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Smith and Kerr Watch, Wonder if They'll Play

May 25, 2003|Chris Sheridan | Associated Press

DALLAS — Rolando Blackman has some advice for Steve Smith and Steve Kerr, the two shooting guards for San Antonio who have sat unused most of the postseason.

Blackman, an assistant coach for the Dallas Mavericks, says Smith and Kerr should stay ready -- for the good of their team and their self-respect.

Blackman was in a similar situation during the 1994 playoffs when he was in the twilight of his career and at the end of the New York Knicks' bench.

During Game 7 of the NBA Finals against Houston, John Starks kept missing shots, going 0 for 11 from three-point range and two for 18 overall. Blackman kept looking at New York coach Pat Riley, trying to catch his eye.

"I was ready, and I'm able to sleep at night these days because I know in my heart that I was ready that night," Blackman said.

Blackman, whose uniform No. 22 is retired in Dallas, had waited 13 years to get his chance in the finals.

But he never got the call from Riley, and the Rockets defeated the Knicks to win the championship. Riley has since said that one of his greatest coaching regrets was playing Starks the entire 48 minutes and not giving Blackman a chance.

Smith's career resembles Blackman's more than Kerr's does. Smith is making his 11th playoff appearance without having reached the finals. But, like Kerr, Smith is watching the Western Conference finals from the bench.

Game 4 of the best-of-seven series is tonight.

Smith, 34, is a former Olympian and All-Star who never averaged less than 11.6 points until this season. Kerr, 37, has been a member of four NBA championship teams.

Neither player expects to have much of a role the rest of the postseason.

"You got here playing certain people, and those are the people you play," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "To just go play people who haven't played in months, it just doesn't make a lot of sense."

Smith, making $9.9 million, began the year as San Antonio's starting shooting guard but pulled a groin muscle in the season-opener against the Lakers.

Smith regained his starting spot for 15 games after returning Nov. 16, but he was replaced by Stephen Jackson after shooting 6-for-22 in a span of three games. Jackson has remained the starter since, and Manu Ginobili has been the primary backup.

Jackson left Friday morning's shootaround early because of a sore throat.

"I haven't made a big thing out of this, which I could have given what I've accomplished," said Smith, who tries to keep himself sharp by shooting 200-300 jumpers per day. "If the time comes, I'm ready. That's why I've been in the league 12 years."

Smith plans to play next season, but he's not sure where. If he gets a championship ring with San Antonio, he'll be more willing to take a job with a middle-rung team that will be able to give him playing time.

Kerr also is in the final year of his contract, and the 15-year veteran has come to realize that these most likely are his final days in the NBA uniform. He has been used sparingly in three playoff games, missing all three of his shots.

"It's probably one of the hardest things I've ever done, to stay ready over six weeks when I've played 10 minutes total in the playoffs," said Kerr, who keeps sharp by doing intense 20-minute bursts of running, shooting and one-on-one drills.

Kerr knows Popovich is going to stick with the players who have been playing. But he also remembers how backup guard Jaren Jackson went from no role to a contributor during the 1999 playoffs when both were with the Spurs.

"It's hard. You're at the highest level of play, but you're not really part of the action," said Kerr, who plans to stay in the NBA as a coach or broadcaster.

"It's a slap in the face that the dream is about to end, but this is the strongest sign yet that it's time to move on."

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