NFL coaches and executives usually mock mock drafts. I can see the Carolina Panthers mocking those who believe the team has to use its first two picks on an edge rusher and an offensive lineman. The Panthers have to select an edge rusher and offensive lineman because those are positions of need. There can be no doubt.
Of course, there is doubt. There is always doubt. There are always surprises.
Joe Person’s mock draft in The Athletic surprised me. He has the Panthers investing their second-round pick, the 47th overall, not on an offensive or defensive lineman, but on West Virginia quarterback Will Grier.
If the Panthers can snare Grier, who played at Davidson Day, with the 47th pick, I’d love to see them do it.
Of course, the Panthers have greater needs than reserve quarterback. Every team has great needs, even the New England Patriots.
But as last season attests, Carolina better have a backup on whom it can depend. And the second round is a fine place to find him.
Many of you believe that once Carolina quarterback Cam Newton’s shoulder is healed, he’ll pick up where he left off in Norv Turner’s offense. Before the injury, Newton was thriving in the offense designed by Turner, who was in his first season as Carolina’s offensive coordinator. Newton held the ball less and more easily found secondary receivers. Had he sustained his health, who knows how good Carolina would have been?
Newton is a tough guy. A car squishes his truck, he goes into the hospital and he misses only one game. One game. If Newton can play, he’ll play. But he’s undergone two surgeries on his right shoulder, and the shoulder is a complex collection of muscles. If he can’t go, what do the Panthers do?
Are the Panthers as harmless without Newton as the Charlotte Hornets will be if they lose Kemba Walker? Not if they have the right backup, they aren’t. They could have paid one of the failed starters from other teams who are available every season. Or they could draft a talent and develop him.
But what if the rookie quarterback has to play next season in, say, week four or eight or 12? Won’t that be catastrophic? It doesn’t have to be. Rookie quarterbacks do all right, provided you find the right one.
Newton will be 30 next month, which makes him five months younger than Russell Wilson, who this week became the highest paid player in the NFL. Newton has two years remaining on his contract, and like every franchise quarterback in football, he should be celebrating the contract to which Seattle signed Wilson – four years, $140 million, which includes a $65 million signing bonus.
Newton has been Carolina’s franchise quarterback since he arrived from Auburn in 2011. But doesn’t being a good football team mean that you plan for contingencies you hope never come to pass?
Newton’s back up is Kyle Allen, 23 and never drafted, the king of week 17. Against the New Orleans Saints last season, in a game New Orleans didn’t need to win, Allen was very good. He completed 16 of 27 passes for 228 yards and two touchdowns, and he ran for a touchdown. Carolina won 33-14.
Quarterback, obviously, is by far the most important position on the field. If the shoulder injury recurs, do you entrust Newton’s position to Allen? Or do you draft a quarterback? And if you draft a quarterback, do you wait until a later round when all the quarterbacks you like are gone?
Grier is 6-foot-2½ and 211 pounds, a good athlete who played at Florida, one of Newton’s schools, and West Virginia. The ball leaves his hand quickly. If he turns out to be one of the best quarterbacks in the draft, nobody gets to be surprised.
Grier eventually will start for somebody.
If Newton retains his health, the Panthers can slowly groom Grier. If Newton’s shoulder doesn’t hold up, they can send Grier into the huddle this season.
Silence is golden with Tiger’s moment
When Tiger Woods won the Masters Sunday, sportscaster Jim Nantz didn’t attempt to enhance the celebratory scene. Nantz didn’t talk. Viewers didn’t need him to. They saw.
This was television at its best. It got out of the way. So many television (and non-television) people speak as if they’re paid by the word. Words aren’t always required. We saw a remarkable comeback, with layers of emotion, almost all of us pulling for the same guy. Nantz knew that despite his insight, perspective and knowledge, he didn’t need to say a word.
We live in a time in which people need to be heard. Some take to Twitter and invent names. Because they are perpetually put-upon, you know that they’ll spew anonymous anger. Because the anger is so predictable, it has no more impact than a robocall.
In media, there is an emphasis on hot takes. But who decides how hot a take is, and is a hot take hotter if the man or woman who offers it wears loud clothes and speaks in a loud voice?
The commentators on television I most enjoy, in no order but alphabetical, are: Troy Aikman, Charles Barkley, Jay Bilas, Joe Buck, Doris Burke, Cris Collinsworth, Tony Dungy, Rodney Harrison, Ernie Johnson, Mark Kriegel, Tony Romo, Kenny Smith, Dan Shulman, Michele Tafoya, Mike Tirico, Chris Webber and Michael Wilbon.
