ATD: Kobe, NFC east, Knicks and Nets

In this week’s Around the Dorm, the “Ref,” Gabe Allen, asks our panel three questions: Are the Los Angeles Lakers making a good decision in making Kobe Bryant the highest-paid player in NBA history, who will win the up-for-grabs NFC East, and will the struggling New York Knicks or Brooklyn Nets turn their acts around before the end of the regular season?

(AP Photo)

1. The Lakers signed Kobe Bryant to a two-year extension, which makes him the highest-paid player in league history. Good move or bad move? And is Bryant more likely to end up as the leading scorer in NBA regular season history (trails Kareem by 6,770) or NBA playoff history (trails MJ by 347 points)?

Brandon: If you take Kobe Bryant’s name off the contract, look at the facts and focus in on the terms of the deal, this is an awful move. Kobe was already making way too much money, and that problem has now been extended for another two years. It’s not easy to ignore that name, though, and the Lakers were right in not doing so because every penny will be worth it if Kobe helps return the Lakers to prominence. Now, I’m not talking in terms of his play alone. I’m making more of a point that Kobe is the only chance L.A. has of landing another superstar. The Lakers are in the dumps right now. They’re basically lacking sex appeal. The only hot commodity is Kobe, who probably won’t break the all-time regular season record for points, but may surpass Jordan’s playoff record. If Bryant wants to make it that far, though, it’ll take a few more playoff runs, which will take off if he recruits someone along the lines of LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony. Kobe can’t do it by himself, but making an investment in him could make all the difference in the world in the process of adding talent.

Mike: The simple answer is that this is a bad move for the Lakers. Kobe in his prime was worth the $48.5 million over two years that this extension gives him, and he was paid that much and more. But Kobe is already on the decline and coming back from a ruptured Achilles. He just isn’t the same player, and he shouldn’t come with that price tag. According to the American Journal of Sports Medicine, 39 percent of all NBA players who suffer this kind of injury never come back, and those who do see significant decreases in playing time and ability, even missing an average of 55 games after returning. Signing Kobe to a monster extension like this all but closes any hopes of a title for the Lakers the next three years. And with the likelihood of missed playing time, Kobe overtaking Kareem has got to be a huge long shot. But if the Lakers can at least make the playoffs for the next three seasons (which is possible), you can bet that he’ll make it a point to pass MJ even if it means taking 30+ shots a night.

Peter: From a pure basketball standpoint, this move is atrocious. Any player not named LeBron James raking in that kind of money is not worth the price tag, and Kobe cannot hold a candle to the King these days. Given his injury situation — many players never fully recover from a ruptured Achilles  —  I’m not sure Kobe is on my list of 50 players to give a two-year contract right now, let alone one worth so much. His gargantuan cap hit will prevent premium players from joining the Lakers, since no one is willing to accept less money to play with Kobe the way they will for LeBron, and will keep L.A. in playoff irrelevance. I doubt he will break either record, but since the second requires a short burst of hot shooting rather than sustained excellence, he has a better chance at it.

Brandon wins for saying Kobe is all the Lakers have, Peter gets 2 points for pointing out Kobe doesn’t attract talent, and Mike gets 1 point for giving an overview of Achilles injuries.

2. Who will win the NFC East and why?

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Brandon: Right now, the division is between the Dallas Cowboys and the Philadelphia Eagles. When these two teams met in October, the Cowboys walked away with a 17-3 victory. Add in the fact that “America’s team” has a seasoned coach and one of the league’s best quarterbacks, and it looks like you have all the pieces for a compelling case. But considering recent history, I’m hardly convinced. Over the past five years, the Cowboys have gone 9-12 in December contests. Their best season over that stretch came last year when they went 3-2, but those loses came in the final two games, including a win-or-go-home contest with the Washington Redskins and rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III. Yes, the Eagles may have a rookie head coach and yes, they’re led by a second-year quarterback who hasn’t seen much action, but if you’re telling me that the fate of division comes down to a Dec. 29  Dallas-Philly matchup, then give me the Eagles.

