This week in Around The Dorm, staff writers Brandon Lee, Ray Lodato and Justin Jez fight it out over the usefulness of a Vince Carter-led New Jersey Nets squad, contract extensions for the Yankees and Mets bossmen and the firing of Lane Kiffin. (Editor’s Note: The Signal totally agrees with Warren Sapp on that one). Jeremy Piven worshipper, devout cheese-lover and master of hand-to-hand combat Steve Cohen will judge.
1. The New Jersey Nets have only three men on their team who were on the roster at the beginning of last season. Do they have enough young talent to make an impact in the Eastern Conference? Which acquisitions are going to be most helpful to the Nets?
BL: The Nets will be Eastern Conference powers in a few years, but not this year. They have two proven players in Vince Carter and Devin Harris, and a promising center in Brook Lopez, but that’s about it. Lopez is the scoring big man the Nets have missed since Nenad Kristic injured his knee. His quick maturation is key for this season. Everyone else on the roster is still a question mark. The Nets were bad last year with Richard Jefferson and Carter leading the team, and they are going to be worse this year with Jefferson now on the Bucks. Who’s going to be the starting small forward now? Yi Jianlian? Bobby Simmons? Josh Boone and Sean Williams at power forward is a decent rotation, but neither of them will take the heat off Lopez. Yi will get a few minutes at power forward, but he’s too soft to be effective there and too slow to guard quicker small forwards. This is a very young group that will be a lottery team this year, but they’re clearly hoping to mature enough to entice LeBron James to leave Cleveland in a few years.
RL: Jason Kidd is gone. Jefferson too. Which means Carter is the unquestioned leader of the New Jersey Nets. I could not possibly think of a worse candidate to lead and mentor a young team than that lying, money-grubbing loser. Air Canada isn’t just grounded; the engines blew, the toilets backed up and there’s blood all over the cockpit – kind of what I expect the Nets to do this year. The rest of this young Nets squad isn’t much better – they’re all young and unproven. So anyone that makes a claim on how they’re going to do this year is clearly taking a shot in the dark, because nobody has a clue how the youngsters are going to translate their game to the NBA. I think they could pretty much do anything, except succeed.
JJ: Not only will this Nets team be a threat in the East, but they will be a hell of a lot of fun to watch. Yes, they lost Jason Kidd, who allowed them to run and gun, but they replaced him with a future star in Harris. Harris can keep the tempo high, a-la Kidd, and he’s a better scoring threat. Harris is the key acquisition. His play will determine their wins and losses. Simmons will also love to get out and run with Harris. He did best in Milwaukee when the game opened up, and he was free to catch the defense lagging in transition. In addition to Williams, Carter will be re-energized with this new, youthful group of players and awaken those arthritic knees for some retro facials this year. The Nets’ biggest name acquisition, Jianlian, will also be the biggest question mark. I say he’ll have his big games here and there, but not reach his full potential for a few years. Now, with this amped-up offense comes a problem with defense. But, hey, it’s the NBA. No D required to be a great team. They’re the No. 6 seed in the East.
SC: All three of you made some valid points. Jez gets the 3 for putting emphasis on Harris and how much promise this young stud point guard brings to the table. Ray, I share the same sentiment for the washed-up Carter, but not the hate. There is plenty of potential on this team to make some sort of impact in the weaker Eastern Conference. And Brandon, you are right: The Nets have more to look forward to in the future, but between Boone, Williams and Stromile Swift, I think the power forward position is not as weak as you think. 2 points for each of you.
2. In the past week, both New York baseball franchises gave extensions to their GMs, despite the fact that the Yankees didn’t make the playoffs for the first time since 1995 and the Mets’ end-of-the-season meltdowns cost them the playoffs in consecutive years. Which of the two teams made the smarter move?
BL: Both GMs deserve their jobs back and are still perfect for their teams. The Yankees made the smarter move. These are Cashman’s players, farm team and coach. Not many people can handle the pressures of working for the Steinbrenners or handling the New York media. Under Cashman’s guidance, the Yankees have recently pushed for a youth movement, and it’s his job to finish it. They didn’t make the playoffs due to injuries and a few kids failing. The Yankees are finally trying to go back to their glory days, when homegrown players like Jorge Posada, Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams and Mariano Rivera made them a dynasty. Minaya has made the Mets relevant again and has assembled a playoff-worthy roster. However, once closer Billy Wagner was injured, the bullpen collapsed. Being the Yankees GM is a much tougher and higher profile job than being the Mets GM; missing the World Series puts your job at risk.
