in my hockey-viewing life, the post-series handshakes may need to be policed by the officials. This is a nasty series, and now that it's down to a best of 3, I expect it to continue to be heated.

Quick shout out to Scott Harvey of Greensboro for winning the 47th North Carolina Open at The Club at Irish Creek this week. Harvey won by four shots, finishing -14 for the week, while Rick Lewallen was the low-professional for the event at -10. Harvey, as you likely have guessed, is an amateur, but more than that, he is the son of the first NC Open champ Billy Harvey, who also won the tournament as an amateur in 1965.

In the weeks ahead, we'll look at the Charlotte Bobcats and what they are looking at heading into the NBA Draft. However, the NBA is also dancing dangerously close to a lockout of their own, with their current Collective Bargaining Agreement set to run out on June 30th. Here we go again.

Mike Solarte

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