ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith joined Mut & Merloni Tuesday to discuss the upcoming NBA season and the hot water he’s found himself in over his perceived use of a racial slur last week.
Smith denied saying the slur on ESPN’s “First Take,” though he said he understands that people heard it that way, and that he would have “shook their hands” and accepted it should ESPN have punished him. For Smith’s complete answer regarding the incident, click here .
In discussing the upcoming season, Smith touched on Tuesday night’s season-opener between the Heat and the Celtics, the first game in which Ray Allen  will face his old team since rejecting a more lucrative deal from Boston to sign with the defending NBA champions.
Since Allen left, there has been a bit of a war of words between the two sides, as Allen has made numerous comments about the C’s while Kevin Garnett  said he deleted Allen’s phone number.
“I think the animosity is real on Boston’s side. I don’t think Ray Allen has that level of animosity for anybody. He’s class personified,” Smith said. “It’s not to say the Boston Celtics  are not classy because they very much are, but Ray Allen just isn’t one to get into all of that. That’s never been his MO in all the years that I’ve known him, but the reality of the situation is he doesn’t really have legitimate reasons to harbor animosity.
“When you look at the situation in Boston, yeah you didn’t like getting benched for Avery Bradley , yeah you didn’t like feeling that you were no longer the significant part of the game plan that you were in years past. There’s no way to get around the fact that if you look at the Ray Allen situation in Boston from that standpoint, you have to remember he left them. They offered him twice as much as he’s getting from Miami, even though it was an additional year compared to what Miami was offering him. They offered him more years, they offered him more money and he still decided to leave, but not only did he decide to leave, he decided to leave for somebody that is considered the enemy in that locker room and throughout that franchise in the Miami Heat , particularly since LeBron James  arrived.
“That’s why you see Kevin Garnett reacting the way that he’s reacting. Paul Pierce  sort of smiled it off, but he’s following KG’s lead because Paul Pierce obviously is a friend of Ray Allen. He loves him. It’s just that he’s a competitor now. Kevin Garnett takes it to another level. Right now he has no love whatsoever for Ray Allen. He looks at Ray Allen as somebody that betrayed him and this franchise. He has no love for him whatsoever. He wants to take him out just as badly as he wants to take the rest of them out and he considers him the enemy. It’s just that simple.”
On the subject of the Celtics’ current roster, Smith said that Rajon Rondo ‘s lack of shooting ability is all that keeps him from being the best point guard in the NBA.
“Only thing he has to do is develop a jump shot. The man can’t shoot,” Smith said. “When he shoots well, you saw what happens. He dropped 44 in Game 2 vs. the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference finals. It’s that simple. There’s no other deficiencies in his game. He can defend any point guard in this game, practically. He can get to the hole at will, he’s an elite distributer and floor orchestrator. He doesn’t have any weaknesses outside his inability to shoot a consistent perimeter shot. The unforgivable part about Rajon Rondo is the fact that that has always been the case with him, so you would think that he’d learn from that and develop a consistent perimeter shot so we could stop debating whether or not he’s the best point guard in the game.
“There’s nobody at the point guard spot in the game of basketball that consistently does what he does night in, night out, but there are more formidable offensively for the most part, because they’re more consistent with their ability to hit form the perimeter, and that’s what makes him — even though he’s still elite — that’s what drops him from the conversation in terms of best point guard in the game.”
Smith also reacted to ESPN colleague Bill Simmons’ prediction that if James remains driven, the Heat will win four or five titles in a row.
“I don’t want to call such a prognostication ludicrous. I respect Bill Simmons, and I certainly look at a guy like LeBron James and I say to myself, ‘With his talent, the freak of nature that he is, having gotten that proverbial monkey off his back, it’s certainly possible.’ But I would label it highly unlikely.
“I think Boston’s too close. Despite the injuries and the hobbling, they came within 48 minutes of a berth in the NBA finals . You can’t ignore that. Actually, you can say they did twice because they came back to Boston for Game 6 with a 3-2 lead. They pushed these guys to the brink, and that was with Ray Allen hobbled and Paul Pierce hobbled, and without Jeff Green  and Chris Wilcox  and with KG having to play the 5, and without young subs like a Fab Melo or a Jared Sullinger to help in that regard as it to pertains to spelling KG and making sure he’s fresh, because they are a different team, particularly defensively, when KG is on the floor.
Smith said that even if the Heat get past the C’s, the West has gotten tougher as well, which should make the Heat’s next trip to the Finals harder than when they beat the Thunder in five games in June.
“I only brought up the [Celtics]. I didn’t bring up the West,” he said. “I didn’t bring up LA. LA’s a problem for Miami, because remember: LeBron James and the Miami Heat beat the Oklahoma City Thunder  because they had absolutely no answer for LeBron James posting up down low and making things happen. How are you going to do if Dwight Howard  and Pau Gasol  are down there? It’s not happening.”