"...this pick makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, all due respect to Charlie Villanueva, he's gonna be a solid pro but you already have Chris Bosh. But when you think about the fact that this team got hoodwinked when you traded away Vince Carter virtually for nothing AGAIN we sit here today wondering what the, ON EARTH is Rob Babcock doing?!"
Word for word this is what came out of Steven A. Smith's mouth that day after the Toronto Raptors made Charlie Villanueva the seventh overall pick out of the University of Connecticut. After the selection, yes, many Raptor fans were in shock as Villanueva was slated to go a few picks later in the draft. However regardless of the surprise at the selection, what most fans were upset about was the way in which Smith lambasted than-GM Rob Babcock. For even though Babcock had indeed made a questionable decision in trading Vince Carter, Smith's attack was seen as not only one against our GM, but one against the entire organization. It's probably not even a stretch to say that the attack was also taken personally by the city and even the country itself as the NBA's sole Canadian franchise.
And this is what Steven A. Smith does not understand.
For all his justification of what he said, as he claims that he never insulted Villanueva himself, by subjecting the franchise to a nationally televised tirade, he insured himself a place in Raptors' fans' hearts as Public Enemy number 1 after perhaps Vince Carter.
Yes, Smith stated that Villanueva would be a good pro...but as CV Smooth pointed out correctly on his big night, the night he'd dreamed about playing basketball as a child, did he really want to hear someone viewed as being part of the nation's biggest sports authority discredit and mock the very franchise he was about to become a part of?
The whole incident reeks of unprofessionalism and one wonders what sanctions may have been imposed if Smith had made similar comments concerning the Lakers, the Knicks, or any of the league's other revered "large market" clubs. In fact the whole incident made me wonder if it had really mattered who Toronto had picked. The more I re-watch the clip the more I really believe that Smith's agenda at the draft was to find one team to rant on for controversy sake and to revile them no matter what. If Babcock had selected Frye would we have heard Smith rant that Frye was too thin to play centre and once again too similar in game to Bosh? Ike Diogu, drafted two spots after Villanueva would have incurred the same wrath in all probability. Sean May, Yaroslav Korolev, Fran Vasquez, Andrew Bynum, Rashad McCants...think any of these names would have appeased Smith?
The interesting thing from Smith's interview was that he repeatedly indicates that in fact it was Sam Mitchell who wanted to draft Villanueva while Babcock's pick all along was Antoine Wright. This of course is just wrong as we distinctly recall Babcock being disappointed in Wright's workout and we even reported on his underwhelming results from the pre-draft camp's physical examinations. In fact shortly after Smith's interview with The Score, Sam Mitchell denied Smith's allegations that Villanueva was not Babcock's choice stating that "Charlie Villanueva would not be a Toronto Raptor if Rob Babcock did not draft him."
So where does that leave Mr. Smith?
His analysis of the Raptors' selection was just plain wrong and now he's tried to back it up using unfounded and simply false information. Even after Villanueva himself was interviewed and basically stated that Smith was wrong in terms of his fit with Bosh and the club, Smith still refuses to admit he was wrong! He claims he was lead to believe by Rob Babcock that they would use Charlie at the power forward and center spots and that this would never work.
Oh to be wrong again. After the draft Babcock stated that he felt Charlie could play numerous positions for the club making him a great, versatile addition. He even name-dropped Rasheed Wallace, Ben Wallace and Antonio McDyess, all "power forwards" who at times had been used by the Detroit Pistons successfully together. I don't think any Toronto fan believed that Villanueva would be exclusively used at the 4 and 5 spots and in fact here at the HQ I remember seeing his ability to play the 3 as a possible solution to the distress we initially felt at Villanueva's selection over Granger. Mitchell of course after the draft went further than Babcock saying that the team just needed players; individuals who could come in and help the team in multiple ways, and he felt that both Joey Graham and Villanueva could do this.
When asked if he would now advocate the selection Smith stated that he would, simply because of the way in which Bryan Colangelo and Sam Mitchell are using the former UConn prospect now; namely at the small forward position. This statement is even more ridiculous than some of his previous ones as Charlie began playing the small forward position after Jalen Rose was dealt, almost A MONTH before Colangelo even arrived on the scene! For all we know, Colangelo may not view Villanueva as a 3 in this league and look to make changes next season!
One could go on at length concerning the flaws in Smith's "expert opinion" (hey, if he knew that much about what he was talking about, wouldn't there be some interest in him as a GM? Imagine that? And you thought Isiah was scary...) but what's most obvious from the Score's interview is just how pompous this individual is. For Steven A. Smith basketball is simply a way for him to be heard. He could care less about giving an "expert" analysis in attempt to give the masses a greater understanding of the game and in another lifetime would be just as likely to become a minister, auctioneer or some other occupation so long as his voice rang out loud and clear.
If he was at all logical and understanding of the error in his ways he wouldn't offer up hypocritical statements such as "I don't mean to disrespect the man, I just don't think he did a good job as the GM of the Toronto Raptors" when discussing Rob Babcock. Um Steven, if calling someone out on national television saying that they have "no idea what they're doing" and that their replacement is "a zillion times better" isn't disrespecting him, what exactly is? (And as a sidenote Steven - Colangelo with an "impeccable record?" Can you than explain what impeccable means in relation to trading Jason Kidd for Stephon Marbury? What about originally dealing Nash for Pat Garrity Martin Muursepp and Bubba Wells? Point is that NO GM has an "impeccable record" by definition.)
And don't give us this "my other panellists agreed with me" line. Both Jay Bilas and Dick Vitale criticized the Raptors' selection of Villanueva not because of position issues and Rob Babcock's incompetence, but because of Charlie himself! Due to their experience watching CV Smooth in college, both commentators were concerned that Villanueva's lackadaisical play and attitude made him a reach for the Raptors at number 7. Vitale this past college season even apologized and admitted to being incorrect in his analysis on many occasions, something Smith is evidently unable to do instead harping on the fact that he's been a journalist for 12 years and one of only 20 African American sports' journalists in the US to boot. While this is indeed an accomplishment to be proud of, I fail to see how this vindicates his analysis or supports any of his arguments.
Finally if you've seen the interview maybe that's what you notice the most. On at least four occasions Smith points out that Babcock has been fired further proving his point. What point? Is his point that Villanueva was the wrong pick? If so, wouldn't Villanueva have been traded instead of Babcock being fired? Or at least playing Hoffa-esque minutes? Does he even have a point?
And that's where we'll leave this issue. After watching Smith spend the entire interview with the Score in a flawed attempt to keep his chest "puffed out," it's quite obvious that without his loud and obnoxious style, he would be just another run-of-the-mill armchair quarterback. As Smith stated in his interview "you're supposed to know who to listen to and who not to waste your time with." Well Steven, I think Raptor fans will be heeding your advice at this year's draft and forever more.