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Stephen A. Smith on D&C: Celtics-Lakers seems like destiny

05.14.10 at 1:14 pm ET
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Sports columnist and radio personality Stephen A. Smith spoke with Dennis & Callahan Friday morning about the Celtics’ big win over Cleveland Friday night, what the future holds for LeBron James, and a potential Celtics-Lakers NBA Finals.

“I’ll go as far as to say this much, Orlando is the favorite, but anybody worth their soul wants Boston to win this series,” Smith said. “LA is not the team they were two years ago, LA believes they’re better. Plus they are the reigning defending world champions, and last year Kevin Garnett was not healthy. In a sense its the gods looking out for you, and giving you exactly what you wanted. Its destiny standing there waiting for you.”

Below is a transcript. Visit the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page to hear the interview.

What did we witness last night in Boston in your estimation?

I think an upset of epic proportions, not because it was that big of a surprise, guys, but more so because of the collateral damage it will ultimately inflict. You’ve got a guy in LeBron James that’s going to be the biggest free agent, probably in sports history, and the Boston Celtics may very very well be responsible for ruining an entire city in the United States of America, and that is Cleveland, Ohio, and the state of Ohio, because the residual effects of this defeat of the Cleveland Cavaliers will resonate far beyond last night and far beyond just beating a Cleveland Cavaliers team in these particular playoffs.

This kind of resounding defeat ultimately in my opinion will be the straw that broke the camel’s back, the thing that ultimately sends LeBron James packing his bags in Cleveland and moving on to a franchise he believes legitimately has a chance of winning a world championship some day.

So, your theory is because he lost he’s less likely to come back, and had he won, he would have stayed?

I think that’s the likelihood. It may have been more difficult for him to walk away. I could have seen LeBron James winning a world championship and then signing on with the Cavs for three more years, and then being a free agent again in another three years. That may be a bit off kilter to some degree, but that would only be because of the collective bargaining negotiations that are taking place. Some of the rules that commissioner [David] Stern once implemented to further create clause certainty with league owners or what have you, that might have been the only deterrent to him just signing a three-year deal.

But I think outside of that it would have been about him signing a three-year deal remaining with the Cleveland Caveliers for now and then moving on because he won a championship. Now, all bets are off.

Did you watch this and at the end of the series say this is not the man or the player you thought?

Well, I will say this to you, I definitely don’t believe that, I wouldn’t go that far. But what I will say is that his reputation was tarnished significantly based on what transpired in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinal series against Boston. It is one thing to shoot 3-of-14 for 15 points. That happens all the time. Bad games are bad games. I don’t care who you are or how great your are, those moments in history definitely occur. But when you are LeBron James and you are presumed to be on the court and apathetic to your plight, seeming like you don’t care whether you win or lose,  that you’re just not into it, that’s an entirely different criticism that get aimed in your direction. That’s what happened with LeBron James. We’ve never accused Kevin Garnett of not caring. We’ve never accused Ray Allen or Paul Pierce of not caring. We never accused Michael Jordan or Charles Barkley or any of those great players of not caring. We may have questioned their work habits — not Jordan, of course — but we may have questioned their work habits, their commitment on a particular day or whatever, or do they practice enough, or things of that nature. But in between those battle lines for 48 minutes, their effort, their tenacity, that has never been questioned. Words like indifferent and apathetic have never been associated with those guys during any kind of game-time action. That’s what happened with LeBron James in Game 5, and I think until he wins a world championship, that will be carried with him for the rest of his career, based on one game, and that was Game 5.

What will we learn in the next few days regarding the Cavs inability to get it done?

Well I think that you’ll learn LeBron James, his heart wasn’t where it needed to be. I also think that you’ll learn that Mike Brown, a lot of people didn’t have faith in him as a coach, because I believe he will be fired. I think you’ll learn those things more so than anything else, and that LeBron James ultimately had his heart set on leaving town. That his heart may have left Cleveland long before this series was over, because I think he is going to try and move on.

Where is he going?

New York, I think its either New York ‘€¦ obviously the New Jersey Nets are talking about moving to Brooklyn in a couple of years. My personal opinion would be the New York Knicks or the Chicago Bulls.

Last night couldn’t have gone better for Boston. The Celtics clearly had a role last night.

Well, they had an exceptional role, there’s no denying that. They reminded you of why they were the world champions two years ago, they reminded you as to why they felt as if Kevin Garnett had been healthy last year, they would be two-time reiging defending world champions. They believe that the Los Angeles Lakers have a title that belongs to them. We understood why last night when they closed the deal. Their defense was absolutely exceptional, Doc Rivers did a splendid job in coaching this team, he flat-out outcoached Mike Brown. He had Tony Allen and Ray Allen on LeBron James, and made sure that everybody slid over, so LeBron James could not really penetrate the teeth of anybody’s defense.

When I spoke to Doc Rivers last night after the game, he and I were on the phone, I literally said to him, “How’d you do it?” And he said that when he looked at LeBron James, he doesn’t look at LeBron James as the second coming of Michael Jordan. He didn’t look at LeBron James as another Kobe Bryant or anything like that. He said that when he thought about LeBron James he thought about Emmit Smith, he thought about Barry Sanders, he thought about Walter Payton and Jim Brown and guys like that. The man is like a running back coming at you; he’s talking about LeBron James.