RL: This question is bogus. These two guys have more money to play with than almost anyone in regards to payroll. When you have a limitless ceiling, you can afford to put almost any player on the field, i.e. the Mets trading for and signing the best pitcher in the game last offseason. Sure, there’s definitely a talent to being a general manager, and both Cashman and Minaya have put together solid teams on paper, but you can’t prepare for a late-season collapse with offseason moves. The Mets and the Yanks failed to make the playoffs because the players blew it, namely the Mets bullpen. As a Phillies fan, what a joy it was to watch that. Absolutely cathartic. You’re never out of the game with Aaron Heilman on the mound. If I had to answer this question with a gun to my head, it’d be Cashman; dude’s got three rings.
JJ: This is tough because I don’t like throwing GMs under the bus. In this case though, I’d say Minaya was the better re-hire. Although Cashman was around during the championship years, the Yankees have grossly underachieved during the past five seasons or so. Cashman hasn’t yet figured out that putting together an All-Star lineup without solid pitching doesn’t work. These teams just don’t have the chemistry the Yanks of the ’90s and early 2000’s had, and that’s something the GM needs to address. Plus, they have the highest payroll in the league by far. Imagine if Minaya had that kind of cash to throw around. He solidified their rotation by bringing in Santana and put together a deep roster with a limited budget. The two collapses at the end of the season are a coaching issue, not a GM issue. Minaya did his job; it’s Jerry Manuel’s job to get them to perform in the crunch.
SC: Brandon, I agree with you that the Yankees failing to make the playoffs falls on the injuries to the team. You get 3. Jez, you definitely made a compelling argument. The market for pitchers hasn’t been too deep the past few years, so I don’t blame Cashman for being unable to improve the staff: 2 points. Ray, next time try to answer the question in the beginning and explain it afterwards instead of answering the question in three words at the end, and rambling for 150-plus words beforehand. 1.5 points for making me laugh, though.
3. Earlier this week, Al Davis ended weeks of anticipation when he fired Raiders head coach Lane Kiffin. Were the Raiders early troubles their recently departed coach’s fault, or was Kiffin not given enough of a chance?
BL: The Raiders early troubles are really Davis’ fault, but since that’s not an option, I believe Kiffin was not given enough of a chance. His players were playing hard for him and supported him throughout this debacle. The once-solid defense is now swiss cheese thanks to defensive coordinator Rex Ryan. Kiffin’s odd roster has been mostly shaped by the influence of Davis – and what a terrible roster it is, and has been. Kiffin should have been given a chance, once Ryan was fired, to see if he could make the Raiders respectable. Then after this season, he should have been given full rein to pick and choose his players. A Raiders team will never succeed just as long as senile Davis is calling the shots.
RL: Chance? Kiffin was a puppet. You’ve got to know Davis is calling all the shots, making all the draft picks and choosing all the coaches. Kiffin didn’t want to draft JaMarcus Russell, Oakland’s No. 1 pick from 2007. That was all Davis, his romantic tryst with the deep ball well-known. Imagine this: Your boss snips your hoo-ha and makes the No. 1 overall draft pick for you. And then drafts a guy you hate. And then proceeds to sign the guy to a contract, even though he wanted a “prison time” guarantee. The deal? If he finds himself in prison, Russell still gets paid. I give Russell all the credit in the world; he’s living the dream. But Kiffin? Nope, this isn’t his sinking ship. He just found himself adrift on it.
JJ: I hate to say it, but I do think many of the Raiders recent problems stemmed from Kiffin. With him at the helm, the Raiders were 5-15: Not too stellar. He’s a good, young, energetic coach who would do well at the college level, but he will not do well in the NFL, especially not in Oakland. This is a very young team who looks to 23-year-old Russell and 21-year-old rookie Darren McFadden to lead them offensively. These guys need a stable, experienced coach to offset their energy and keep them grounded. Kiffin also did things that seemed detrimental to the team. He publicly criticized Davis and the Raiders organization. He reportedly was against the signing of Russell, at first. He’s had some questionable play-calling this season. And, yet, the Raiders look like they have the potential to be a decent team. Kiffin was becoming more of a distraction than a coach. What the Raiders need at this stage is a veteran coach to keep Russell, McFadden, Hall and the gang focused and sharp.
SC: Brandon and Ray hit the nail on the head. This was the Al Davis show, so it couldn’t really be Kiffin’s fault. He never got a fair shake. Ray gets the extra point for bringing up the fact he didn’t get to pick his own personnel or even his own coaches. 3 for Ray, 2 for Brandon. Jez, Kiffin was gone no matter what. I would have spoke out against senile Davis, too: 1 point.
Brandon gets the “dubya” 7-6.5-6