Take 5: Bell, Butler, Brees


(Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

Los Angeles Rams’ Aaron Donald gets an arm on New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) on Sunday, Nov. 4, at the Mercedes Benz Superdome in New Orleans.

By The Pitt News Staff

In Pittsburgh news, the Panthers’ football team is on a roll with four straight ACC wins, vaulting them to the top of the Coastal standings. Meanwhile, Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell made a puzzling — and potentially carer-altering — decision Tuesday afternoon. Our Pitt News staff takes on these topics and more in this week’s Take 5.

Farewell, Le’Veon Bell

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ estranged, yet talented, running back Le’Veon Bell had until 4 p.m. yesterday to report to the team. He was engaged in a lengthy holdout, demanding a pricey long-term contract rather than playing one more year under the $14.5 million franchise tag. The holdout lasted much longer than expected, but most people assumed he would show up yesterday as it was the last day he could report and still play this season.

He did not show up.

By not reporting, Bell now officially forfeits all $14.5 million of the salary he would have earned this year. This is unprecedented territory — never before has such a high-profile athlete sat out an entire season in the prime of his career due to contract disputes.

At this point, it’s pretty safe to say Bell came out the loser in this deal. He sat out to earn more money for himself in free agency next season, but he literally lost $14.5 million by doing so. He sat out to limit the hits on his body and stay in shape, but — news flash — you don’t get any quicker and stronger as you age. And he sat out to prove that the Steelers’ organization needed him, but it turns out they don’t. Pittsburgh is first in its division and Bell’s replacement, Pitt product James Conner, is having a more prolific season than Bell ever did through eight games.

Farewell, Mr. Bell, and thanks for the memories.

— Trent Leonard, Sports Editor

It’s time to respect Pitt football

The Pitt football team pulled off yet another win on Saturday, playing their second straight game of sound football in all phases. But after a tough start to the season, Pitt remains out of the top 25. The Panthers are a 6-4 team, so they’re certainly anything but a lock to be ranked, but their strength of schedule, and particularly the strength of their losses, gives them an excellent case to be in the mid-20s.

The Panthers’ overall record doesn’t look great, but that’s mainly because of their incredibly difficult non-conference schedule, which included losses to highly ranked Penn State, Central Florida and Notre Dame teams. There are two other 6-4 teams in this week’s College Football Playoff Top 25 — Northwestern and Mississippi State. No. 22 Northwestern is a curious selection, considering they shared two common opponents with Pitt — Duke and Notre Dame. Northwestern lost to Duke and lost by 10 to Notre Dame, while the Panthers beat Duke and lost by five to Notre Dame.

But that’s none of my business.

The Panthers have also notched some quality wins, beating Syracuse, currently ranked No. 12, and Virginia, then-ranked No. 23. They also smacked a Virginia Tech team that was supposed to finish second in the ACC Coastal. So a case can definitely be made for the Panthers’ presence in the CFP Top 25 — look for Pitt to crack the rankings if they can keep their hot streak alive through the end of the regular season.

— Andrew Kelly

The Saints go marching into Atlanta

Sunday’s 51-14 rout over Cincinnati became the New Orleans Saints’ eighth straight win on the season. In this stretch, the Saints have defeated formidable teams such as the Washington Redskins, Minnesota Vikings and the NFC-leading Los Angeles Rams. Ever since their anomaly of a loss against Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 1, New Orleans has looked like a serious Super Bowl contender.

The 8-1 start to the season can be chalked up to the Saints’ explosive offense, led by future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees. Brees has thrown for 21 touchdowns and just one interception while boasting a league-leading 77.3 completion percentage. Dynamic running back Alvin Kamara has racked up 1,019 total yards and 14 total touchdowns, while receiver Michael Thomas has caught 78 passes for 950 yards and seven touchdowns.

These are the playmakers that the Saints will rely on for the rest of the season in hopes of playing in the Super Bowl. New Orleans has a relatively easy schedule until Week 15, when they end the season facing the Carolina Panthers twice and the Pittsburgh Steelers once. Even if the Saints lose two of their final three games, they would still produce a phenomenal 13-3 record and have a tiebreaker over the Los Angeles Rams who are currently 9-1. If Brees and company continue to play at the pace they are now, the New Orleans Saints will be marching on to Atlanta to play in Super Bowl 53.

— Tyler Moran

Chef Curry is cooking again

When Kevin Durant joined the Golden State Warriors in the summer of 2016, it seemed as though he and Stephen Curry were making a conscious decision to sacrifice individual recognition for championships. Neither guy would be able to win an MVP playing alongside the other, as everyone would use the “look who he’s playing with” argument. Take Klay Thompson and Draymond Green into account, and it seems like noble gesture by Curry and Durant to give up accolades in pursuit of rings.

Fast forward two years and two championships later, and it looks like Curry might actually win his third MVP. Although they are just 14 games into the 2018-19 NBA season, the Warriors — especially Curry — look like they have somehow gotten better. Curry is first in the league in points at 29.5 per game, first in made 3-pointers at 62 and sixth in 3-point percentage at 49.2. Curry set the record for threes made in a season at 402 during his 2015-16 MVP season. This year, he is on pace to beat his already absurd record.

It’s scary to think that one of the best shooters in the history of the game somehow got better. Curry already had one of those defining games of an MVP season — a 51-point outburst Oct. 24 against the Washington Wizards. If he can remain healthy throughout the year, Curry will be one of the few players to earn a third NBA MVP award.

— Cale Berger, Staff Writer

A new Fresh Prince in Philly

Made official on Monday, the Timberwolves finally traded four-time All-Star Jimmy Butler to the Philadelphia 76ers in exchange for Robert Covington, Dario Saric, Jerryd Bayless and a 2022 second-round pick. Butler has been lobbying for the team to trade him since September, due to his distaste for his Minnesota teammates’ lack of work ethic.

In Philadelphia, “Jimmy Buckets” will form a big three with 6-foot-10 point guard Ben Simmons and Joel “The Process” Embiid. This is beyond exciting for Sixers fans because, while Covington and Saric were fantastic role players, Philadelphia finally has another star who puts them in contention for the title of being the best team in the East. Right?

Wrong — the Sixers have a lot of work to do before they can earn that title. Right now, the other top three teams in the East — Toronto, Boston and Milwaukee — are clearly still ahead of them. In their meetings against these teams so far, the 76ers lost by margins of 17, 18 and 15 points, respectively. It’s unlikely that the addition of one player — even a superstar — will instantly fix the dysfunctionality within this team.

As a Philadelphia fan myself, I would absolutely love for the Butler trade to send Philly over the top as “The Beast of the East.” But for now, I’m just not seeing it.

— Jack Clay, Sports Writer