Lions around the dorm

Copy Editor James Queally has dug deep into his special stash of sports banter for week seven with staff writer Brandon Lee judging. It’s a battle of the AtD rookies, as newcomers Josh Caulfield, Jon Dyer and Andrew Amadeo will get their first taste of blood as they discuss whether the Phoenix Suns or Detroit Pistons are bigger disappointments, if the Jets and Redskins made good offseason moves and if the coach is to blame for a terrible team.

1. The Detroit Pistons and Phoenix Suns are both on the verge of missing the playoffs after they were expected to do some damage in the NBA this year. Which team is more disappointing and why?

AA: I’m going with the Detroit Pistons, only because a lot of people predicted the Suns would fall off because of Shaq’s age which limits his playing time and games. Also, the ailing back of Steve Nash limits his playing time, and the lack of defense by Amare Stoudemire and the rest of the Suns has been their Achilles heel as well. The Pistons, however, came into this season with a strong defense again, an up-and-coming point guard in Rodney Stuckey and four guys returning from a team not too far off from their back-to-back NBA finals appearances three years ago. Even with this team, they went out and got Allen Iverson, one of the most prolific scorers in the history of the game, and got worse. The expectations and hopes were very high for the Pistons from the very start, but the hopes were high only for true Phoenix fans.

JC: This isn’t even close. Detroit is doing a complete about-face from last year. Detroit’s problem in prior years was putting up enough points come playoff time to win a ballgame. Iverson was the right piece, but giving up Chauncey Billups self imploded this team and they now look like just another pathetic Philadelphia 76ers team Iverson ran. Last year, Detroit hadn’t lost their 27th game until the playoffs. At least Phoenix still shows heart, night in and night out. With three 140-point games in the past two weeks, they can obviously still contend.

JD: The Pistons are the more disappointing team. After years atop the Eastern Conference standings, the expectations remained high for the 2008-09 squad. They are currently .500 and a pedestrian 14-15 at home. The Suns, meanwhile, are eight games over .500 and after the axing of coach Terry Porter have opened up their offense and accumulated a 5-2 record. Things are looking up for the Suns as they battle for the final playoff spot in the West, but the same cannot be said for Detroit. An eight-game losing streak has sent them spiraling toward the bottom of the standings. The Pistons were supposed to lift the spirits of an entire city after an embarrassing 0-16 showing by the Lions and the collapse of the American auto-industry. Instead, they seem to be taking a page out of another famous Detroit athlete’s book, Barry Sanders, and bowing out early.

BL: Amadeo gets 3 points here for covering why Detroit was supposed to be good. Dyer, nice job giving records but I wanted player analysis: 2 points. Caufield, Iverson isn’t the right piece. Teams get better after he leaves: 1 point.

2. That was quick: A second after free agency started, Bart Scott jumped ship to the Jets to the tune of $48 million and Albert Haynesworth grabbed a $100 million contract from the Redskins. Both of these teams need a lot of help offensively, and with names like Kurt Warner, Anquan Boldin and T.J. Houshmandzadeh out there, some think they may have broken the bank a little too quickly. Good moves or bad moves for Gang Green and the Native Americans?

AA: I like the moves by both organizations. The unwritten rule for all sports is offense wins games and defense wins championships. Look at the Steelers: number one defense, won the Super Bowl. I think the Jets realized after last season that when you try and boost your offense (Favre) it won’t help if your pass defense can’t stop Jamarcus Russel. They went out and improved their defense in an effort to compete with the big boys and advance to the postseason this time. More moves for the offense soon, though. The Redskins have finally realized that to compete in the NFC East you need a good defense. Look at the Giants, Eagles and Cowboys, all top-10 defenses and you’re now just adding another DT to a team that possesses a beast in Jason Taylor already. Haynesworth and Taylor could prove to be a devastating duo for any team.

