Lions around the dorm

After his thwomping of the lesser AtD contestants in last week’s issue, copy editor James Queally has tapped his stash of pressing sports issues and formulated the most diabolical batch of questions this side of the Delaware River. WTSR news editor Pat Lavery will square off against staff writers Duncan Slobodzian and Kristina Shemming and will contemplate NFL free agents, NBA all-star snubs and Michael Phelps’ newest photo opportunity.

1. Less than two weeks removed from the Super Bowl and NFL fans are already inundated in free agent chatter. Who is going to be the biggest name out there this offseason and where do you see them landing?

DS: Anquan Boldin. Even though he isn’t a free agent, he’s already played the irreconcilable differences card with the Cardinals organization and is now among the most available men out there. He’s proven his superior physical prowess, his distinct acumen for receiving routes over the middle of the field and his mettle for great postseason play. Boldin could be useful to all three tri-state area gridiron gangs. The Giants – sans Plaxico – suffered down the stretch because Eli Manning didn’t have the bona fide first option and reliable downfield threat that he had leaned on en route to 2008 Super Bowl MVP. The Jets’ receivers didn’t shoot themselves as Plax did. Instead, they had to watch Captain Favre shoot himself in the foot. I see Boldin going to the G-Men because it feels like a natural fit. Having a receiver of Boldin’s caliber installed in the starting lineup would help appease Big Blue’s disgruntled fan base.

PL: There have been only three game-changing linebackers in NFL history. Dick Butkus and Lawrence Taylor are two. The third – some guy who was once accused of murder who re-established himself in 2008 as a still-dominant force and one of the most impactful defensive players ever. Yet Ray Lewis has been through this before: The Ravens broke up a great linebacking corps (Lewis, Jamie Sharper, Peter Boulware) soon after Super Bowl XXXV, and they let Adalius Thomas walk two years ago. Lewis, turning 34, won’t want to rebuild now if Baltimore can’t also re-sign Bart Scott and Terrell Suggs. He’s said he could envision playing for the Jets, which would be a great fit. New York hasn’t had a defensive general since Mo Lewis retired, the Ravens’ defensive coordinator is the Jets’ new head coach and an acquisition like this would make the New York media forget how to even pronounce “Favre.”

KS: The sexy picks here are probably T.J. Houshmandzadeh to the Eagles or Ray Lewis to the Jets. But, to me, the biggest and best free agent on the market is skull-stomping southerner Albert Haynesworth. This six-feet six-inch, 320-pound mammoth is a game-changer who stops the running game and also produced 8.5 sacks this past season. Haynesworth was the catalyst behind the rejuvenated Titans’ defense that helped lead Tennessee to the divisional playoffs for the first time since 2004. Haynesworth’s outstanding season should lead him to become the highest-paid defensive player in the NFL this free-agent period. Expect Tennessee to retain the centerpiece of their defense with a record-setting contract. However, if the Titans don’t want to shell out the big bucks to hold on to their gigantic defensive tackle, keep an eye on Kansas City or St. Louis to make a move in hopes of bolstering their horrid run defenses.

JQ: I have to give Pat and Kristina an edge here, tying them up with three. Lewis and Haynesworth are both game-changing defensive players, and with the Jets’ offensive question marks, they need to solidify their ailing secondary with a guy like Lewis. Kristina makes a similar point; Haynesworth is that defense’s key guy. Duncan, I like Boldin in blue, but I don’t see them shelling out the money he wants until they dump Plax, which is not yet a foregone conclusion. Two.

2. The NBA All-Star Game is this weekend, which means everyone gets to complain about roster selections. Who was the biggest snub, East or West, this year and tell me why.

DS: David Lee. The man is averaging 16 points and nearly 12 rebounds a game. He is the lone bright spot on a franchise that has been floundering for the better part of this millennium. He’s notched a double-double in 20 of the last 21 games, and 38 of the team’s 49 games this season. His facial hair is impeccably groomed. All that considered, I would view Lee as a much more solid candidate than, say, Rashard Lewis, who averaged 18 points and five rebounds through Friday’s games. Do the Magic really deserve three All-Stars? That’s as many as Boston and more than Cleveland. At least Lee will have the chance to throw some alley-oops to Nate Robinson on Saturday night.

