Tom Sorensen

Tom Talks: What kind of message is Malik Monk sending Charlotte Hornets?

Charlotte Hornets guard Malik Monk was under no obligation to participate in the NBA’s Las Vegas summer league. Two seasons into his career, playing was not an obligation. It was an opportunity. Monk chose not to take it. Monk’s teammate Dwayne Bacon, who also is two seasons into his career, did.

Monk went 11th in the 2017 NBA draft, Bacon 40th. Bacon was a second-round pick, Monk a lottery pick.

But lottery pick has an expiration date. After two seasons, it’s not how you got to the NBA. It’s what you did when you arrived. Ask Frank Kaminsky, whom Charlotte selected ninth in 2015. Kaminsky’s employers did not make a $4.5 million qualifying offer to the restricted free agent, and he signed with the Phoenix Suns.

There are moments when Monk is the best Charlotte player on the court. When he’s on, he can take over. He hits from the outside, and makes the deep shot look easy and natural. He goes to the basket no matter who waits because he can leap with anybody. Monk has fine moments. He doesn’t have many fine games.

As a rookie, Monk averaged 6.7 points and 1.4 assists, shot 36% from the floor and 34.2% on 3-pointers. Last season, with a new coach and a new start, he averaged 8.9 points and 1.6 assists, shot 38.7% from the floor and 33% on 3-pointers.

New point guard Terry Rozier might offer him shooting tips.

Bacon averaged 3.3 points and 0.7 assists as a rookie, 7.3 and 1.1 last season. Bacon shot 37.5% from the field as a rookie, 47.5% last season. Bacon shot 25.6% on 3-pointers as a rookie, 43.7% last season.

As last season wound down, Bacon became more important. Monk has not attained that level.

They’re different players. Bacon is 6-foot-7, 221 pounds, Monk 6-3 and 200. Bacon is a superior defender; hey, he played for Leonard Hamilton at Florida State. He has developed his outside game, and has the strength, size and athleticism to finish at the rim.

We still don’t know who Monk is, although we know he is not a point guard. He played for Steve Clifford as a rookie and for James Borrego last season. Based on his numbers and playing time, he didn’t impress either of them.

No matter what you do for a living, your employer wants to see how much you care.

Perhaps the Hornets did.

Remembering ‘Sweet Pea’ Whitaker

One reason I love boxing is the art. Stick, move, hit your opponent but don’t let him hit you. Here’s a tough guy, a trained professional who has attained success coming at you hard. And you don’t get hit. That’s art.

Boxing lost an artist Sunday. Pernell “Sweet Pea” Whitaker, 55, was hit by a car and died Sunday in Virginia Beach, Va. He’s from Norfolk.

His resume: He was the 1984 Olympic lightweight champion. The team included Evander Holyfield, Mark Breland and Meldrick Taylor.

As a professional, Whitaker won titles in four weight classes, from lightweight (135 pounds) to junior middleweight (154 pounds). He was 40-4-1, a record somewhat misleading since he lost three of his final four fights.

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Floyd Mayweather is the best defensive boxer I’ve ever seen. But Whitaker, 55, was the most inventive. And he was almost as good as Mayweather, 1A to Mayweather’s 1.

A southpaw, Whitaker would get low and dare you to hit him. He didn’t dance. He was right there. Then he wasn’t.

“Pernell was an amazing fighter,” Christy Martin, a former longtime women’s lightweight champion and current Charlotte boxing promoter, said Wednesday. “He could stand in front of an opponent without ever getting hit. He was a great person, and true inspiration to many.”

Remember Whitaker’s 1993 fight against the great Julio Cesar Chavez? Chavez came in with a record of 87-0, 75 knockouts, and status. The prevailing theory was that Whitaker’s tricks would work for a few rounds, but eventually Chavez would figure him out. Nobody avoided Chavez for long. As the numbers attest, Chavez didn’t play.

The fight was inexplicably scored a draw; one judge gave it to Whitaker and two called it even. Chavez had spent the evening pursuing Whitaker but never figured him out. Where was Whitaker? There? No, there. It was as if Chavez was throwing punches at a funhouse mirror.

Whether you were one of the more than 60,000 who watched from the Alamodome in San Antonio or watched on a screen, the result was the same. Whitaker won. Offense sells tickets and defense is under-appreciated, regardless of the sport.

