1. During the first two months of the season, the Knicks went 18-5 while Amar’e Stoudemire recovered from offseason knee surgery. They’ve barely gone .500 (16-13) with him in the lineup. Does his knee surgery really have a negative impact on their title chances?
SANDY DOVER: The knee surgery isn’t the problem, per se—it’s Mike Woodson’s hardheadedness when it comes to playing conventional lineups. Everyone now knows what Carmelo Anthony truly is—he’s a combo forward that is best in the power forward slot, but Woodson’s adherence to tradition has made the Knicks weaker. Stoudemire is the $100 million man and he’s been an All-Star all of his career, but he’s not that guy anymore. If the Knicks are gonna win anything, Woodson has to quit being so hardheaded.
KEVIN COTTRELL: Amar’e’s absence will only enhance the Knicks’ chances to advance in the postseason. For whatever reason, ’Melo and Amar’e do not mesh well. With Anthony at the 4 spot, it opens things up around the perimeter for players like Steve Novak (season high: 20 points, Saturday, vs. Jazz). Too bad the Knicks invested $100M in STAT’s knees; he’s officially an expensive mascot.
MAURICE BOBB: Amar’e’s injury, however tragic, probably saves lives. Ok, I couldn’t pass on the chance to quote A Few Good Men, but you get the point. Working Amar’e back into the rotation was proving to be a challenge for Coach Woodson anyway, so with him down for the count, the team can refocus on ’Melo gunnin’ for the No. 4 spot, as in power forward, creating the nightmarish matchups that made them the toast of the league at the start of the season. This is STAT’s last stand; it’s a shame that it has to be from the sideline, but even diehard Knicks fans want him on that sideline. They need him riding the pine because New York’s best chance for a deep playoff run doesn’t include the $100 million man.
J.R. GAMBLE: For the talent-strapped Knicks—true title pretenders—winning playoff games without Amar’e is like trying to hit an Aroldis Chapman fastball, blindfolded. STAT was starting to really heat up in his redefined role, and if healthy, will figure prominently in the playoffs. Early in the season, they had a healthy ’Sheed, lessening the effect of STAT’s absence. If NY is truly better without its two money boss players on the floor, then kudos to them for once again paying a king’s ransom for a pauper’s plate.
RICHARD BOADU: Yes. The 16-13 record has nothing to do with Amar’e, but it has everything to do with the Knicks no longer showing effort on defense. Their record is just barely above .500 and that’s what their defensive performance as been. STAT is averaging 14 points and 5 rebounds in 23 minutes; he’s not the issue.
2. Dwight Howard has made some foolish statements to the media in the past year and a half. Was his latest low blow, directed toward his ex-Orlando teammates, the worst of them all? If not, what was?
SANDY: Those were his honest feelings, and his most foolish to follow. No one believes that his former teammates were, truly, elite, but everyone knows that he was also flawed, and didn’t have much of a post-up game until his last two years in Orlando. He was as flawed as anyone, and yet he did little to make management listen to him. He waffled through and made himself look an ignoramus.
KEVIN: Let’s face it: his teammates in Orlando weren’t that nice. If you ask me his recent comments about deciding to play hard at the All-Star break are the most ridiculous. The firing of a coach in five games didn’t ignite a fire? The absence of Nash and Gasol for long periods of time had no effect? Or, being called out by everyone from Shaq to Magic? Just say “No” to comments and “Yes” to playing hard the rest of the way.
MAURICE: At this point, everything Waffle House says is foolish. Why doesn’t Duh-White just shut the eff up and play? Dude could be a beast on the low block, but instead, he’s the equivalent of tofu, with the heart of the Wiz’s cowardly lion. Frankly, I don’t want to hear another word come from this dude’s mouth. Let your game do the talking, and if it ain’t sayin’ nothin’, he should have to take his ass back to Orlando and answer to the angry mob for all of times he bumped his overpaid gums instead of living up to his regurgitated Superman nickname.