PL: I know some talk has centered around Mo Williams getting snubbed, but Cleveland is already being represented by LeBron James. You could definitely make a case for Kevin Durant, but he’ll be attending All-Star Weekend for the Sophomore team at the Rookie Challenge. Now, I know the Timberwolves are 10 games out of a playoff spot, but I gotta show some love for Minnesota’s Al Jefferson. I’m a big Shaquille O’Neal fan like everybody else, but Jefferson deserves to be the backup center on the Western Conference squad. He’s fourth in the conference in points per game, third in rebounds and sixth in blocks, which are all better marks than O’Neal’s. He plays six more minutes per game than the Diesel and has recorded 28 double-doubles this season. Shaq’s having a nice comeback year for a contending team, but with Amare Stoudemire already representing the Suns, Jefferson deserves O’Neal’s spot.

KS: Since moving to Oklahoma City, the Thunder have been on national television fewer times than CSI comes on CBS in a week. For this reason, Kevin Durant will not be playing in the NBA All-Star game this coming weekend. Durant is by far the biggest snub of the All-Star weekend as he was left off the reserve list of the West squad. Sure, his team sits at 12-38 and last in the Northwest division. But, give the man a break. His team at Texas had about as much talent as his current OKC squad and K.D.

is putting up flat-out gaudy stats. Durant is currently averaging 25.3 points, 6.6 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game. Last year, he was a one-dimensional player who really only brought scoring to the table. This season, Durant has transformed himself into a more complete player in just his second campaign and is already arguably the most underrated player in the NBA.

JQ: Gotta give Pat the trey here. He called attention to a player even I haven’t paid too much attention to this year, and judging by his stats, Shaq shouldn’t be anywhere near an All-Star game. Duncan, you almost got me with the hometown pick, as I am a huge David Lee fan, but Pat had just a slightly better argument. Dos. Kristina, I don’t know if I’m totally sold on the “complete” Durant yet. One.

3. Even though a picture’s worth a thousand words, Michael Phelps hasn’t spoken too much about the infamous picture that showed him toking up at a USC party back in November. Phelps is a phenomenal swimmer and most of the backlash has been about him shucking his spot as an Olympic ‘role model.’ Is it that big of a deal that a 23-year-old kid got caught smoking that wacky tabacky?

DS: No. The drug is in no way performance-enhancing, this incident occurred out of season and Phelps has been more than contrite in the aftermath of the photo’s publication. It’s silly to hold professional athletes – or any other celebrity in the limelight – to a higher standard than anybody else. The behavior is juvenile (not to mention illegal), but the amount of positive publicity Phelps generated for the United States this past summer should do a little something to preserve his good name. While I agree that the incident is a hit to Phelps’ image (even though it wasn’t exactly pristine, seeing as he was booked on a DUI several years ago), I don’t think of it as scandalous. Parents should be careful about whom they posit as role models to their children. So long as they preach values over material accomplishments, we should be alright as a society. I think.

PL: This might shock everybody, but I’ve never thought of Michael Phelps as an Olympic role model, not since his underage DUI arrest following the 2004 Athens Games. He’s obviously a great athletic competitor, one of the best ever, but you can’t model your personal life after someone who’s only 23. And maybe it’s just the way I was raised, but smoking marijuana – putting only yourself in danger – is infinitely more excusable than drinking alcohol and then getting behind the wheel of a car. If you want to look at people shucking responsibilities, look at folks like Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire and now Alex Rodriguez – grown men who not only engaged in illegal, harmful activities, but have in many cases skirted the issue or outright lied about it. Phelps has admitted his faults and shown remorse: You don’t need to say much more than that.

KS: Michael Phelps should thank Sports Illustrated for leaking the fact that Alex Rodriguez used steroids in 2003 because it quickly drew the limelight away from America’s new favorite pothead. All in all, who really cares if Michael Phelps smoked pot at a party this winter? Smoking cannabis is, sadly, an extremely prevalent aspect of today’s society. But it did not help him win a race. It did not make him stronger or faster. It might have made his 8,000-calorie breakfasts a little easier to choke down, but other than that Phelps did little wrong except for tarnishing his golden boy image. Or did he? Eight gold medals made America forget about Phelps’ 2004 underage drunk driving incident. Give him eight more in 2012 and we’ll see if anyone remembers Phelps smoking in 2008. America fell in love with its new partially amphibious hero this summer in Beijing and will come back to him as long as he continues to produce Gold. It’s just business.

JQ: Kristina, did I touch a nerve? You take the three, namely because you’re 100 percent right. As long as Phelps keeps winning, he can suck down a peace pipe whenever he wants. Pat grabs the two spot here, listing off the tainted stars I hate much more and reminding us the DUI was far worse. Nothing really wrong with your answer, Duncan, it just didn’t stack up against Pat’s and Kristina’s. One.

Pat gets the coveted victory, 8-7-5