In 1982, Whitaker fought as an amateur in Charlotte. As a professional, he came to Charlotte to work with International Boxing Federation champion Kelvin Seabrooks.

“He was a lefty, and he had all these tricks,” Seabrooks said Tuesday of Whitaker.

Was he as hard to hit as everybody says?

“Yeah,” Seabrooks said. “He was a heck of a fighter, and a heck of a good guy. He never forgot who he was or where he came from. It’s a big loss for boxing.”

After boxing, Whitaker became a trainer, and when he was in Charlotte, I asked him how much of what he did he could teach. He hesitated and said, only pieces of it. As a trainer, he offered what he could.

But the great ones improvise. They might enter the ring with a playlist, but they react, the music taking them places he didn’t plan to go. Whitaker moved to a beat nobody else could hear.

NBA looks like a toss up next season

The NBA is such that you have to look at a roster to see who is on a team. That’s not criticism. For years, the Golden State Warriors ruled, and I liked it because I love the way they play, the way they are coached and who they are. Teams were designed solely to beat them. Only the Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors did.

There is no Golden State looming over the league. The favorite next season is?

If you go to betting sites, and look at NBA futures, you see what’s close to a consensus. The Los Angeles Clippers are first, then the Los Angeles Lakers, then the Milwaukee Bucks, Houston Rockets, Philadelphia 76ers and Golden State.

There’s an interesting prop bet. What are the odds that the 2019-2020 NBA champion comes from California?

About bets: The last over-under I saw on the Charlotte Hornets was 24½ victories. Last season, they won 39. If you’re going to be bad, you might as well be good at it.

What I’m curious about: Watching Borrego work with young players, and almost every player on the roster is young. That was Borrego’s reputation when he was an assistant with the San Antonio Spurs. He developed young talent.

But how much young talent is there? Even though I respect Borrego’s work, I bet the under.

Who wins the NBA championship? The offseason feels like a season, and there still are talented free agents looking for gainful employment. Team jumping was rampant, and breathtaking.

Kemba Walker left Charlotte for the Boston Celtics. That team will be the most talented on which he has played — that’s not exactly insight — and it will be interesting to see how he fits. I’ve never been a Celtics fan. In the old days, you couldn’t like the Celtics and the Lakers, couldn’t cheer for Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. But you could respect both.

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Joining Walker will be Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Gordon Hayward, rookies Romeo Langford, and the already legendary Tacko Fall, who is 7-foot-6 or 7-7, depending on where you stand.

A Boston rookie who won’t be legendary but will be good is Grant Williams (Providence Day and Tennessee). The Celtics took Williams, 6-7, with the 22nd pick. There might not be a facet of the game at which Williams excels, but he can do everything. He can shoot from distance, play defense, rebound and is just a guy you want on your team. Good pick by the Celtics.

Love to see ratings in Charlotte for national TV games in which Boston plays.

I wouldn’t pick the Celtics to win it all. If I were a betting on a team to win everything next season, I lean toward Golden State. The Warriors still have Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and coach Steve Kerr. That’s a heck of a start.

Chris Clemons deserves a shot

One of the bigger mistakes I made last season was not driving to Buies Creek to watch former Campbell guard Chris Clemons. Would have been a good two-for-one deal; Mike Minter, the former Carolina Panthers safety, coaches the Fighting Camels football team.

Clemons is the third-leading scorer in NCAA Division I history. Last season, he was the top scorer, averaging 30.1 points. He was the MVP of the NABC All-Star game and the Portsmouth Invitational.

He was not drafted. Why wasn’t he drafted? He’s 5-9.

The Houston Rockets signed him to a free-agent contract, and Clemons played in the NBA’s Las Vegas Summer League. He was so much fun to watch. He led the league in 3s attempted, and made an average of 4.8 a game.

Because he is so confident and has such an array of moves, Clemons draws fouls and hits free throws. And, like I said, he’s 5-9, same as Steve Smith Sr. How many 5-9 players does a teammate feed for an alley-oop? Clemons can jump to the roof.

The Rockets did not have a draft pick this year. Yet they collect point guards. Both James Harden and Russell Westbrook are listed at the point. So is Austin Rivers.