The best television talkers offer insight, details and humor. They don’t talk incessantly and they don’t criticize merely to criticize. They have to have a reason. And they don’t turn every game telecast into a review of officials. Officials sometimes make mistakes. We know.
If they can share knowledge and lend perspective, they do. If they can’t, they let the action speak. Some go so far as to believe that we know something about the sport we’re watching.
I don’t wear a watch, tire of constantly pulling out my phone to check the time, and occasionally ask the time of whomever I’m with. With some I have to set up the question by saying: In 75 words or fewer, what time is it?
Nantz knew what time it was. His silent eloquence enhanced a moment many of us will never forget.
Only Kemba really knows
Kemba Walker is not manipulative. But he’s got us. NBA free agency begins July 1, and we’ll learn then or around then if he’ll stay or if he’ll go.
Most of us speculate. He’s gone.
But how do we know?
Did Walker randomly decide to share his feelings with you? Presumably he talks with his family, his business associates and perhaps his close friends. To qualify as a close friend, you probably have to be discreet.
Does Walker know what he’s going to do come July? Has he decided whether he’ll stay with the Charlotte Hornets, the team that drafted him in 2011, or go to a team more likely to win which, unfortunately if you’re a Hornets’ fan, is almost everybody else?
Walker likes it here. He says so, and there’s no reason not to believe him. He was never merely passing through. He put down roots.
But, man, does he want to win. You don’t improve the way he does season after season without intense off-season work. That work has to be about more than winning personal accolades. That work has to be about winning games. Walker says so.
By choosing not to trade him before the 2018-19 season, or before the February trade deadline, the Hornets bet on themselves. The importance of that bet can’t be overemphasized. They bet that they could convince Walker to accept their money and stay.
But how do the Hornets sell themselves? They have not won a playoff series in Walker’s eight seasons. They’ve twice made the playoffs since they drafted Walker, and lost to the Miami Heat in four games (2013-14) and again in seven (2015-16).
The Hornets have to convince Walker that they are on the cusp of establishing a winning program, so stick around, lead the franchise, and finish what you started. This team is yours.
How do they do this? Mitch Kupchak is in only his second year as general manager, and when he signed the contract to work for owner Michael Jordan, he received a firm handshake and a collection of bad contracts. The lesser among us blame the players for those contracts. If you’re Nic Batum, would you have said, “Nope, that’s too much money”?
Kupchak had a good initial draft, and perhaps the Hornets’ lottery luck finally will change and, in a tremendous upset, they’ll get a great pick in the June 20 NBA draft. Probably, they won’t. If it comes to hard evidence, selling Walker on the team’s future will be as challenging as selling a time share.
I hope Walker stays. I love to watch the man play. There’s a stereotype that suggests NBA players don’t work hard until the final minutes of the final quarter. But that’s pretend. Walker is a testament to how wrong the stereotype is.
Walker is six-feet tall. But he’ll go one on one against anybody. There are nights he has so little help its as if he goes one-on-one against the world.
The Hornets have to change that. They know. We know. Walker knows, too.
Warriors, despite blowing big lead, still best bet
The Golden State Warriors were favored to win the NBA championship this season because they’re the Golden State Warriors and they’re always favored to win the NBA championship.
But they lost talented big man DeMarcus Cousins to a left quadricep sprain in the first quarter on Monday; he had played only four minutes.
With 7 minutes, 31 seconds remaining in the third quarter, they began to lose a 31-point lead. The Clippers came all the way back, at Golden State, to win 135-131. The Clippers scored 72 of the game’s final 109 points.
So, Cousins probably is lost for the playoffs, the series is tied 1-1, and game three is Thursday in Los Angeles.
A question: If somebody proposes a $100 bet ($1,000 if you don’t like to fool around), and you have your choice between the Warriors and the field, who do you take?
If you choose the field, you get the Eastern Conference elites, the Milwaukee Bucks (three more victories during the season than the Warriors), the Toronto Raptors, the Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics. When Joel Embiid is healthy, the 76ers are intriguing, and they’re capable.
You also can have all the talented non-Golden State teams in the West. You can have the Denver Nuggets, the Portland Trail Blazers, the Houston Rockets, Utah Jazz, Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs and the Clippers.
