With the Olympic torch being extinguished and the baseball season right around the corner, there’s plenty to talk about in Week Eight of AtD. Correspondent Jason Cantor will quiz correspondents Matt Hammond, Dan Neyman and Andrew Amadeo on the future of LaDainian Tomlinson, which team in the MLB had the best off-season and if Dwight Howard can live up the Superman title originally held by Shaquille O’Neal.
1. LaDainian Tomlinson was just released by the San Diego Chargers. Do you still think he can be an effective back in the NFL? If so, what team do you think would be a good fit for him?
MH: In all likelihood, a screaming “no” is the short and simple answer. But I’ll take the road less traveled and the allotted space for kicks. Assuming his 30-year-old body holds up, Houston could make sense for all parties. The Texans have been fringe contenders for years. A relocation aligns LT’s “No. 1 goal” — a Super Bowl hunt — with Andre Johnson and the league’s No. 1 pass offense (30th in rush yards per game in 2009). Houston’s already got the serviceable compliment LT needs — RB Steve Slaton — and splitting carries might even help curb Slaton’s fumble issues (Slaton with five fumbles, 2nd among NFL RBs in 2009). Houston’s front office isn’t shallow-pocketed, so I’d believe it if General Manager Rick Smith rolled the dice (NFL’s 3rd highest payroll in 2009, 21st in 2008). In an uncapped year of free agency, I know I would.
DN: LaDainian Tomlinson is a sure-fire hall-of-famer, but his best years are behind him. He has seen a significant decrease in production ever since his record-setting year in 2006 (31 TD), and failed to break 1,000 yards for the first time in his career last year. There will be very little to no market, and his fate will be similar to Shaun Alexander’s, meaning he will most likely have to wait for an injury in order to find a home this season. Don’t expect any team to bring him on as a starter, but he would be good in a backup RB/mentor-type role.
AA: LaDainian Tomlinson will not be a good back in the NFL no matter where he goes. He has not had a very good season in nearly three years. His yards per carry the last two years were 3.3 and 3.8, while his touchdowns went from 28 in 2006 to 12 and 11. He had only 20 catches and no receiving touchdowns last season. When comparing Tomlinson to great players like Barry Sanders and Jim Brown who have never had a season under 4.3 yards per carry and one season under 1,200 yards, you can see that Tomlinson is nowhere near the greatness he once was. He is too old for a running back and cannot perform at a high level like he used to. He will get a job somewhere, but will not produce anywhere close to three years ago. He is past his prime and his days are nearly over.
JC: Wow … everyone is hating on LT. I agree with everyone that his best days are far behind him, but I think he can still contribute to a team. His ability as a pass catcher adds to his value. Matt gets the 3 for bringing up that this year is an uncapped year of free agency. Dan gets 2 for mentioning it being his first sub 1,000 yard rushing. Andrew brings up some great points, but gets the 1.
2. With baseball season just around the corner, which team do you feel had the best off season and why? Which team fared the worst?
MH: Since the L.A. Angels’ World Series win in 2002, any AL West exchange was either sob stories or punch lines. But now, a power shift in baseball’s softest division might have left one club October-bound. Free agent pick-ups in second baseman Chone Figgins and first baseman Casey Kotchman spackle Seattle’s porous 2009 infield (105 errors, tied for 4th-most in AL), while swapping out a disaster in pitcher Carlos Silva (free agency) for pitcher Cliff Lee (trade with Philadelphia) improves the AL’s stingiest rotation (3.87 ERA in 2009). Snagging Figgins from the reigning AL West champs Angels benefits Seattle in an intra-division multiplier effect, and favorably stacks its odds in one of 2010’s toss-ups. Needless to say that the Angels — who reported to spring training without two franchise fortifiers (lost pitcher John Lackey, outfielder Vladimir Guerrero to free agency) and Figgins, and with Kendry Morales’ mind on missing money — might have had baseball’s worst winter.
DN: Without a shadow of a doubt, the best off season goes to the Seattle Mariners. They added Cliff Lee and locked up Felix Hernandez long-term, forming a terrifying 1-2 punch. They’ve also added all-star Chone Figgins, while dealing the abysmal Carlos Silva for a potential power bat in Milton Bradley. The worst off season goes to the Dodgers. They lost a couple of starters in Randy Wolf and Jon Garland, along with Juan Pierre and Orlando Hudson, all of whom they didn’t replace. The McCourts are also going through a divorce and ownership of the team will be determined in the near future, making spending money on players impossible.
