If there was a Mount Rushmore of NBA Writers, I’m not exactly sure who would all be on it. What I can tell you, though, is that one name that would probably get some consideration (in some circles) is Sam Smith. The former Chicago Tribune writer who covered the Bulls beat in the MJ era and currently writes exclusively for the Chicago Bulls’ official site (Bulls.com) probably earned his most fame for writing his essential must-read book “The Jordan Rules”.
I cannot think of another book that influenced my love of the NBA more than this book. In a few hundred pages, Sam Smith tears down the curtain between fan and player and gives anyone who will dare to look a peek inside the world of the NBA athlete. The book followed the 1990-91 Chicago Bulls team as they overcome no shortage of inner turmoil and jealousy in order to rise above and win their first NBA Championship. But most importantly, Smith writes the book in such a way that we can’t help but feel like we’re the ones inside the locker room with the team. The book is a masterpiece and it has cemented Smith’s place in the pantheon of great NBA writers.
Unfortunately, it seems these days Smith is more interested in ruffling feathers and spreading (seemingly) baseless rumors. In particular, he loves to take shots at LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Last year, he was one of the loudest voices complaining about LeBron’s “star treatment” he was getting from the officials. It was Smith who first reported that some people in the NBA think Durant is better than LeBron. That statement alone isn’t a shot at LeBron per se, but it was the way in which Smith wrote it that irked many Cavs fans, including the line:
“It’s being whispered now among NBA types because, I believe, under a secret NBA/ESPN provision you are not permitted to say aloud anything that might be interpreted to suggest LeBron James isn’t the best thing to ever happen in anyone’s life.”
The latest rumor, or theory, or whatever Smith wants to classify it as, has Larry Hughes possibly finding his way back to the Cavaliers. In an article in which he ranks this year’s rookie class, Smith had the following to say in one of the blurbs at the end of the story:
Larry Hughes was 0-for-17 in the preseason before Sunday’s game against Maccabi Tel Aviv. Hughes was one of three Sunday in eight minutes in the game which was delayed when the Maccabi coach was ejected and refused to leave even after a rabbi came out of the stands to ask the referees to allow the coach to stay. Yes, only in New York.
Hughes, meanwhile, said he’s not worried since, “I’m a proven scorer in this league.” When did we hear that one? Hughes also offered that he doubts former teammate LeBron James will leave the Cavs and for James it’s not about playing in a big market like New York. The Knicks had to love that. The speculation in New York is the Knicks will try to buy out Hughes, who then could return to the Cavs with the Cavs uncertain about the status of Delonte West.
My only question for Sam would be ‘Who, exactly, is speculating Larry Hughes could return to Cleveland’? “Speculation in New York.” I’m not even sure what that means. Is he referring to NY Sports Writers? The Knicks front office? Larry Hughes himself? Whatever the case, the speculation in Cleveland is that any thought of Larry Hughes coming back to the Cavaliers is a complete joke.
If Danny Ferry were to give a candid interview in which he let his guard down, I’m positive he would rank the Larry Hughes contract as one of the biggest mistakes of his tenure. Possibly even the #1 mistake. It was Ferry’s first job as a GM, and the first big move he got to make. So he signed Larry Hughes. It’s not just the fact that he signed him that was so bad. But he signed him to so much money ($70 million) and for so many years (5 years). It was the single most defining contract of Ferry’s time as Cavalier GM, as it has completely handcuffed him for so long and prevented Ferry from making any significant moves for 2.5 years. In a way, it’s as if Danny Ferry has spent the entirety of his GM term trying to atone for that one summer. So I wouldn’t expect Hughes to walk through those doors at any time.
And what role would Hughes serve on this team anyway? Is the demand for a player who can’t shoot and only plays defense when his offensive game is working (which, as I said, is pretty much never) really that high? There’s no question Hughes has the quickness to defend the kind of speedy PGs who sometimes give the Cavaliers problems, and the Cavaliers could certainly use another PG. But the last time the Cavaliers tried to ask Hughes to play PG (a lineup which eventually led the Cavaliers to their first NBA Finals appearance), Hughes raised holy hell and he had his buddy Gilbert Arenas speaking out against the Cavaliers on his behalf, stating that the Cavaliers were mis-using Hughes. So no, I don’t think the Cavaliers will have a whole heck of a lot of interest in welcoming Little Larry Hughes back with open arms.
Look, Sam Smith knows what he’s doing. He’s always had a bit of a snarky, sarcastic, tongue-in-cheek approach to his writing. For example, last December when writing about the NBA at the first quarter checkpoint, he said of the Cavaliers:
“LeBron James is doing his Michael Jordan thing, lifting a team of role players and adding committed defense to his game, finally. Wonder if he’s planning to sign with the Thunder near his financial mentor Warren Buffett.”
I doubt Smith really believes Larry Hughes is going back to Cleveland any more than he believes LeBron is going to sign with the Thunder (although, can you imagine what a LeBron/Durant pairing would look like?). He’s not afraid to say outlandish things to get people talking. But when the line about Larry Hughes coming back to Cleveland shows up as the first link on the HoopsHype.com Rumors Page, well, that’s when I have a bit of a problem with it. There are plenty of people who will read that and think it’s a real story.
There are at least several other examples of crazy/insane things that Smith has written in recent years that I could use to further bolster this point, but I’ll spare you the details. The bottom line is simple, really. If you hear rumors that Larry Hughes is going to be bought out in New York and is then going to come back to the Cavaliers, I wouldn’t believe the hype if I were you. Even if people insist it must be true because Sam Smith is the one who wrote it.
(Photo Credit: Dan Hanson, 2007)