GAMBLE: The self-indulged statements that Mr. Congeniality has made over the past year have altered my view of him. Howard would be wise to zip it and just keep giving Kobe 15 and 15 sidebars to the Lakers’ story every night. I just want to see Howard commit himself to something, play up to his ability and return the focus to the team. It’s easy to take pot shots at people when you’re out the door. I’ll never forget when Stan Van Gundy called him out at that shoot around, basically telling Dwight, “I know it was you Fredo.”
BOADU: Dwight’s Q score with me has fallen faster than Brandon Knight. Then, he said he was looking forward to hitting the Waffle House this week and he was alright with me. Dwight’s comments were truthful about his teammates; tacky, but truthful. Be honest with yourself: Would you want Jameer Nelson, J.J. Redick, Glen Davis and whoever the hell else they had on that team last year? The most foolish thing to come out of Dwight’s mouth will always and forever be this.
3. The Spurs and Thunder are clearly battling for Western Conference supremacy. However, the Nuggets, Grizzlies and Clippers are hot on their trails. Which of the other potential playoff squads could play spoiler in a seven-game series?
SANDY: The Nuggets can absolutely be spoilers in the Playoffs. They have TWO starting lineups—either one would be successful and drive the team to the postseason, which makes them the most dangerous. Also, they are unselfish and will do anything to win since their success is not based on a superstar, but on a collective superstar effort.
KEVIN: If the Lakers can match up with the Spurs, that could honestly be the upset of the postseason. Just like in years past, the Spurs are rolling through the regular season, but like clockwork a key cog (Tony Parker) goes down with an injury. The Lakers are already in playoff mode and with Gasol getting healthy they could be dangerous. Many may look for the Clippers to be the shocker, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Lakers being the last team to stand in the city of Angels.
MAURICE: I’m ridin’ or dyin’ with the Grizz as the spoilers in the West. They’re gritty, grimy and keep makin’ the L’s top teams bacdafucup. They already did it to the Spurs in 2011, so I think they can definitely do it again. I like the Nuggs, too, but for some reason, I just don’t think they have the goods to topple the giants. Give me Z-Bo and Co. FTW.
GAMBLE: I don’t see the Nuggets or Grizzlies as title contenders. They are deep teams, built for regular season success, but they aren’t the ’04 Pistons. The Clippers will always be a DeAndre Jordan free throw or Blake Griffin jumper away. I hear that LA engine humming and moving in the rear view.
BOADU: As long as I’m a journalist I’ll never objectively answer any question about the Oklahoma Sooners, Oklahoma Thunder or Deion Sanders. *Puts on OKC Thunder homer hat* Since I can see the future and that it tells me the Thunder have already won the Western Conference, this question is null and void, but I’ll answer it anyway. The Clippers are soft and have no half court game for a seven game series. The Grizzlies look like lost puppy dogs after they traded away Rudy Gay. But the Denver Nuggets, those damn Nuggets with the power of the 1994 Denver Nuggets vested in them, will hurt some feelings. They can’t win the West, but someone will have Nuggets to blame for their early exit in this year’s playoffs.
4. Age ain’t nothing but a number. Whether you call him Black Mamba, Vino or Benjamin Button, how does Kobe's season rank among the great ones by a mid-30s-aged wing player and where does he fit in the MVP discussion?
SANDY: It ranks second to Jordan only, and not by much. Jordan didn’t have the kind of knee issues that plagued Kobe in his early and mid-30s, and Kobe somehow still plays like a worldbeater. This is one of the most underrated periods we’ve ever seen from any player in the league’s history, and Kobe is seemingly doing as he always has. It’s superlative play.
