Many people are picking the Oklahoma City Thunder to reach the NBA Finals — and possibly win the NBA title — but TNT/CBS analyst Kenny Smith is not sold on them. Smith sees some weaknesses with the Thunder and would not be surprised if they lost early in the postseason. LBS spoke with The Jet who was touring on behalf of Coke Zero to promote their Enjoy More Madness program. Fans can gain unique codes from Coke Zero products – as well as from the Watch & Score Instant Win Game – entering these codes through their My Coke Rewards account at Enjoy More Madness. We talked about how Kentucky would do against an NBA team, about some of the issues facing the Orlando Magic, and how he would handle Andrew Bynum. He had some really good opinions, so you should definitely read the whole thing, especially his thoughts on the Magic partying in New York City.
So why is Smith worried about the Thunder?
“The West is wide open. If Oklahoma City won it or lost in the first round, I might not be surprised,” Smith told LBS. “I just think their youth … they’re talented but they’re still inexperienced in certain areas. Because of their inexperience, it wouldn’t surprise me if they lost to a lower seed.”
When reminded that the Thunder made it to the Western Conference Finals last season, Smith said he still has some concerns.
“I was a little surprised the way they handled the adversity last year with the whole Russell Westbrook stuff. If they can get over that, then they’re the team to beat in the West,” Smith believes, “but the way they handled that wasn’t beneficial. That’s going to show its head again. There is going to be a game where he takes a lot of shots and people say ‘he shot too much,’ and I don’t think they handled that well.”
Whoever comes out of the Western Conference will likely face the Heat, Smith thinks.
“I still like Miami. Even though Chicago is probably the best team collectively, I think the individual talents of Miami are still too great, and they still play as a team.”
We talked about whether Kentucky could beat an NBA team the way so many informed people, including his colleague Charles Barkley, believe. He tried to put that talk to rest.
“They can’t beat an NBA team,” Smith stated. “Just remember Kemba Walker dissected the entire NCAA tournament last year, and he’s on the worst team in the NBA. But I get what everyone is saying — they have so much NBA talent on that team. They have great players, great coaches, great potential on that basketball team, but that statement is a little far fetched.”
Even though the Magic have been a topic of concern for several issues, Smith isn’t worried about them. He dismissed the notion that partying the night before in New York City was a factor in the Magic’s blowout loss to the Knicks last week.
“If they had a diary on guys who went out in New York City the night before they played the Knicks, the Knicks would win every game. New York City is what? The city that never sleeps. There are guys who test that on every team that comes in. The Orlando Magic lost [that game] because they haven’t figured out what makes them great night-in and night-out. They have internal issues with Dwight Howard, even though he said he’s going to be staying, that still are around. That has a lot more to do with it than coming to Los Angeles, New York, Atlanta — all the cities where guys traditionally test the night life.”
I asked if he thought Dwight Howard made a mistake by waiving his contractual right to become a free agent after the season.
“I don’t think he made a mistake. He’s a gamechanger. When he’s part of your franchise, he changes the face of the game wherever he is. Instead of going somewhere, he just needs to get someone there. If one guy comes there, then they’re all of a sudden a different team. He doesn’t always have to seek to go somewhere because if he gets another piece in there, he’s going to do it.”
When asked who he thought the Magic should target, Smith had a tough time because he said it’s hard to know what might be available.
“Because of the playoffs, guys become available that you didn’t think would be available,” he explained. “We didn’t think that LeBron would leave Cleveland, but he’s gone. Chris Bosh — gone. You don’t know until a season’s over if franchises are disgruntled with their key superstars or all-star players.
“What if Miami loses in the first round? They might say ‘this three thing isn’t working,’ and my first reaction would be to tell them ‘give me Dwyane Wade.’ Anything could change. Russell Westbrook, if they lose in the first round, the Thunder could say ‘this point guard thing isn’t working.’ The playoffs always dictate who’s available.”
Smith didn’t think too much about Magic team leaders Dwight Howard and Jameer Nelson not joining a team huddle last week.
“I know that there’s 82 games and that some things become monotonous. When you’re around people that much, there are going to be some things that rub people the wrong way,” he explained. “If you don’t realize that as a general manager or a coach, then you’re really missing the boat, because things are going to happen over a long season.”
Smith couldn’t recall not being in a huddle, but he recalls not paying attention during a huddle at times. He likens the situation to having a roommate with whom you become irritated from being around so much.
I asked The Jet how he would handle Andrew Bynum, who reportedly has become a headache for the Lakers, and who is being defiant about shooting threes.
“If I were coaching, the first thing I would do is have a conversation with the player. We’re not going to have a media talk — I’m going to talk to you,” Smith said.
He would also want Bynum to stop bombing long range shots.
“I don’t need him to shoot threes. Why is he experimenting? We know how great he is in the post, why is he shooting threes?”
TNT’s “Inside the NBA” show added Shaquille O’Neal to the mix this season, so I asked him how that’s working out.
“It’s been great,” Smith said. “Shaq is so closely removed from the league, so he’s got an information pool that Chuck and I don’t have. He’s played with the guys that are playing right now, and that’s going to be valuable over the course of the next few years.”
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