If there’s any kind of gap or any kind of lane that’s open, this guy is going to burst through it. So they had to make sure they collapsed their defense and shut off all lanes by any means necessary to turn LeBron James into a jump shooter or a passer. They did that and their defense looked superb because of it. For that, you just have to tip your hat to the Boston Celtics and their defense because that’s what won them this series.

Do you think Little League coaches will use this team concept to teach their kids the game?

I don’t think there’s any question. Look at everything that we’re talking about this team. When you look at the Boston Celtics, they’re just exceptional, and they’re exceptional in all facets. You look at LeBron James, did you see how humble he was last night. You look at him from a couple of days earlier, the arrogance oozing out of his mouth was unbelievable, I guess everyone is spoiled, when you only have three bad games in seven years, blah, blah. That wasn’t the LeBron James talking last night. It’s an entirely different ball game right now.

The Boston Celtics are capable of humbling you in that fashion. They just don’t have any weaknesses as far as I’m concerned when they’re on their game. They are a collection of guys that are capable of getting it done. Some are stars, some are not, but its rarely that you see Doc Rivers put anybody out on the floor that can’t get the job done.

Speaking of humbling, the Cavs quit.

I agree with you. I looked at that and I sensed that everybody was baffled by it; I wasn’t at all. Because outside of LeBron James, didn’t they fold like this in the past? Didn’t they do this last year? Haven’t they done this in pressurized postseason moments? During the regular season they’re gang busters, they’re front-runners, they’re sitting there feigning as if they’re taking pictures with one another, they’re joking around having a ball, “Life is so beautiful, so grand, we’re the best team in the league, we’ve got home court advantage, blah, blah, blah.” And then the postseason comes and you’ve got to take days to figure out what they’re doing, and you’ve got that luxury, and all of a sudden when you figure out how to neutralize LeBron James in any way, all of a sudden everyone else folds.

LeBron James is a future Hall of Famer already, he’s an outstanding basketball player, we all know this, but he is better in the regular season than he is in the postseason. And when that reality comes slapping you in your face, then you know what, as great as you are, you’re not as great as we all thought you were, and that exposes the supplementary parts around you, which are the Cleveland Cavaliers. Mo Williams, who had his 22 points or so but didn’t do anything in the fourth quarter. And Antawn Jamison, who finished with just five points, absolutely putrid. And Anthony Parker, a shooting guard who suddenly couldn’t shoot. A Shaquille O’Neal, god bless him, won four world championships but clearly beyond his prime. And the rest of those parts: the Anderson Varejaos of the world, the Zydrunas Ilgauskases of the world. You expected so much from them and they gave you so little, they came up so small, it’s really a shame.

The Celtics probably don’t have a chance again, right?

Well [Doc Rivers] was wide awake at 1:30 a.m. last night because I was driving back from Boston when he and I spoke, he was wide awake, just anxious to get ready to go. He knows what a formidable foe Orlando is. Not just because of their all-around talent but because they’ve got exceptional coaching in Stan Van Gundy, this guy can coach, there’s no question about that. But I will tell you this, I’ll go as far as to say this much, Orlando is the favorite, but anybody worth their soul wants Boston to win this series, so Boston can go up against LA again.

LA is not the team they were two years ago, LA believes they’re better. Plus they are the reigning defending world champions, and last year Kevin Garnett was not healthy. In a sense it’s the gods looking out for you, and giving you exactly what you wanted. It’s destiny standing there waiting for you, for a team with a healthy Garnett, because he looks healthier now than he did in the regular season, to make way to go up against Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers. Its back to old time. I think anybody worth their soul is rooting for the Boston Celtics to go up against the Lost Angeles Lakers to see who’s really worthy of being a world champion. I’m rooting for the Boston Celtics.

Why are you and Doc chatting in the middle of the night?

Well, that’s how I do, guys. I can’t stand guys who stand in front of 20 and 30 people and try and ask questions as if you’re going to get real answers at that moment in time. I pride myself in being able to get guys when the lights are off and the spotlight is gone, and it’s just you and that person, and you’re having a real talk about what’s going on in their mind and heart, and what they’re thinking about doing. That’s usually when I talk to a lot of players and coaches.

Is Kobe happy or sad LeBron did not get to the NBA Finals?

I think Kobe the competitor has got mixed emotions. He would love to beat LeBron James, but at the same time he’s also of the mindset, “How dare you compare this guy to me and he hasn’t even won anything yet.”  Thats what Kobe is about. Kobe is the same as MJ in that regard. “I have got the rings to show what I have accomplished. I love LeBron James, I think he is a flat-out superstar’ ‘€” this is Kobe talking, not that he said this stuff officially, but his mindset, knowing him the way that I do, he’s of the mindset that, “Look, man, win a ring. Do what I do, do what MJ has done, before you get measured as being along the same lines of greatness as we are.” Let’s be careful here and give credit where credit is due, because Kobe’s mindset is, “I had to win championships before I was mentioned in that breath. I thought that was the code. I thought that was the rule. Why are we violating it for this guy?”

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