TNT analyst Kenny Smith considers Miami Heat NBA title favorites
To tackle some questions regarding the Lakers’ 2012-13 season, I talked with TNT NBA analyst Kenny Smith, who has been recently promoting the video game, NBA Baller Beats. This is the first in a two-part interview with Smith.
The Lakers’ off-season signings have been huge with the acquisitions of Dwight Howard and Steve Nash, the signings of Antawn Jamison and Jodie Meeks and the re-signing Jordan Hill and Devin Ebanks. With these moves, how do the Lakers stand relative to the rest of the league? They won’t win a game (laughs). Arguably, they have four guys who are at the top 5 of their position. Any time you can put that kind of talent together, basketball being a game of mistakes, is it eliminates mistakes. Even as great as Oklahoma City has been, the Lakers probably have an advantage. They’re veteran guys. They aren’t guys who are being thrown together and being in an intense situation for the first time.
Mitch Kupchak has done a great job in bringing together talent. It’s probably the most talented team in the West. Whether that’s enough for a championship? We don’t know. But this is the most talented team in the West. Last year, they weren’t.
How will the Lakers fare against Miami? I never compare much East to West, because you have to get all the way to there. But I think Miami has three guys who are the top five in their position. I don’t think they’re nervous about what happened with the Lakers. They kept an eye on it for sure. But they have a better chance and have done it now. I would say Miami is still the team to beat.
What challenges do the Lakers face in winning a title? Injuries. They’re older. They’re great players, but they’re not the Miami Heat, where those guys are in the middle of their prime. These guys are at the end of their prime, with the exception of Dwight Howard. But all of these guys have plateaued.
That veteran experience that you cited, where does that give the Lakers an advantage in how they’ll execute against the Thunder? Steve Nash is a guy who makes shots easier. This is the first time Kobe doesn’t have to play as a point guard. He’ll get to play as a shooting guard. His responsibility his entire career has involved handling the basketball too much. I don’t think anyone on a consistent basis got him easy shots. This is the first time they’ll actually run pick and roll. When the Lakers run pick and roll, it was with Kobe Bryant. This will be the first time they can say, ‘Kobe, go on the other side of the floor and not be part of it’ on a consistent basis.
With the talent the Lakers have, how do they make sure as a unit they’re the most efficient? That’s Steve Nash’s job, which has been his job his whole career. The point guard’s job is to make sure everything runs smoothly and that the ball is distributed throughout the team to the right people at the right times. That’s why he’s a two-time MVP. It’s not because of his great athleticism. It’s not because of his great shooting abilities. It’s because of his great understanding on how to get everyone involved. That’s why he’s often led the league in assists. To me, Mike Brown has an easy job because he has a guy who already knows how to manage that.
Mike obviously was dealt a tough hand last year with a limited training camp, dealing with new players and being new. How would you compare that to this year’s challenge in having to manage such a high level of talent? He was replacing Phil Jackson with Phil Jackson’s team. No one is going to look at this team as a Phil Jackson team. Mike had to run the triangle offense at times because those guys would go to it instinctively. Dwight Howard has never run the triangle. Steve Nash never ran a triangle offense. Jamison and Meeks have never run a triangle offense. So Mike has a team that doesn’t fall on the crutch of Phil Jackson.
I don’t think training camp [last year] was an issue. I think the personnel was. If he had this personnel last year and didn’t have a training camp, he wouldn’t have been complaining. He can implement the system he wants in these guys’ heads and they don’t already have something in their mind that works and won championships for them.
With Howard, how does he go about having a championship mind-set, rehabbing the reputation he had with Orlando and dealing with the possibility he won’t be the No. 1 option? I do think he’s the No. 1 option. I don’t think he has to change anything. I’m from the school of thought that great players don’t change what they do. You implement what they do. Guys who can’t play, you have to create a system for them and opportunities for them. Guys with great players, they are the system (laughs). Dwight Howard commands a double team. So now there is an offense once they get double teamed. What are they going to do?
With you saying Howard should be the No. 1 option, is there a particular pecking order you think the Lakers should follow? Dwight is the No. 1 offensive option, but I don’t know about a pecking order. To me, what makes a great team is no one thinks their role is less important. I don’t think Steve Nash should think his role is less important because he’s leading the team in assists and not scoring. I don’t think Dwight should think he has a lesser role because he leads the team in rebounds, but maybe not scoring. But in terms of establishing the inside presence, that’s going to be done through Dwight Howard. That’s what typically wins basketball games.
Given the veteran makeup of this team, do you envision the Lakers having that mind-set in which they’re not concerned about a pecking order and concerned with just running the offense correctly? Having the ball inside will have the offense run smoothly. Kobe has played with Shaq before. Their issue was only off the court, not on the court. They won championships and looked great together. It was just guys not getting along together off the court. Being in L.A., we heard about it. If they were playing in Cleveland, we probably wouldn’t have heard as much about it.
What do you make of the Lakers reportedly using the Princeton offense, mixed with pick and roll? I’ll believe it when I see it. I don’t know how many NCAA championships Princeton won. I don’t know if I’d go to that offense. I think they’re saying they want to share the ball and that’s why they’re calling it that. But I don’t know how many championships Princeton won.
So you are of the mind that they just should run pick and roll and they’ll be fine? (laughs). I’m doing the North Carolina, Duke and Kentucky offense. Those are the teams that won a lot of championships in the NCAA.
How do you see Pau Gasol’s role evolving from last year’s? I think he’ll have one of his best years because the expectation level will be changed. The expectation of what he was supposed to do and how much he was supposed to do, I thought was a little bit unwarranted. Now, 17 points for him now will be a killer 17. I think 17 was a disappointment last year, at times.
In what respects were the expectations unwarranted? I don’t think he’s ever been a guy who will get 25 or 30 points a night. I thought the expectation at times from the Lakers fans was for him to dominate and have a low-post presence. That’s not really his thing. If you compare it to boxing, he’s not Mike Tyson where he will knock you out with one punch. He’s going to jab you, do different things and counterpunch you. Sometimes you need a knockout punch and he’s not a knockout punch. He’s not going to end the game with 45.
What will Metta World Peace’s role be? Metta is a guy who understands. If you ask him, would you rather have 40 points or hold your man scoreless, he will say, “Hold my guy scoreless” every time. So he’ll have to chase guys around. Gasol doesn’t have to chase the [power forward] guys. Put Ron [Artest] on him. Or he can guard the other small forwards and shooting guard so Kobe doesn’t have to guard them. Ron’s always going to guard LeBron [James] when he comes to town. It’s a great fit for Metta.
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