Stephen A. Smith on the Playoffs, MVP Race
The ESPN Radio host talks Knicks, Heat, Derrick Rose and more.
by Kyle Stack / @KyleStack
Stephen A. Smith understands how to form an opinion and explain his stance. He does it weekday nights on 1050 ESPN New York (7-9 p.m. ET) and 710 ESPN Los Angeles (6-8 p.m. PT). And he did it during this conversation about the impending NBA Playoffs and the controversial MVP race. A native of The Bronx and Hollis, Queens in New York City, Smith has been covering the NBA since he started tracking the 76ers as a beat writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer in 1997.
Smith took time with SLAMonline to discuss the League—what to look for in the initial Playoff rounds, who his MVP is and whether voting for League awards should be transparent.
Stephen A. Smith: I think the Knicks are gonna get bounced out in five games. I could be wrong because we’ve seen in the NBA from time to time how a one-man wrecking crew can really do a lot of damage. And I definitely think Carmelo Anthony, more so than Amar’e Stoudemire in this particular series, can really do that kind of damage. Amar’e Stoudemire is a 4, even though he’s got a nice J, he’s really a flasher and a cutter. His points are predicated on those things, and going up against KG I think is going to be a tough thing for him to deal with.
Carmelo Anthony is different. He’s bigger than Paul Pierce, he’s bigger than Ray Allen. Even though he’s about the same size as Jeff Green he’s a little bit better—he’s a lot better, actually. And I think he can score from inside or out. He was shooting like 49 percent from three-point range (Anthony shot 48 percent –Ed.) during that seven-game winning streak when he was averaging about 30.9 points per game. I just think he’s one of the top five offensive players in the game—in the world. I think against Boston, as tough as their defense is, he would be the one who would need to do the damage in order for the Knicks to have a chance. So, I see the Boston Celtics really having their number in Games 1 and 2, although I think both games will be relatively competitive. I can see the Knicks winning in Game 3 coming back to New York, giving New York City its first basketball Playoff game in seven years. But then [I see] Boston coming together and pulling out Game 4 and closing it out at TD Banknorth Garden in Game 5.
SLAM: There’s obviously been some criticism of the Knicks for trading much of their depth for Carmelo and Chauncey [Billups]. Do you think that maybe once the Playoffs start, the benefit of the Knicks having Carmelo will be realized more than it has been during the regular season?
SAS: Well, I’m one that never believes in all of that nonsense. I think those people are smoking something if they’re too worried that the Knicks don’t have [Danilo] Gallinari and Wilson Chandler. I would have liked to have seen Raymond Felton on this squad backing up Chauncey Billups as opposed to Ty Lawson, but things didn’t work out that way. That’s who Denver wanted. But I definitely think when you think about what Carmelo Anthony, along with Chauncey Billups, brings to the table I don’t think there’s any question the Knicks got exactly what they needed. Those guys might have been enough to get you to the Playoffs. The difference is had you gotten to the Playoffs with that same crop of players, who the New York Knicks ultimately unloaded, you would’ve been happy with it and that would have been that.
Now what you’re looking to see is a competitive series against the Boston Celtics and some semblance of competitive play to the point where you genuinely believe that the Knicks are a piece or two away from legitimate championship contention. There’s no way on Earth you would have gotten that had they kept the players they traded. But now you got a player like Carmelo Anthony in your lineup paired with Amar’e Stoudemire. There is no doubt that the Knicks are on the upswing, and they got exactly what they need.
SLAM: Do you think some of the criticism of the Celtics has been just given their struggles after the Kendrick Perkins trade?
SAS: Yeah, from the standpoint that they’re not as tough. I don’t blame Danny Ainge for making the move because he definitely improved the team’s depth. And he solidified the fact that they’ll remain competitive for years to come because Jeff Green can play. Even though Nenad Krstic is soft, he’s skilled. He’s just soft. So, if you combine that with KG, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce still being there for the next couple of years, along with Rajon Rondo, they’re gonna be in the fixture in the Eastern Conference Playoff picture. It’s comparable to the Detroit Pistons from a few years ago. Remember, they were in the Finals in ’04, they went to Game 7 in the NBA Finals against San Antonio in ’05 but then they were still in the Conference Finals the next couple of years before they were ultimately eased out of the championship contention picture.
I see the same sort of thing happening with the Boston Celtics. I think this is their last legitimate shot to win the world championship. I think they need Shaquille O’Neal healthy, or at least able to give you 25-30 minutes. I think they need him there in order to pull it off, but at the same time, even if that doesn’t happen, I think by making the trade for Nenad Krstic and Jeff Green and moving Kendrick Perkins, even though they lack toughness because of it with Shaquille O’Neal hurt and Kendrick Perkins gone, they still solidified the fact that they’re going to be a competitive bunch for the next few years.
SLAM: The Celtics don’t have Tony Allen to be that lockdown perimeter defender. Do you think Jeff Green can be that guy and, if not, do you think the Celtics are in a worse position versus last year for not having that kind of player?
SAS: Well, I don’t think Jeff Green can necessarily be that person but he may be better. You had what Tony Allen could’ve given you in a spurt here or there. You had what Nate Robinson could’ve given you in a spurt here or there. What you didn’t have was consistency—somebody who you can rely on night-in, night-out to give you what they can give you. Jeff Green can play. This is a guy who averaged over 15, 16 points per game in Oklahoma City playing with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. So, this isn’t somebody to sneeze at. This is no Rasho Nesterovic, some Slava Medvedenko, somebody like that. Jeff Green can play!
If you look at it, combined with the fact he can spell not only for Paul Pierce but essentially for Ray Allen because he can come into the game and that would enable Boston to move Paul Pierce to the 2 spot. I definitely think that not only gives you depth but versatility. It allows you to go small or big. You can put him at the 4 when you want to go small and put KG at the 5. You can put him at the 3 when you want to go big, put KG at the 4 and put somebody like Shaq in the middle with Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. Or you can bring him off the bench to just relieve one of those things. So, it definitely gives them more flexibility, and I don’t think that should be underestimated.