The top four teams in the East went a collective 5-3 against Golden State this season. The Warriors went 1-1 against Milwaukee, Philadelphia and Boston, and 0-2 against Toronto.
The Warriors went 14-11 against the West’s playoff teams. Houston won three of four against them, San Antonio two of three, and Utah and Portland split. Golden State did go 3-1 against Denver and the Clippers.
About Houston: If the Warriors and Rockets win their first-round series, they’ll play each other in round two.
Golden State has made the finals the last four seasons, and won the championship in three of them. But the Warriors this season weren’t the world-beaters to which we’ve become accustomed. They know they’re good, and they often play as if they don’t have to prove it.
They won fewer regular-season games this season in any of the previous four.
In 2014-15 the Warriors won 67 regular-season games, in ’15-16 they won 73, in ’16-17, they won 67, in ’17-18 they won 58, and this season they won 57.
If you go to the finals four straight seasons, and win three of them, you make certain assumptions. The foremost of them is that if you play your way, you will win every essential game.
Against the Clippers it’s as if Golden State forgot who it was. The Warriors have turned the ball over 43 times in two games.
Kevin Durant has allowed Patrick Beverley to get to him. Beverley plays annoying defense, and Durant is clearly annoyed. Durant was ejected from the first game of the series, as was Beverley. Durant fouled out late in game two, as did Beverley. They took turns hacking each other. When they leave the court, Golden State loses more than Los Angeles does.
So, your call. You want the field or do you want the Warriors?
I want the Warriors, too. They are so well coached, and they have too many leaders, too much poise and, more than anything, too much talent to lose a seven-game series to the Clippers or anybody else.
In Los Angeles Thursday, the Warriors are favored by 8½.
Short takes: Jimmie Johnson’s other race
▪ Jimmie Johnson finished fourth Saturday at Richmond (NASCAR) and 4,155th Monday in Boston (the marathon). He ran 26.2 miles in 3:09:07, which is very, very good.
A marathon is the greatest grind I’ve ever experienced (I’ve run two). A marathon is an undertaking, a journey and a commitment. NASCAR drivers devote so much time to their sport that to find time to train their alarm has to go off consistently early.
Johnson, 43, answered the bell. He got up, he pushed through, and he did it in the greatest marathon of them all. Congratulations…
▪ When Andre Drummond of the Detroit Pistons shoved Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks from behind, you had to think of the old school Bad Boy Pistons. But those Pistons would not have trailed at the time 95-54. These Pistons did…
I like Tennessee basketball coach Rick Barnes. How many coaches are willing to engage in absolute candor. Offered the job at UCLA, Barnes said he would have taken it if UCLA bought out his contract, which would have cost the school $5 million. It didn’t, so Barnes stayed in Knoxville.
Barnes, 64, didn’t have to admit that. So many of us dance around the truth when we are approached by a potential employer.
My only question: Why didn’t UCLA pay the $5 million? In college basketball, where thousands of dollars are flung covertly to players, a $5 million down payment is not much for a coach of Barnes’ stature and quality…
▪ There are several many versions of who started the fight between Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals and Andrei Svechnikov of the Carolina Hurricanes. It ended when Svechnikov, a talented 19-year-old, slammed his head on the ice. It’s hockey, so you have to fight, right? What a waste…
▪ Every time I see the Andrew Luck-Mike Trout disco dance-off BodyArmor commercial, I laugh. Their moves and outfits are like fossils, or antiques, especially Luck’s. I hate to admit this, but I wish I could dance like they do. Yeah, I’m that bad. I wonder if the Panthers or Hornets have players with enough name recognition and bad old-school dance moves to get them a commercial…
▪ Interesting fight Saturday between undefeated welterweight Terrence Crawford and Amir Khan. Khan is experienced, and fast. Crawford is whatever he needs to be whenever he needs to be. He is really good. I can’t imagine Crawford losing.
At least, until he fights Errol Spence Jr. If boxing were the NFL, Crawford-Spence would be the Super Bowl. But they fight for dueling promoters whose fighters appear on dueling television networks.
Crawford can fight conventionally or lefty. He’s 31, and has a record of 34-0 with 25 knockouts. Spence is 25-0 with 21 knockouts. He’s 29. Both are in their prime and considered among the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world. They’ve earned that status.
They’ve also earned the fight that will make them wealthy – the one against each other…
Tom Sorensen is a retired Charlotte Observer columnist. Follow him on Twitter: @tomsorensen