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Good businesses have bosses who occasionally pull an employee aside and say, “Hey, you’re awesome, but you need a break. Take a long weekend.” Stephen A. Smith needs that kind of boss at ESPN to keep him from talking crazy about the NBA playoffs and Kawhi Leonard.

Maybe Stephen A. is having LeBron withdrawal. Maybe the reception on his TV is fuzzy and he’s not seeing what the rest of the country sees. Whatever the case, telling the Los Angeles Clippers to give up on Leonard is nuts.

The Clippers are in a bind, but it’s not like they’re toast

Kawhi Leonard sat out 20 regular-season games but has produced strong performances in the 2021 NBA Western Conference playoffs. | Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

ESPN talk-show host Stephen A. Smith is beside himself that the LA Clippers are in an 0-2 hole against the Utah Jazz in the NBA Western Conference semifinals. The fact that the Clippers took the Jazz deep into the fourth quarter of two games in Salt Lake City is immaterial to him.

Ditto for the fact that the Jazz posted the best record in the NBA during the regular season, score at a prolific pace against just about everybody, and crash the boards hard.

All Smith can see is the final scores from two games that have left the Clippers in the same predicament that they were in before coming back to beat the Dallas Mavericks in seven games in the first round.

Never mind that they won the Dallas series by grinding out three road victories and that the series against Utah moves to Los Angeles on Saturday for Game 3.

All Smith sees is failure by LeBron. Uh, sorry, we meant to say Leonard.

ESPN’s Smith doesn’t think much of Leonard

ESPN’s Smith watched Donovan Mitchell dazzle in the first two games of the series and said he stacks up just fine in comparisons to John Stockton and Karl Malone.

“That’s the best player in the history of the Jazz organization right there,” Smith said.

His next major observation on the Clippers-Jazz series in a conversation with co-host Max Kellerman was that the short- to medium-term future of the franchise is riding on whether LA can capture the NBA championship.

“If Donovan Mitchell takes your Clippers out, guess what, Max? Let Kawhi go,” Smith said. “Let him walk. Let him exercise his option and go elsewhere. … With LeBron James home, you’re talking about this is arguably the Clippers’ best chance to win the ‘chip.’ If last year wasn’t, certainly this year was. And if you don’t get it done now, you’re talking about retooling, rebuilding, trying to establish a culture.

“As big-time as Kawhi Leonard is, you can’t establish a culture with a dude that you’ve got to exercise load management so excessively.”

The flaws in Smith’s argument are numerous

Smith might want to reconsider his take on Leonard. His screed on First Take leaves the ESPN personality subject to second-guessing on too many fronts.

  • LeBron James and the Lakers ceased being the Clippers’ real roadblock the moment the Brooklyn Nets assembled an all-star team.
  • Load-management is a regular-season phenomenon. The Clippers were above .500 when Leonard sat, and he doesn’t take nights off during the playoffs. His postseason numbers this year are better across the board than in the regular season.
  • Strictly speaking, the Clippers can’t jettison Leonard. The 29-year-old forward holds the option for the 2021-22 season. Leonard was born in LA and attended San Diego State. He left the world-champion Toronto Raptors to come west. Unless the Lakers make a move on him, Leonard is unlikely to be keen about leaving.

Finally, should the Clippers really retool/rebuild if they join 25 other NBA teams in not making it to a conference final? They’ve already gone a round deeper into the playoffs than they did a year ago. Is this a team that you would want to begin tearing down by giving up on one of the NBA’s 15 or 20 best players?

Smith is assigning blame to the guy averaging 29.9 points and shooting 58.2% in the playoffs. We can’t wait to hear his thoughts on Paul George, who has shot better than 50% from the field in eight of his last 39 playoff games.

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