AA: The best offseason I think went to the Seattle Mariners. They picked up Cliff Lee, to solidify what I believe to be the best 1-2 punch in the game in Lee and Hernandez. They picked up Chone Figgins to replace Beltre who will bat right after Ichiro and have the fastest 1-2 batters in the game. They also picked up Kotchman and Ryan Garko to split time at first, and re-signed Erik Bedard to add a solid number three to the rotation, as well as re-signing Franklin Gutierrez to keep the young center fielder. Finally, they re-signed Ken Griffey Jr. who according to a number of reports has been a lot of help mentoring the young guys in the clubhouse, and can still put a few over the fence. The worst was the Angels. They lost their ace in Lackey, two of their better players in Figgins and Guerrero and picked up Matsui who is not as good as Guerrero.
JC: Very similar answers. Dan makes a great point when he mentions the Dodgers lack of spending and bleak future and gets the 3. The Angels knew they were going to lose Lackey which is why they acquired Kazmir (who I think has more upside anyway). The Angels are a small ball type of team. Also Vladimir Guerrero’s on-base percentage is way worse than Matsui’s. Andrew gets the 2 for mentioning Griffey’s role. Matt gets the 1.
3. Dwight Howard and Shaquille O’Neal have been arguing over the Superman title … O’Neal has had an unbelievable NBA career, but do you think when it’s all said and done that Howard is capable of having a better career? Why or why not?
MH: In his heyday, O’Neal was a monster. He was so indomitable then that his four-to-six year run is probably untouchable now. Gauging potential, Howard’s best won’t be enough to supplant the O’Neal’s prime as the most imposing low-post showing in recent history. My advice to Howard — if you can’t be Barry Bonds, strive for Hank Aaron. If the position’s greatest glimmer is out of reach, redefine its longevity. Carry the “perennial All-Star” tag into your late 30s — based on yearly performance, not career-achievement props. Howard doesn’t have the power and presence that O’Neal did, nor is that in Sensei Chewing’s curriculum. But the lean build that can’t
bulldoze seven-footers can keep Howard in lineups (and on stat sheets) in ways an oversized and oft-shelved O’Neal couldn’t (O’Neal-missed 15 plus games in 11 of 17 seasons). When he retires and we compare, that could be enough.
DN: This a difficult comparison, but I believe if you could see O’Neal in his prime vs. Howard in his prime, O’Neal would come out victorious. That being said, I feel like Howard will end up having a better career then O’Neal, statistically, but will come nowhere near O’Neal’s four rings. I only say that Howard can trump O’Neal in the stats department because Howard doesn’t have to face the same level of competition that O’Neal did. In his prime, O’Neal had to face the likes of Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson, Patrick Ewing and Alonzo Mourning. That seems a lot more difficult then Howard having to face Chris Kaman, Chris Bosh or Josh Smith.
AA: I know that O’Neal, after it is all said and done, will go down as a much better center than Dwight Howard. O’Neal averaged more points (24.1 to 17.5), more assists (2.6 to 1.4), blocks (2.3 to 2.1) and less minutes played. Howard has a slight edge in rebounds 12.7 to 11.0 but these numbers are inflated for Howard because O’Neal is beyond his prime and is in the tail end of his career. O’Neal may go down as a top-five center of all time and Howard will not be in the top 10. O’Neal is superman and Howard is reaping the benefits of a not-so-great center class in the NBA right now. O’Neal played against greats in David Robinson, Hakeem Olajuwon and Patrick Ewing. Howard’s best competitor may be Pau Gasol, who is not in the same class. O’Neal may not be better now, but in his prime he was much better. O’Neal also has four rings — Howard will not sniff any more than one if that. I give this one to O’Neal.
JC: Matt, couldn’t have put it better myself — you get the 3. Dan and Andrew have very similar answers (great job mentioning the lack of competition), but I like how Andrew mentioned O’Neal’s numbers deflating because his playing at the tail end of his career — so you take the 2. Dan gets 1.
Matt wins 7 – 6 – 5