KEVIN: Kobe’s 47.5 FG% mark is the highest of his career, and he’s defending everyone from Russell Westbrook to LeBron James. As a Chicago native, I’d be willing to chance my Chi-City card and argue that Kobe is displaying the greatest season by a wing player in his mid-30s. Granted, MJ was still winning Chips, but he operated mostly in the mid post. Kobe is all over the court hitting 3s, dunking on Cats and out-running opponents 10 years his junior! He is second in the MVP race at this point because LBJ ran away with the hardware long ago.
MAURICE: After all these years of watching the Mamba do work, I’m still amazed at his feats of strength. But it shouldn’t be a surprise because he puts in the work; he respects the game enough to bring his very best every time he steps on the court. That’s why I’ll always support Bean, because he cares enough to give us the best show on earth. For me, he’s the best thing smokin’ for a player in his 30s. As for the MVP race, voters that I know have already mentally cast their ballots for ’Bron, so it’s all but over. But Kobe is definitely in the conversation now, especially if he rescues this team from playoff outlier to playoff contender.
GAMBLE: Kobe’s season is the best by a mid-30s swing player. Jordan may have been better, but not at this age. Kobe has more wear and tear on his knees and didn’t get to take two years off. When Kobe had low moments in his career, he turned it up on the court. If Jordan is the only guy we can really compare with Kobe as far as production and excellence at his age from his position, then that says it all.
BOADU: Yes and it’s not even close. Jordan had plenty of help in his 30s, Kukoc, Rodman, Pippen and snipers-on-command like Steve Kerr and more, depending upon the season. Kobe has Inconsistent, Cry Baby and Bad Knees as teammates to help him out. You don’t have two straight 40-point games with 10 assists four years past 30, unless you’re name is Kobe Bean Bryant.
5. In the increasingly antogonistic debate over the fate of Sacramento Kings franchise, do you side with the organization relocating to Seattle or sticking in Sac-Town?
SANDY: I side with the organization leaving for Washington, but for this reason: The front office is incompetent, and an incompetent front office matched with losing basketball in a small-revenue city means that any team that would be in Sacramento would be damned. Whereas, if you have a team in a big city and you lose, you stand a greater chance of being profitable because of the locale of the team and the city’s other assets. Sacramento, as a city, has few assets to offer other than the team, and the team sucks while the front office, coaches, and players are all losing with no stop in sight. Seattle can break the fall.
KEVIN: I tend to side with the organization relocation to Seattle. The team has made many attempts to get a new arena during the CWebb era, but to no avail. The city itself can’t support the millions of dollars it would take to complete the construction of the facility and the Seattle ownership group has one-too-many billionaires involved for fellow owners to vote against the move. My apologies to Sacramento fans, but this is a business and the team has to go where the money is being brewed like coffee.
MAURICE: I want to care about Sacramento losing its team, the Sacramento Drama Queens, I really do. But honestly, I could give zero effs about a team that has no direction, no gumption and no friggin’ pride. This is the only team in Cali that ain’t active. I think a move to Seattle would be a good one, simply because it’s a city that can pony up the dough to give this team a home, a real place to call their own. To use Kevin’s analogy, the land of Starbucks is buzzing like hot java for a chance at another NBA team, while the Golden State’s capital city should just give it up and focus on the state’s legislative rejuvenation.
GAMBLE: Take DeMarcus Cousins and the crew, put them in a time capsule and send the Sacramento Chicken Wings back to 1945, when they were the Rochester Royals. Then, maybe, the Sac-Town could rebuild a franchise legacy that is as uncelebrated and unimportant as what Lil Wayne has to say about anything these days. Sacramento, Seattle. Siberia. It still equals decades of pitiful drafting and losing, and proves how ill C Webb truly was because he made that team worth watching for a minute.
BOADU: Are they making money in Sacramento? Are they winning in Sacramento? Are they getting a new arena in Sacramento? If the answer is no to all of these questions and someone is offering to PAY the current Kings ownership to take this mess off their hands, why the hell wouldn’t they take it? Whether it’s your girlfriend/boyfriend or your sports franchise you better appreciate and cherish what you have because if you don’t, it will leave yo ass.