Stephen A. Smith on the Playoffs, MVP Race
The ESPN Radio host talks Knicks, Heat, Derrick Rose and more.
SLAM: What do you think of the Spurs in the Playoffs?
SAS: They are to be respected. Anytime you got Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker with the other guys they have and the way Gregg Popovich has had them playing this year, which is nothing short of phenomenal, you can’t ignore them. You can’t dismiss them. I just think that at the end of the day their size really, really hurts them against the Los Angeles Lakers. I think they’ve got enough to beat Oklahoma City. I think they have enough to beat Dallas. But I think Dallas always gives them a hard way to go. I think Oklahoma City as well, but I know there’s no way on Earth they would beat the Lakers. I do not believe that for one second.
SLAM: All right, let’s talk about the MVP. Is Derrick Rose your MVP this year?
SAS: Yes he is, without question.
SLAM: What argument do you make for him over Dwight Howard or LeBron or anybody else?
SAS: I would put him over Howard. I think Howard deserves strong consideration because Orlando wouldn’t be much without him. And I know what he has to deal with but at the same time, they’ve been a 4-seed all year long. They spent some time at the 3 and the 2, but they’ve been a 4-seed. I think that ultimately Derrick Rose, and what he was able to do with Joakim Noah out, with Carlos Boozer out, with a rookie head coach and without a shooting guard, speaks to his greatness. And I just think right now he’s just dynamic. He’s a sensational athlete. He’s just big-time and there’s no question in my mind he, hands down, should be League MVP.
I think LeBron James, as great as he is, I think he’s down to third or fourth simply because that four- or five-game stretch when the ball was put in his hands in the closing moments, and he couldn’t get it done game after game after game, shows what he lacks. He’s a man child, he’s a superstar, we all know this. But he’s not a closer. That’s not what he is. That’s Dwyane Wade’s job. Which makes this, at the end of the day, still Dwyane Wade’s team. And I just think that because of that, on this particular team, he shouldn’t be considered League MVP because he doesn’t have to do for the Miami Heat what he had to do for the Cleveland Cavaliers those two times he walked away with League MVP honors.
SLAM: In regards to end-of-season voting for the MVP and other awards, do you feel that many of the folks who get to vote for it are making informed decisions and aren’t just going off of stats and any other information they have?
SAS: Well, first of all, I don’t really critique my colleagues that way. As a guy that’s been in this business. See, I understand that you have editors to answer to. They have editors and producers and bosses to answer to. And I’m very, very sensitive to that because there are so many occasions where things happen inside an office where the bureaucracy takes over and the politics dominate, and the person whose name is on the byline or whose name is the headliner for a radio show or whose name is plastered over the television screen, they have a minimal amount of power. But they’re the ones in front. So, I’m constantly guarded about my colleagues because of that. I’m sensitive to the fact that sometimes we got to take heat that we may not necessarily deserve because somebody else has made that decision. And that’s just the way it goes. I don’t critique my colleagues in that regard. If they say that’s what they believe, and they have a valid reason for why that is, they’re entitled to their opinion and I’m entitled to agree or disagree based on whatever opinion they express.
SLAM: I respect that. Let me put it this way. Should voting be transparent?
SAS: Absolutely, I definitely think it should be transparent. I definitely think we should know who voted for whom. For example, I found out this year I don’t have a vote. I’ve been voting all of these years but it turns out I had a vote because I was a beat writer and an NBA columnist in Philadelphia and then after that I was on all of the ESPN shows. But since I’m just doing radio right now, according to each city, each city is designated to have three people to vote on League MVP voting. You’re talking to a guy who’s been a national NBA insider and has covered the NBA for 14 years and suddenly I don’t have a vote. I mean, I was shocked by that and that’s the way it goes. I respect their policy. But I will tell you that it does need to be transparent because people are influenced by these votes. People are impacted by it because certain things come your way that are incredibly beneficial to your career and to you as an individual. And I think if people are going to sit there and say, “Well, I didn’t do X, Y and Z” we should know who they are and we should know why.
SLAM: I’ll leave you with this. LeBron James is constantly mentioned year after year as an MVP candidate. This went for Shaq and for Michael—some people felt as though they could’ve won the MVP every year because of how valuable they were. Do you agree with that sentiment?
SAS: Not always. There are times when it applies. I thought one year that Steve Nash got it, it clearly should have gone to Shaquille O’Neal. I mean, he was just that dominant. But a lot of times his talent and his dominance was taken for granted. So, there are times when that argument is applicable. There are other times when it’s just the easy way out, and that’s not necessarily the case. I’ll use Derrick Rose as the example. You look at Derrick Rose and Colin Cowherd was interviewing me earlier today, and he was talking about how Derrick Rose was shooting in the low 40 percent range at certain junctures during the season. And my point was that Dwight Howard is dunking on everybody. He’s bigger, he has muscles coming out of his ear lobes, he’s five feet away from the basket half the time—I would hope that he’s shooting near 60 percent most of the time. That’s not to take anything away from him. But clearly his size and his God-given girth has benefited him tremendously.
Derrick Rose has a different argument. He’s 6-2. His athleticism is off the charts. But his maturation, the maturation that has taken place with his game, speaks to itself. The fact that he’s playing under a rookie coach speaks to that. Then when you combine that and figure out that he’s without a shooting guard and—you have Carlos Boozer as a legitimate front line scorer—not to take away, but if you’re a point guard and you don’t have a shooting guard. And Joakim Noah and those boys are not necessarily scorers. But they play together, they play within themselves and when it’s all said and done they lean on Derrick Rose. I mean, to me, when you look at that, plus the injuries, and they’re not only in the Playoffs but in the aftermath of the celebration and the coronation before they even played a game in Miami, with Boston loading up with Shaq and Jermaine O’Neal and all of these other guys, they see all of this stuff happen. Yet Chicago quietly ascends to the number one seed in the Eastern Conference and quite possibly the entire the postseason and it’s all about Derrick Rose. We all know it. How can you deny him the League MVP honors?
SLAM: You make a good point. Is there anything else you want to add?
SAS: The one thing that I do want to say is this. I’m not being critical—please emphasize this—I’m not being critical of Chris Bosh in any way. He is what he is—a finesse player. And he’s very, very good. He’s a great player, but I got to tell you, if Carlos Boozer was in Miami instead of Chicago, all of these discussions would be meaningless. The Miami Heat would be en route to the Finals. New York wouldn’t stand a chance against them, Boston wouldn’t beat them, nobody would be able to mess with them. They don’t have a man child in the post to throw the ball to. And as a result, that makes life difficult for DWade and LeBron. And that is the reason why we have question marks about the Miami Heat. And that’s the one thing I wanted to say.