The riskiest bet the Charlotte Bobcats have placed this preseason involves Sean May's right knee.
The Bobcats are wagering that the knee – so problematic that it has caused May to miss 188 of a possible 246 games in his first three NBA seasons – is going to be just fine. They are desperately hoping that May will be healthy enough to start at power forward. They are doubling down on a right knee that has required three separate surgeries.
It's not a bet I would make, and I've always liked May. The former North Carolina star has a pair of vacuums for hands, a knack for rebounding and fundamentals that would make James Naismith proud. His 26-point, 10-rebound effort against Illinois in the 2005 NCAA title game forever stamped him a champion in all baby-blue eyes.
If I'm the Bobcats, though, I would have made darn sure to grab a high-powered power forward this past offseason, either through the draft or free agency. You want insurance on this one. You just can't be sure that May's injury problems are over, no matter how badly everyone wants them to be.
“I've been lucky that they haven't gone out and gotten a star power forward for me to play behind,” May said Monday.
He's right. He is personally lucky in that respect, although I can't imagine Larry Brown feels very comfortable right now with his big men.
The Bobcats still might do something at power forward (their recent attempt at getting restricted free agent Carl Landry away from Houston didn't work because Houston matched Charlotte's offer). But for now, the power forward job is May's to lose.
The Bobcats' training camp starts today in Wilmington, and May has some anxiety about it. It will be his first full-scale live practice in 15 months.
“Obviously, the knee is going to probably be in the back of my mind,” he said. “I like to say I'm not thinking about it. But subconsciously, I probably am. It'll be a little while before I'll get over that. I'll have to take some hits.”
May has endured his share of teasing due to the injury. Laughed May: “Every time (former Bobcat teammate) Brevin Knight sees me, he's like, ‘Man, are you ever going to stop robbing the league?' ”
May's father had a career that has some eerie parallels to his son's. Scott May led the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers to the national championship (also scoring 26 points in the title game) but then had his NBA career short-circuited due to injury.
“I always felt he was kind of jaded toward the league because it wasn't what he envisioned it to be,” Sean May said of his father. “He was always injury-plagued his whole (NBA) career. I never thought that would happen to me. … And now it's almost like we're spitting images of each other.”
But the younger May is convinced his fourth NBA season will be the one that deviates from this frustrating path. He's tired of people asking him, “How's the knee?”
May has played pickup basketball for the past couple of months – he has developed an 18-foot jump shot that teammates universally praise – and said he's confident he can still play.
“Basketball hasn't changed,” he said.
But the Bobcats hope that May's knee has changed – for the better.
Scott Fowler: 704-358-5140; firstname.lastname@example.org.