Jeff Schultz

This AJC sports blogger takes things seriously when he has to, but he really would rather not

Holiday 6-pack: Will Nats close on Braves?

Good morning. This is the day to celebrate our true heroes. Memorial Day began as a day to honor the soldiers who died in the Civil War but now serves to recognize all Americans who died while in the military. This isn’t a day for politics. To borrow from Mark Twain: “Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.”

And now, on the backside of this barbecue weekend, a six-pack of thoughts on a six-pack of teams:

1. Braves: Keep an eye on Washington

The Braves are showing signs of coming out of their offensive rut, sparking a 6-2 stretch after losing 12 of the previous 17. Among those starting to straighten things out, I kid you not: B.J. Upton. Since a four-strikeout game in St. Louis that dropped his batting average to .203, Upton is 6-for-23 (.261) with six runs, four walks and only two strikeouts in seven games.

The Braves head into a two-game series against Boston with a three-game lead over Miami and three and a half over Washington. The Nationals are the team to watch. Their lineup has been wrecked by injuries this season. But Adam LaRoche (.316 average, .420 on-base percentage) returned Sunday from a quad injury, going 1-for-4 with a walk in a win over Pittsburgh), and Ryan Zimmerman is expected back soon from a fractured thumb. Bryce Harper (torn thumb ligament) isn’t projected back until mid-July. Pitcher Gio Gonzalez (shoulder) is eligible to come off the disabled list next week.

There’s a belief in Washington that if the Nationals ever get healthy, they'll turn back into the team that won 98 games in 2012. That remains to be seen. But the Braves likely would have to start winning at a more consistent pace to stay on top.

2. Hawks: Time for a move?

Will Danny Ferry make a move? (Curtis Compton, AJC)

The Minnesota Timberwolves say they’re not going to deal impending forward/center Kevin Love, at least not for a while. So let’s put the fantasy trade talk aside for now. But the Hawks are positioned well to make significant moves this offseason. One possibility: Moving up in the draft. They’re slotted at 15. The Sacramento Kings, who pick eighth, say they would prefer a veteran player to the pick. The Hawks have a roster of moveable contracts and there’s reason to think they’re locked in on keeping Paul Millsap, even coming off his All-Star season. Millsap will be going into the final year of his contract.

The Hawks could trade a player to Sacramento to get to the eighth spot, then conceivably could package No. 8, No. 15 and a player (if necessary) to get one of the top five players in the draft. The consensus top six: Kansas center Joel Embiid, Kansas shooting guard/small forward Andrew Wiggins, Duke small forward Jabari Parker, Australia point guard Dante Exum, Kentucky forward Julius Randle and Indiana small forward Noah Vonleh.

Safe guess: General manager Danny Ferry won’t be satisfied with just tweaking his roster.

3. Georgia football: Todd Gurley’s skateboarding

OK, Todd Gurley skateboarding down Sunset Blvd . in Los Angeles isn’t on the same level as him diving through a ring of fire. But you can understand why when the Georgia running back posted video of himself on Instagram skateboarding down the sidewalk along a major street with cars going by, and a picture of himself sitting on a balcony ledge – it was difficult to tell how high the drop-off was – some Georgia fans might have been rattled. Gurley and a strong running game represent the Bulldogs’ best hope for a strong season, especially with an inexperienced quarterback. At the very least, I’m guessing coach Mark Richt will say something to Gurley about what he posts on social media.

4. Georgia Tech basketball: The Carter decision

Robert Carter made the surprising and questionable decision to transfer.

I know I weighed in on this already in a column with Tech athletic director Mike Bobinski . But the more I think about it, the more I believe how incredible selfish it was for the Jackets' Robert Carter to decide to transfer. Transferring in Division I basketball is pretty common these days, but usually there’s a tangible reason for it: 1) The player wants more playing time. 2) The player and coach don’t get along. 3) The player is homesick. 4) The player is having academic issues. 5) The player wants to win more. In this case, it’s none of those issues. The only plausible one would be Tech's lack of winning, but if that was the reason then Carter would be looking to transfer to one of the national’s top Division 1 programs, not possibly St. John’s, which last reached the NCAA tournament in 2010-11 and has played in one NCAA tournament in the last 12 seasons. Carter, on the advice of his AAU coach, believes it will be better for his NBA career to sit out a season, get in better shape, play one season elsewhere and then enter the draft in two years. But he had a chance to be one of the top players in the ACC next season, which, the last time I checked, is pretty good for one’s draft stock. Just wondering what his former Tech teammates think about him walking out the door.

5. Georgia Tech football: Bobinski not settling

Neither Paul Johnson nor Brian Gregory were hired by Tech AD Mike Bobinski.

When there’s a new boss, nobody should feel comfortable. That's why I believe there’s pressure on both Tech football coach Paul Johnson and basketball coach Brian Gregory to win next season. Both were hired by Bobinski’s predecessor, Dan Radakovich. Tech isn’t in a financial position to fire and hire big-name coaches, and publicly Bobinski maintains he has confidence in both coaches. But he clearly believes the Jackets can be competing at a higher level than they are.

Among the comments that stood out to me in our conversation the other day : “We need to not be in the position of offering explanations to everyone. We need to find a way to move the needle. That’s such a fundamental thing. Those who believe and expect great things will find a way to get it done. Those who don’t, you will get what you get.”

On whether staff members are making too many excuses: “Excuses is such a tough word. Maybe rationalizations. You hear,‘We’re not this,’ or ‘We’re not that.’ That’s not productive thinking. It’s a comfortable way to say, ‘We can’t get any better.’”

The Jackets likely will open the football season with wins over Wofford, Tulane and Georgia Southern. But the real judging begins after that, with consecutive ACC games at Virginia Tech and home against Miami and Duke.

6. Falcons: Champ Bailey, revisited

I understand why the Falcons didn’t pursue Champ Bailey when the former Georgia star was cut by Denver. They had concerns about his age (36 next month) and health (he struggled with a foot injury in Denver last season). But I have this nagging feeling the decision might haunt them this season against New Orleans, which signed Bailey. The Falcons open the season against the Saints, whose nickel defense against Julio Jones, Roddy White and Harry Douglas will include some combination of starting cornerback Keenan Lewis on one side, Bailey or Stanley Jean-Baptiste on the other, and Patrick Robinson. If Bailey was on somebody else’s defense, it would’ve been one less player to think about.

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About the Author

Jeff Schultz is a general sports columnist and blogger who isn't afraid to share his opinion, which may not necessarily jibe with yours.