Stephen A. Smith badly misses mark with wild rant on Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Nets
Stephen A. Smith is not one to shy away from his feelings. He went in on Kevin Durant in his latest appearance on ESPN’s First Take on Wednesday after the Brooklyn Nets got stomped by the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday night. He didn’t pull any punches against Kyrie Irving, James Harden or the Nets faithful either. Even the Borough of Brooklyn found themselves under the bus, presumably some sweet folks who don’t even watch basketball. More on that later.
Here is where fans of the show might miss former co-host Max Kellerman, who often used to push back against some of Smith’s more zany hot takes. Kendrick Perkins did weigh in:
— Kendrick Perkins (@KendrickPerkins) November 17, 2021
Unpacking Stephen A. Smith’s latest Nets rant
1) Smith admits he’s a Knicks fan, which frames this entire rant
“You’re all alone, you have no help,” argues Smith. “And more importantly than anything else, you made the wrong decision by going to Brooklyn. And I’m not talking about this as a Knicks fan. I’m talking about this as New York … Knicks first, New York always … I’m always rooting for New York and I’ll always root for Brooklyn with the exception of when they go against the Knicks. Kevin Durant made the wrong decision by going to the New York Knicks. He’s going to rue the day he did that.”
Smith begins by trying to gain credibility in being upfront with an allegiance to his beloved Knicks. It was widely reported that Durant considered joining the Knicks back in 2019. KD wanted New York. But it was Kyrie Irving (originally from New Jersey) who pushed for the Nets as opposed to a team run by James Dolan. At least that’s how the credible rumors go.
But as you can see, Smith even accidentally says Durant will rue the day he joined the Knicks (he didn’t). And so it’s pretty clear (as he has made no secret over the years) Smith is a big-time Knicks fan. And by making that little slip, he reminds First Take viewers he’s seeing this with blue and orange glasses on.
Of course he’s leaping at the chance to say he blew it by snubbing his favorite team for the Nets. Let’s call this a premature victory lap.
2) Smith calls out James Harden
“Because you got a guy in James Harden,” says Smith. “You ain’t James Harden right now, averaging 19 points per game. … You are a superstar and you are not looking like one.”
The next point SAS makes is that James Harden isn’t playing up to his standards through 15 games. Nobody on the Nets, least of all Harden himself, would say The Beard is playing up to his MVP-caliber standards. But it’s kind of a weird point to make for why KD made a mistake joining the Nets in 2019, isn’t it?
Was his mistake going to Brooklyn, a team that could afford two max contracts AND ALSO HAD THE TRADE GOODS TO LAND A THIRD ALL-NBA-CALIBER PLAYER? I doubt anyone even considered at the time that the Nets might be able to outbid the entire league for a suddenly available James Harden in 2020 without parting with Durant or Irving. If KD knew that, he might have wanted to join the Nets all the more.
It seems like a decision he’d make 100 times out of 100 and live with the results. Things don’t always work out but it’s easier to sleep at night when you made the right decision.
But Smith is making the case that KD should regret going to the Nets because they were … “dumb” enough to bring in a dude who was an MVP candidate for the prior 10 years? We love Jarrett Allen around here also, Stephen, but c’mon.
3) SAS claims Kyrie Irving betrayed KD
“KD, you made the wrong decision, bro. And here’s why. Because you trusted Kyrie. Kyrie Irving betrayed you,” says SAS.
There are a lot of things we can say about Kyrie Irving. He’s a bit eccentric. As Smith has said in the past, he’s even a “bit bizarre.” But to suggest Durant should regret going to a team with Irving because of the way life played out is pretty silly. He would basically have had to predict a looming global pandemic, that only a couple of cities would impose vaccination mandates, New York would be one, and that Irving wouldn’t want a vaccine. Kick yourself for not seeing that, KD. You should have known better.
He’d also have to feel Irving’s decision not to take a vaccine was a personal affront to Durant himself.