So are rookie Shamorie Ponds (St. John’s), who is much hyped and was signed when Clemons was; Trevon Duval (like Rivers he played at Duke, and is the rare early exit player who wasn’t drafted); Chris Chiozza (Florida), a deep reserve for the Rockets last season; Deytona Davis, who is 6-11, was drafted in the second round in 2016 and played for Michigan State.

Clemons might not be a Rocket, but he has NBA talent. He’s as tall as Isaiah Thomas, as tall as Kay Felder, and an inch taller than Tyler Ulis. Post him up.

Felder and Ulis, both drafted in the second round, have bounced between the NBA and the NBA’s G League. Felder now plays in China. Felder played collegiately for Oakland, Ulis for Kentucky.

There’s a place in the NBA for Clemons. Houston coach Mike D’Antoni is creative. Maybe he finds that place. Maybe somebody else does. Maybe Clemons has to establish himself in the G League.

But he can score. He’s a better scorer than a passer. Use him properly, and you’ve got a nice, nice option off the bench. You try to guard him.

If a player 5-9 converts an alley-oop to a dunk, even in summer league, he makes my roster.

Short takes: Amazon’s ‘All Or Nothing’ coming

How many Carolina Panthers fans will watch “All or Nothing,” an NFL Films production on Amazon Prime? Amazon will release all eight episodes Friday. We have time to leisurely watch them all before the Panthers report to training camp July 24. And we will.

What NFL Films does best is take us inside. The biggest surprise? Quarterback Cam Newton has a tailor. I don’t write about his clothes. But I see them. I always assumed he alone was responsible…

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When I see pictures and film of Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland, I want to go. I’ll watch some of the golf because I think links courses are compelling, and this one is beautifully different. But what I really want to do is go to an Irish pub, a small one, where they take you in. My dad’s mom was Irish; her last name was Lally.

I went to a party the Irish Consulate annual puts on in Augusta, Ga., during the Masters. A man from the consulate talked to me about Ireland, and an Irishman from the party overheard the conversation. He approached me when the official left and said, “He’s full of…”

The man told me about his Ireland, where to go, and why. I asked him about the Lally surname. He told me where I was most likely to find them.

“They’re an arrogant people,” he said.

Come on. They went all the way from Ireland to North Dakota and then Minneapolis or Los Angeles. But, yeah...

Hossein Ensan won the 2019 World Series of Poker and the $10 million prize that goes with it. Most of us have won money gambling. That money feels special. We’ve lost money gambling, too. But we tend not to talk about that.

The World Series of Poker is unfathomable to me. My younger son entered a few years ago, advanced for a while, but lost the $1,500 entry fee. He sent me a picture of him at the table with the caption: “This is the most fun I’ve ever had losing $1,500.”

(There are various buy-ins; $1,500 is the smallest.)

I respect the manner in which my son reacted. But if I lost $1,500, I’m not sure I could say that I had fun...

Manny Pacquiao will fight Keith Thurman on Saturday in Las Vegas. I admire Pacquiao and his style. At his best, he swarms, all quick hands and superb footwork.

He is 61-7-2 with 39 knockouts. He looked good in his last two fights, but his opponents were overmatched. Lucas Matthysse was very good once, but no more, and the only person who believes Adrien Bronner can fight is Adrien Bronner.

But Pacquiao is almost as old as Tom Brady. Pacquiao is 40. And he has no offensive line to protect him.

Thurman is 30, and he’s 29-0 with 22 knockouts. He’s a careful fighter, a craftsman, and unquestionably talented. He’s prone to injury, and has spent considerable time out of the ring. He’s much less frantic than Pacquiao, but he’s very good.

Thurman is healthy now, and he’ll be ready. Love to see Pacquiao win, and once he would have. But Thurman is younger, and bigger, and he’ll win, probably by knockout…

When James Harden and Russell Westbrook play together for the Houston Rockets next season, one of them will have to defer. Harden is the better player, and the Rockets have for so long been his team that he probably has a deed.

But can you envision Westbrook, who craves the ball, stepping back, Klay Thompson to Harden’s Steph Curry? If he doesn’t, Houston doesn’t contend.

Tom Sorensen is a retired Observer sports columnist.
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