Stephen A. Smith on the Playoffs, MVP Race
The ESPN Radio host talks Knicks, Heat, Derrick Rose and more.
SLAM: Does Miami have the toughness necessary to be a title team?
SAS: I’ll tell you the same thing I told Dwyane Wade: I completely believe in Dwyane Wade and LeBron James. Chris Bosh, even though I think he’s relatively soft because he’s a finesse player at the 4 spot, he can really play. I like his game a lot. But you cannot convince me to believe in a team that has the audacity to start Erick Dampier. I just won’t do it.
SLAM: Regardless of whether Shaq comes back, the Heat still has to contend inside with KG. They have the front line in Chicago. Does Bosh have to step up with his interior defense for Miami to have that effective front line defense?
SAS: Let me clarify because you are clearly not understanding me. Any team that would put Erick Dampier in their starting lineup shows me that they are sorely lacking in a multitude of areas on their front line! It speaks to complete desperation, and I absolutely, positively will not place my faith in anybody who puts him in their starting lineup—at any time!
SLAM: I heard you clear the first time. I guess that they were looking to bring in Eddy Curry is a sign of their desperation.
SAS: Yes. If they put it in Eddy Curry in there, as awful as he’s been, he’s basically been awful because he’s been a no-show. If you look at him, when he’s been in a lineup and playing, he’s formidable offensively. He’s not a complete waste of time. He’s been a complete waste of time when he’s not playing because he always makes sure that he cuts the check and he never loses weight in the process. But at the same time, when he’s actually on the floor, he can be a formidable force. Erick Dampier, in my mind, is totally useless. He’s just useless. He doesn’t do anything. He’s more concerned with how good his suits look than how good his game is, and that is the problem with Erick Dampier. It was a problem with him at Golden State until he was in a contract year, it was a problem with him in Dallas, and it’s a problem with him now.
SLAM: With Oklahoma City and Chicago, they seem like two younger teams who haven’t had a lot of Playoff struggles. That’s gone against the idea that a young NBA team has to struggle in the Playoffs for a few years before finding success. Can each team bypass that to win a title this year?
SAS: I think moreso OKC than Chicago. I think Chicago, and I just finished telling Carlos Boozer this last night, is a shooting guard away from winning multiple championships. I think Derrick Rose is the most athletic point guard I have ever seen in my life. I have never seen a more athletic point guard than him. Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson and all of these other guys play within themselves. And Tom Thibodeau is an exceptional coach, particularly on the defensive end with the job he’s done, and he’s got my Coach of the Year honors award. But I will tell you that you need a shooting guard, and not one like Kyle Korver. I’m talking about a shooting guard you can actually put on the floor 35 minutes per game because he can play on both ends. That’s not Kyle Korver—love him but that’s not him. As a result of that, I don’t know if Chicago can get over the hump without that.
Oklahoma City, on the other end, I mean, Kevin Durant is pure. This dude is the real deal. He’s a bonafide superstar in this league, a scoring machine. He’s 6-10; he can shoot from anywhere; he can put the ball on the floor; he can take it to the rack; he hits shots from the free-throw line. I find him to be as unstoppable as anybody in this league offensively. You combine that with Russell Westbrook, who I think is a star, and now you have toughness. To me, the only team that definitively can take out Oklahoma City is the Lakers. And that’s only if they’re all healthy and focused, which is a question mark right now. I don’t believe anybody can beat the Lakers but Oklahoma City. I still would favor them over Oklahoma City but it wouldn’t surprise me if Oklahoma City got over that hump and took them out.
SLAM: Let’s stay in the East for a second. Given your Philadelphia connection, do you think the 76ers can make any noise in the playoffs?
SAS: Absolutely not. I think that Doug Collins, the job that he’s done was nothing short of phenomenal. They got into the Playoffs and they don’t have a single player averaging more than 15 points per game. (Ed. note: Elton Brand finished the season with a team-high 15.0-point average.) I mean, I just think that’s unbelievable! Andre Iguodala – he’s not doing what you want and expect from an $80 million player to do offensively. Elton Brand’s best days are behind him. I love Thaddeus Young; I think he’s a greyhound and contributes some things, along with Lou Williams and Jrue Holiday and those boys, but I can’t see them…I mean, they play tough defense and they play hard all the time. That’s just a tribute to Doug Collins, but I can’t see Philadelphia making any noise this year, especially going up against Miami. I just can’t see it.
SLAM: Did you just hear the news on [Andrew] Bynum? He has a bone bruise.
SAS: OK, and what does that mean? How long is he going to be out?
SLAM: He should be ready for Game 1 of the first round.
SAS: Yeah, he should be all right. That’s good. They’ll need him. The Lakers will not win a title without him.
SLAM: Was their five-game losing streak over-reported, considered a little bit too much?
SAS: You know what, no. I think Lamar Odom put it in its proper perspective when he talked about their arrogance and how they take things for granted. You know, a lot of people say, ‘See, that means there’s nothing to worry about.’ Well, actually that’s a lot to worry about. If you’re that arrogant in the regular season, it doesn’t necessarily negate the fact that may become that arrogant in the postseason. These things can happen. These lapses can take place. And I think when you look at the fact that they’d have to go on the road, they’re lucky they only have to go on the road and not have home court advantage against San Antonio, because if they lost that home court edge to Oklahoma City, I mean, they still could. But had they lost it, I’m here to tell you right now they’d be in a world of trouble. That would be problematic. I don’t think it would be much of a problem for them to have to go through Dallas. But I think that would be a problem for them to have to go through Oklahoma City.