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Sports

Time Out For Sports: Panthers Hunt For New GM; LaMelo Ball Gets Love Around NBA; Clemson Rolls Against Notre Dame

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The Carolina Panthers haven't had this many fans in the stadium since before the COVID-19 pandemic. The next time they do, it will be with a new general manager.

Big news: The Carolina Panthers are searching for a new general manager. Plus, Charlotte Hornets rookie LaMelo Ball is receiving praise from other NBA general managers, and Clemson won big in Charlotte in the ACC Championship game.

Longtime Charlotte Observer sportswriter Langston Wertz Jr. joins WFAE's "All Things Considered" host, Gwendolyn Glenn, to talk about those stories and more on the latest Time Out For Sports.

Langston Wertz Jr.: Hi Gwen, how are you?

Langston Wertz Jr, a longtime sportswriter for the Charlotte Observer.
Langston Wertz Jr.

Gwendolyn Glenn: All is well. So, breaking news this morning: The Carolina Panthers are firing general manager Marty Hurney. I’d been hearing talk about that a lot last week. What’s your take on it in terms of why and why now.

Wertz: Well, why now? The Panthers are going through the third straight losing season. David Tepper has made it clear he doesn't like losing. He's a data-driven guy. He wants a data-driven general manager. He's kind of brought in a new-found, a new newfangled data-generated coach. Hurney is more old school, you know, rub shoulders, shake hands. And he just wants a guy who's kind of in line with his way of thinking.

Glenn: I’ve been hearing that Hurney may be heading to Washington to join former Panthers Coach Ron Rivera. Do you think that will happen and would that be a good move for Washington?

Wertz: Well, I know that's been the talk inside a lot of NFL circles. I mean, Hurney was with the Panthers when Rivera was here, Hurney was with Panthers twice. He's been twice now fired as general manager. I don't know if that's happened before, but those two are good friends and they work well together. They went to the Super Bowl together, so I definitely could see that happening.

Glenn: How do you think a new GM will affect quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who folks have been questioning whether he’s a good fit for the Panthers?

Wertz: Yeah, you know what's interesting? David Tepper, the Panthers owner, talked about the eight possessions they had to win or tie games this season. They haven't scored any of them. They lost all those games. That reflects not only on the coaching staff and Hurney but also on the quarterback, because Teddy has made some really poor decisions. I think Bridgewater may be a little bit of hot water.

Glenn: Here's Tepper on Bridgewater

David Tepper (recording): Whether it's, you know, we go with Teddy or PJ or Will or there's somebody else out that we bring into the mix. You know just to see if that's a possibility. It's an ongoing process and it's a question of who can be that guy that can help you win.

Glenn: OK, let’s move to the Charlotte Hornets and their preseason games.

[Recording of LaMelo Ball’s exploits against the Orlando Magic]

Glenn: How do you rate them in these two games. Then won one and lost one to the Orlando Magic?

Wertz: You know, I don't really care about wins and losses with the Hornets right now at this point. I think the thing with the Hornets is generating excitement and making people want to come out when they can. I think right now they have an incredible amount of momentum with the draft picks they had and just seems like things are kind of pointing in the right direction for the Hornets. They're playing pretty decent basketball. I think they'll play better as a team is more used to each other.

Glenn: I’m hearing a lot that there’s a new star in town when it comes to point guard LaMelo Ball. Also, a survey was done among NBA general managers and nearly 40% of them picked Ball to win NBA Rookie of the Year award. Your thoughts on both?

Wertz: For a franchise that struck out so much in the lottery, isn't it nice to have the feeling around the league that they struck gold in the lottery? I mean, LaMelo seems like that guy. He seems like that player. He made a pass the other night, Gwen, just dribbling up the court one handed, casual — the most difficult pass you can imagine to a teammate for a layup. But he just makes those types of plays. He makes those Magic Johnson-type of plays. He's got star power and the Hornets need it.

Glenn: Well, let’s talk college football and the ACC Championship game that was played at Bank of America Stadium this weekend. The Clemson University Tigers didn’t just get revenge from an earlier loss this season when quarterback Trevor Lawrence was recovering from COVID-19 and defensive leader John Skalski wasn’t playing either, but they crushed the Notre Dame Fighting Irish 34-10 Saturday. Did you think it was going to be a closer game? I did.

Wertz: That was what was going to be expected. I mean, you know, Clemson kind of felt like they lost the championship last year. They were coming back to make up for it. They didn't want to lose a game. They want to probably get Alabama in the championship game, which they probably still will. Notre Dame is a really good team. They're not in Clemson's league. It's Alabama, Clemson and there's everybody else. In January, we're going to see Alabama, Clemson play for the national championship.

Glenn: Trevor Lawrence had a great game — one interception but he passed for 322 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 90 yards and a score. Here’s Coach Dabo Swinney talking about Lawrence and the Heisman.

Dabo Swinney (recording): It would be a crying shame if the Heisman didn't attach their name to Trevor Lawrence. All right. That would be a shame.

Wertz: Yeah. I mean, I think Dabo's right. I mean, the best player in college football is Trevor Lawrence. He deserves to win the Heisman Trophy. He's the best player on the best team. I still think that they're the best team in America, and I think they're going to prove it next month.

Glenn: And Langston, there’s news about the upcoming hockey season, and the Carolina Hurricanes will be in a new division this season. Tell us about it.

Wertz: The NHL announced a 56-game regular season. It's going to start on Jan. 13. They're going to have 16 teams, the traditional best-of-seven playoffs. The top four teams in each of the four divisions are going to go to the playoffs. The Hurricanes trying to go to the playoffs for the third straight year. They were put into the Central Division this year and that also had the Tampa Bay Lightning, the 2020 Stanley Cup champion. The 'Canes are going to play each team in the division eight times. That's going to make for some serious interdivisional competition and make those games mean even more. So the hockey season could be special in every game is going to matter, and I think the Hurricanes are going to do really well.

Glenn: Finally, Langston, in high school hoops, second-ranked IMG Academy will be playing Word Of God Academy at the Phenom Holiday Classic in Rock Hill, South Carolina. Why is there so much buzz about this matchup?

Wertz: Well IMG has a team full of college players. If you want to see who's going to be playing on national television next year, you go watch IMG right now, they're led by Jaden Bradley, who played for the Cannon School in Concord last year. Jaden is a junior, top five in the country. That's a really high-level high school basketball that's going to be at all times 10 Division 1 college basketball players on the floor ... in that Word Of God game.

Langston Wertz Jr is a veteran sports reporter for the Charlotte Observer.