If you wanted to argue that something was bound to come up with Irving, who missed time a season ago due to “personal reasons,” that could have been a good point. Smith might have suggested joining Jimmy Butler in Miami, Harden and Chris Paul in Houston, or Joel Embiid in Philadelphia. But none of those valid points were made.
4) Smith mentions the fans were cheering Stephen Curry in Brooklyn
“They were cheering for Steph Curry in Brooklyn. … They were chanting ‘MVP’ in the Barclays Center and it wasn’t for the dude averaging 28.9 points a game or the Brooklyn Nets. It was for Steph Curry.”
First of all, Nets fans give Durant MVP chants basically every night. Everyone who watches Nets home games knows this. Second of all, Curry is arguably the most fun player in the sport to watch. What does it signal to me? There’s a bunch of Northern California transplants and frontrunners who hit up the game, not that the Brooklyn die-hard fans decided to quit and cheer for other team.
I’m guessing Curry has heard some MVP chants at Madison Square Garden in the past, too. We’ll have to see if Curry gets any love from the Garden faithful when the Warriors play at the Knicks on Dec. 14. Maybe then Smith will have an apology for KD?
If we’re really going down this road, should Joel Embiid be judging his own Sixers fans for doing this? Perhaps so:
MVP chants in Philly.
Steph Curry is SPECIAL 🙌pic.twitter.com/Qt9IwqC7V4
— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPointsApp) April 20, 2021
5) Smith says Irving is a disgrace and Steph is better and he hopes Irving gets … cut?
“… and then you juxtapose Steph Curry compared to Kyrie Irving and what do you have?” asks Smith. “You got Kyrie Irving who is a showstopper, Kyrie Irving who is a superstar talent, he is box office and can’t be trusted. I actually hope Kyrie Irving gets cut! I mean this is just a disgrace to sit up there and watch this team last night look like straight garbage.”
I’m not sure where to begin here. No matter what your views are on Irving and his anti-vaccination mandate stance, it’s difficult to argue this is a trust issue. There is no way that in 2019 when KD made this decision to sign with the Nets that Irving could have promised him, “Hey, listen bud, no matter what happens from injuries to pandemics, I’ll always get vaccinated and be there for you.”
And you don’t have to juxtapose Curry with Irving. Durant might even admit to us Steph is better. KD did not leave Golden State because he thought they weren’t good enough. If anything, he might have left because they were too good and he simply wanted a new challenge.
When Smith says he hopes Irving gets cut, it brings us back full circle to where he started. He claims to be a fan of New York and roots for the Nets unless they’re playing the Knicks. But there is really no scenario where it’s better for the Nets if Irving were cut. If you’re rooting for a Brooklyn championship, you’re rooting for Irving to get vaccinated or for him to be traded. Maybe an unlikely rule change by the city of New York. But rooting for him to be cut simply suggests Smith isn’t the New York fan he claims to be.
6) Finally, Smith ends with a rant against Brooklyn fans and the borough of Brooklyn
“Every respectable team you go up against waxes your behind and why? Because KD don’t have no help. You left there all alone. You ain’t got a culture. You don’t even have a damn fan base…. Brooklyn the Borough of Brooklyn should be ashamed of yourself….KD shouldn’t even want to be there. He shouldn’t have even wasted his services being there.”
It seems weird to put that on the borough of Brooklyn. The Nets were blown out. Their third-best player is out of the lineup. Their second-best player is ramping up from a Grade 2 hamstring issue that limited him all summer. Harden is still adjusting to new rules. The Nets do have a culture. But it’s just not the culture Smith wanted for KD, which is the blue and orange one. And it’s hard not to see that as the lens with which he views this whole thing. The Warriors are playing like champions and they sucked some of the life out of that stadium.
On the whole, it’s possible Durant would admit things haven’t gone as smoothly as he’d hoped. But it’s hard to imagine he would beat himself up for not envisioning the way life played out to the point he’d regret this decision. If he did wish he could turn back the clock, I’m thinking he would have went someplace like Miami before joining the Knicks.