Mike: The Dallas Cowboys, for one reason and one reason only: They control the tiebreaker with the Philadelphia Eagles. Looking at the remaining schedules for both teams, the Cowboys seem likely to beat the Packers — who may be without Aaron Rodgers — and the Redskins, while losing to Chicago and Philadelphia. The Eagles, meanwhile, will beat Minnesota and Dallas while losing to Chicago and Detroit. That puts both teams at 9-7 at the end of the season with a 1-1 record against each other. The tiebreaker in that scenario will be divisional record, and if everything plays out the way I just outlined it, the Cowboys will be 5-1 and the Eagles will be 4-2. That means we’ll be getting a home game in Dallas to watch the winners of the NFL’s weakest division likely get stomped by either Carolina or San Francisco.

Peter: The Cowboys’ spectacular history of late-season self-destruction will continue into 2013-14, and not necessarily because of the Week 17 game against Philadelphia, which has to have Dallas fans feeling a little sick. While the Cowboys have changed in many ways over the years, they always have the ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory — just ask the Lions  —  and I would not be surprised if they played their way out of the NFC East race even before playing Philadelphia. Tony Romo exemplifies his team’s lack of clutchness: In his time with Dallas, Tony Romo is 25-4 in November and just 11-15 in December. If they are still in contention, though, count on Nick Foles tearing apart Dallas’ zone defense, which made undrafted Raiders QB Matt McGloin look serviceable and is giving up 25.3 points per game. Foles does not turn the ball over — with 19 TDs to zero INTs — and pretty consistently exploits holes in coverage. He should give the Eagles a big win in a shootout to clinch the NFC East.

Peter wins for mentioning Romo’s late-season struggles, Mike gets 2 points for stressing the tiebreaker, and Brandon gets 1 point for mentioning Dallas’ December record.

3. The New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets are off to terrible starts. Is either team likely to turn their season around, and why?

(AP Photo)

Brandon: The Brooklyn Nets have been a mess on the court this season. They can’t string wins together and even extra time brought on by a “spill” by their head coach hasn’t helped. The collection of players the Nets brought in this offseason looked like it was a king’s ransom, a dream team, if only it were assembled in “NBA Jam.” But no matter how good this group might be, it was always going to take some time for this to pan out. Just last year, Jason Kidd was running the point for the New York Knicks. Were we really supposed to believe that Kidd wouldn’t skip a beat in his transition to coach? Meanwhile, on the other side of town, Kidd’s old team is playing just as bad, if not worse. Melo is Melo, J.R. Smith is J.R. Smith and Andrea Bargnani is, well, he actually hasn’t been as useless as expected. They are what they are and what they are has them in the midst of a nine-game losing streak, and unlike the Nets, there is no light at the end of the tunnel for them.

Mike: I’m going to say the Knicks have a better shot at turning this around, and possibly even making the playoffs, but not because the Knicks are a good team. Both the Knicks and Nets currently play in perhaps the worst division in all of sports, illustrated by how division leader Toronto is 6-10. The Knicks are only three games back, but the reason they’ll overtake the Nets specifically is injuries. While the Nets are reliant on aging and past-their-prime stars and the oft-damaged Brook Lopez, the Knicks rely mainly on Carmelo Anthony — who is not very injury prone — and Tyson Chandler — who has missed most of this season with a small fracture in his right leg. Once Chandler —  the team’s defensive anchor  —  comes back, the Knicks will probably go back to what they were in the three-and-a-quarter games they had him for at the beginning of this season: a decent team that can get hot with Melo and J.R. Smith and compete with just about anyone. The Nets, meanwhile, will still be an aging team of frequently injured prior stars without a bench.

Peter: In the ultra-pathetic Eastern Conference, anyone can go from rags to riches — outside the playoffs to the No. 4 seed — with a three-game win streak or two, so neither team is incapable of turning their seasons around. That said, I do not expect the Nets or Knicks to be any good this year. The Nets rely on aging, injury-prone mercenaries who cannot play well together without the direction of a savvy coach, which rookie Jason Kidd is not. Even when the Nets’ ideal starting five is playing together, they can lose to any team on a given day because of their total lack of athleticism. They have a few promising parts, and I love Brook Lopez, but this is not a complete roster by any means. Meanwhile, the Knicks are usually a safe bet to crumble below expectations, and since this team was not supposed to be very good in the first place, I think New York will be left outside the playoff picture. They will be lucky to go the season without a few major controversies and an uncalled for Mike Woodson firing by the ever-meddling James Dolan — or business as usual in Knicks land.

Mike wins for saying Chandler can make a difference, Peter gets 2 points for highlighting the East’s woes, and Brandon gets 1 point for saying Brooklyn needs a chance to gel.

Peter wins the Around the Dorm Championship, 7-6-5