JC: Anytime you can add a defensive tackle that strikes fear in the heart of even the best offensive players in the league, it’s clearly the right move. Haynesworth had a number of similar deals on the table, so it’s clear he wants to play in Washington. (That should ease all of the doubters about his somewhat “unmotivated” persona he carries around the league). Although Scott should help the team, the Jets need a playmaker, especially considering they may not have an excellent quarterback to throw the ball. Boldin should be a top priority for the team. He’s tough, available and would take the place of the hole left by Laveranues Coles.

JD: The Haynesworth signing by the Redskins was the first wise decisions Dan Snyder has made. The Redskins ranked 28th in the NFL in sacks and Haynesworth provides an immediate remedy to that problem. With Jason Taylor rushing around the corner and Albert collapsing the pocket from the middle, teams will struggle to protect the quarterback against Washington. With plenty of talent on offense, it’s only a matter of time before the Redskins offense becomes a threat, so improving the defense was their best option. However, the Jets signing Scott was a poor decision. With Favre’s retirement and the release of Coles, the Jets need serious help on offense. Last year, the Jets used a first-round pick on Vernon Gholston, so signing Scott seems contradictory and may have only happened to please Scott’s former coach Rex Ryan, who is now the coach of the Jets.

BL: Amadeo hits the trey again. Bolstering the Jets defense is pretty important and Gholston didn’t come out to play last season. This signing should take some burden off of David Harris. Caufield, good points but Amadeo just had a little more. Two for you. Yes, the Jets do need another wide receiver now that Coles is gone, but Gholston didn’t show up at all last year. Pairing Scott on the outside with Harris on the inside is a perfect move. Also, you can never have enough linebackers in a 3-4 scheme, just look at the Steelers. One for you, Dyer.

3. Hey, Tom Renney got fired from the Rangers. It’s become common practice in the NBA and NHL this year. If your team hits a skid, don’t blame the players. Fire the coach. Why Kevin McHale hasn’t been chased out of Minnesota with torches and pitchforks yet, we will never know, but whose fault is it really when a team starts circling the drain, the players’ or the coach’s?

AA: I have to say the players are to blame. Great coaches go only as far as great players. Phil Jackson wouldn’t have been anything were it not for Kobe, Shaq, Scottie Pippen and some guy named Jordan. Yes, John Wooden won seven championships in a row, but he had some great players in Elgin Hayes, Bill Walton and arguably the greatest college basketball player of all time in Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Good coaches are made great when their players are great. The Timberwolves have one good player in Al Jefferson who can not win you games. Renney’s firing, I believe, is a move by General Management to spark a team that has fallen out recently losing seven out of the past eight. Look for more firings so general managers can put the blame elsewhere when it starts with their lack of quality draft picks, free agent signings and/or trades.

JC: In this economy, the two most unstable jobs are on Wall Street and the professional coach. They are judged based on the performance of their players night in and night out. Nine out of 10 times, if a coach is surrounded by talented and motivated players, he or she will succeed. The coach’s job is to get the team ready to play, not to motivate them. That should come from the multimillion dollar paychecks. Doc Rivers went from worst team in the NBA in 2007, to World Champion in 2008. The only reason was because they added Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. Now he looks like a genius and is regarded as one of the best coaches in the league.

JD: When teams struggle, it is easy to point fingers and blame everyone else for mistakes. Coaches are easy targets for this scrutiny because their decisions directly affect the outcomes of many games. But it is not the coach who fumbles the football on third and goal in the final minutes of the game or misses a free throw that would have sent the game to overtime. Coaches only control basic strategy. It is up to the players to use their instincts and athleticism to execute the plan. These athletes are professionals who are being paid millions of dollars to perform and they are often protected by their organizations when they fail, and this is wrong. If the players get all the glory for making the big play to win the game, then they should also be held accountable when the outcome is less favorable.

BL: Even though I’m judging this during a snow day, I’m not going to be any more generous than usual. All of you did extremely well on this question and all of you deserve 3 points! Happy Birthday!

Andrew gets his first win, 9-6-6