Ahead of Game 1 of the NBA Finals between the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers, ESPN's Stephen A. Smith has a message for LeBron James: Don't sign with the Sixers.
"I would hate for him to come to Philadelphia," Smith said of LeBron in a conversation with the Inquirer and Daily News. "Go to California, have a lifestyle and quality of life change. If you go to Philadelphia, you're clearly being a mercenary."
Just when you thought it was impossible, viewers are about to see even more of Smith, the outspoken host of ESPN's First Take. Starting Thursday night, Smith will host a special SportsCenter starting at 7 p.m. before every NBA finals game. Though his guests have yet to be determined, Smith will be joined on SportsCenter by ESPN NBA analysts Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson and Pardon the Interruption host Michael Wilbon, with whom he shared many entertaining sparring matches during the conference finals (often as new 6 p.m. SportsCenter host and Temple alum Kevin Negandhi chuckled back in the studio).
Smith's suggestion that LeBron avoid Philadelphia came before The Ringer's report that Bryan Colangelo, the team's president of basketball operations, allegedly criticized his players and divulged sensitive medical information using anonymous Twitter accounts. According to my colleague Sarah Todd, three different current NBA players not on the Sixers roster said it would be hard to trust Colangelo, even if he ends up not being responsible for the Twitter accounts.
On First Take on Tuesday, Smith said he spoke to Colangelo, who emphatically denied he sent out tweets using the anonymous Twitter accounts.
"My takeaway is to give the president of the Sixers the benefit of the doubt," Smith said. "I've covered the league over two decades, I've known Bryan Colangelo for a long, long time. He's not someone who goes on and off the record criticizing his contemporaries or his predecessors."
Smith said if James decides to leave Cleveland again, there are only three destinations that would make sense: the Miami Heat, the Los Angeles Lakers or the Houston Rockets, who came one game shy of ending up in the NBA finals.
But if Houston wants James, the team needs to resign Chris Paul, Smith said.
Paul has called LeBron "one of my best friends. We talk every week, all the time." According to New York Times basketball scribe Mark Stein, Paul is already begun trying to recruit this year's most coveted free agent to Houston.
"Houston is knocking on the door of a championship, and obviously they need [James] to get them over the hump against Golden State," Smith said.
It's worth pointing out that the discussion where James will end up is arguably more interesting than his team's NBA finals matchup against the Warriors. Nearly everyone (including Vegas oddsmakers) predicts the Warriors will walk away with yet another NBA championship.
"I thought Boston would have been a more entertaining Finals… it would have been nice to see something new," Smith said, pointing out instead it's basically the LeBron show, and the series will come down to whether or not he can match up against the Warriors' three stars — Klay Thompson, Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant.
"Last year, when LeBron averaged to triple double in the finals, everybody forgets that Kevin Durant averaged [35 points per game] and [8 rebounds per game] on better than 53 percent shooting. I mean, he was NBA finals MVP for a reason," Smith said. "It's hard to imagine LeBron is going to have the help that he needs."
Smith will certainly be busy over the next few weeks. In addition to the new SportsCenter duties, he will continue to host both First Take and his two-hour syndicated radio show, which airs in Philadelphia on ESPN affiliate WTEL 610 AM. But will he tone down his outspoken tone and opinionated nature to fit the mold of a traditional SportsCenter host?
"There are many dimensions to Stephen A.," Smith said, citing his history as a NBA beat reporter and columnist for the Inquirer. "I'm going to put on my journalistic hat. Of course, there'll be some opinions inserted here and there… but I'm not going to lie to you. To me, it's about me."