Last week, Duncan Slobodzian advanced into the AtD Championship. This week, one of three eager contestants will have the opportunity to join him and compete for the title. Nation & world editor Kristen Lord, staff writer Bobby Olivier and arts & entertainment editor James Queally all have their eyes on the prize. Staff writer Brandon Lee, this week’s ref, will decide who advances and who is left behind.
1) The NBA MVP race is basically a two-man competition between Chris Paul and Kobe Bryant. Which star would you vote for?
KL: My vote is for Kobe. Bryant has always been snubbed in the MVP race and criticized for not being a team player. Things didn’t look so good for the All-Star last spring when he demanded to be traded from the Lakers by citing a “lack of talent” around him, but Bryant turned it around during the season, making the Lakers one of the NBA’s surprise teams. He’s dealt with numerous injuries this season but hasn’t missed a game. He’s doing well statistically, averaging 28.5 points a game, but more importantly, Bryant’s coaches and fans agree he has really taken to the role of a team leader this year, elevating the players around him – a trait that former MVPs Steve Nash and Dirk Nowitski were also praised for.
BO: After all these years, Kobe is finally going to get his MVP award. I take Kobe for several reasons. His stats have been great all year, finishing second in the league with 28.5 points per game (despite an injured pinky finger) as well as 6.4 boards and 5.4 assists. He’s shooting 46 percent from the field and with an 83 percent free-throw percentage, the guy has got it all. Paul is a fantastic up-and-coming superstar but I still do not buy into his being able to throw a team on his back and win a game by himself. Kobe’s experience has helped him this year and he will finally get what he deserves.
JQ: Kobe has made the Lakers look more threatening than the teams that were ousted in the first round in ’06 and ’07. However, he has Gasol, Odom and Bynum. Chris Paul has taken the Hornets – yes, the New Orleans Hornets – and made them the No. 2 seed in the ridiculously competitive Western Conference. He’s averaging 21 points a game and has become one of the premier guards and team leaders in the league. Kobe makes the Lakers title contenders, but they are still a playoff team without him. The Hornets would not be chasing even the eighth seed without Paul.
BL: Queally gets 3 points for taking into account both supporting casts. The Hornets didn’t make the playoffs last year because Paul couldn’t carry the team, but this year he can. I agree with Lord regarding Kobe’s change in leadership and mentality, but just because he’s been snubbed these past few years doesn’t mean he should get it this year – 2 points. Bobby, I need more than just stats. If we only look at stats, Jamal Crawford and Zach Randolph should be All-Stars – 1 point.
2) In the preseason, the Tigers were tagged to be an American League powerhouse. They currently hold a losing record, but the season is young. Are they contenders or pretenders?
KL: With a 162-game season, by the time September comes around this early-season slaughter will not even be relevant. The Tigers have improved dramatically in the last two years. The addition of Miguel Cabrera and Edgar Renteria to the team this year adds to the already-solid lineup of Ivan Rodriguez, Magglio Ordóñez and Carlos Guillen. The Tigers’ place as a contender will probably be decided by its pitching staff. The bullpen has been plagued by injuries this year and includes several pitchers who had less than successful outings last season. The Tigers spent a lot of money this year amping up the roster, and while the season didn’t start off well, I think the team will come together to contend for a World Series title.
BO: Despite the horrendous start, the Tigers will still be in the hunt come playoff time because they have far too much talent not to be. Their lineup is loaded from top to bottom and everyone is waiting for them to start hitting – and they will. Cabrera, their biggest offseason addition, has a career average of .311 and has driven in more than 110 RBIs each of the last four seasons. Ordóñez is coming off an MVP-type season, and with a roster full of All-Stars, the Tigers will be just fine. The have plenty of talent in the pitching department as well, and once Joel Zumaya is healthy, everything will turn around.
JQ: With the amount of talent on this team, it’s way too early to count them out. However, some of the key components of the Tigers’ dangerous 2007 lineup are developing alarming early trends. Justin Verlander, the ace of the pitching staff, has been rocked twice by the Sox (of both the red and white variety). Dontrelle Willis got himself on the DL already and Gary Sheffield has not been able to produce. The bats have been relatively quiet, and that’s a great way to demoralize pitchers like Verlander and Willis whose starts cannot be wasted. This team made some great offseason moves, especially picking up Renteria, and it plays in a weak division, so things could turn around real quick. They just need to keep Willis healthy and start scoring runs.
BL: Nobody mentioned that behind Verlander, the rotation is horrible. Willis doesn’t count either. Zumaya is the only good reliever in the pen, Todd Jones doesn’t count and neither does Francisco Rodney. Yes the Tigers lineup is loaded, but the bullpen is horrible and had an ERA around the mid-to-upper fours, and that’s a recipe for disaster. The only person to recognize that was Lord, but you can’t win the World Series with bad pitching. Each of you gets 1 point.
3) Brett Favre hinted he may come out of retirement if Aaron Rodgers gets injured. If Rodgers gets injured midseason, do you think Favre will actually return to the Packers?
KL: I think a “Favre to the rescue” story would be seductive to the retired quarterback. He left the NFL as a quarterback who could still contend with players half his age. His career as a Packer was completely glorified and fans idolized him. Taking that step into retirement seemed like a tough decision for Favre – we all saw him crying on ESPN for two weeks after he announced his decision – but getting one more chance to take Green Bay to the Super Bowl may be too tempting of an offer to refuse. Besides, I don’t know if Favre could live with his last pass being an interception to the New York Giants.
BO: After hearing about Favre’s possible return, I’m sure there are about 100,000 cheese heads leaving banana peels in front of Rodgers’ front door. Favre would come back. He loves the game far too much not to take an opportunity to come back midseason in a dramatic, inspirational, Disney-like return. The guy had a great season last year and was one kick away from the Super Bowl. He wants one more shot, and once the season starts and he’s not out there, he’ll be itching to come back. Favre still has one of the best arms in football and he’s got one more in him. What else is he going to do, make commercials trying to throw a vortex football farther than John Elway’s 110 yards?
JQ: While the idea of Favre returning to rescue the Packers is damn touching, it isn’t likely. Favre was successful in almost bringing Green Bay back to the Super Bowl last year because he had adequate time and training to adapt to the new offensive sets, allowing him to shed his “gunslinger” style of play and pick away at defenses through dump and slant routes. If Favre was to jump back into the saddle midseason, he would need time to adjust and it simply wouldn’t work. He would ruin any chance of going out on a high note and look like a veteran who is way past his prime, begging for one last shot at glory. Favre went out in style, playing like the championship-caliber athlete we always knew he was. He should keep it that way.
BL: Queally’s right for 3 points. Favre would look like he’s just “begging for one last shot at glory.” Lord and Bobby had similar arguments, but the “I’ll never let go, Jack” sentimentality toward football has to end sometime. Bobby gets 2 points for the Vortex reference, and Lord gets 1 point.
With a 7-4-4 victory, Queally joins Duncan in the Championship.