Former La Salle star Smith a developing situation

Posted: April 02, 2007

He was a two-time Atlantic 10 Conference Player of the Year who went untouched in the NBA draft. He was a muscular 6-8 rookie forward who played impressively in two summer pro leagues but couldn't get a financial guarantee anywhere. He was a hometown kid who made the 76ers' roster this season but couldn't get past the date on which his minimum contract would have been guaranteed.

"How many players in the NBA had obstacles they had to get over?" Steven Smith was asking before the Anaheim Arsenal faced the Los Angeles D-Fenders yesterday. "I can't harp on that. I love to play. If coming here will help me get there, that's what I'm doing."

"Here" is the Arsenal, in the NBA Development League. "Here" is where Smith, after taking some time to familiarize himself with new surroundings and earn the confidence of interim coach Reggie Geary, had put together eight straight performances of at least 20 points, including three of at least 30.

Smith, from Northeast High and La Salle University, went to training camp with the Sixers with no promises other than that he would get an opportunity. He made eight cameo appearances for a total of 28 minutes before being waived. The Sixers had made a 2-year commitment to Bobby Jones, a second-round pick acquired from Minnesota, and seemed to see more in rookie forward Ivan McFarlin, who they seemed to feel could contribute more readily.

(For the record, Jones has barely gotten on the court, and McFarlin - included in the trade that sent Allen Iverson to Denver - landed with a pro team in Turkey. When the Sixers needed a 10-day prospect, they reached out for 6-9 Louis Amundson, who since has signed for the remainder of the season.)

Smith eventually agreed to sign with Anaheim, at first playing spot minutes.

"I kind of expected it," he said. "I didn't like it, but I tried to prove what I could do. I got a few more minutes, then some more. One day, he threw me into the lineup and things started picking up. As a player coming from the NBA, I knew it was a business; it's my first year, I just had to accept it. There are a lot of guys who would like to be here.

"It's a little bit of an eye-opener, but I'm getting to see what I need to improve on. I was never cocky, but this is kind of a humbling experience. It's keeping me hungry. I'm not the only guy who has ever gone through this. I just go out and play hard. If I do the job, somebody has to notice. Now might not be the right time, I don't know. I don't dwell on it.

"It's comparable to college [as an experience]. There's not a whole lot of money. The perks of the NBA aren't there. It's back to basics. But Anaheim is a good city, close to LA. I could have been in Sioux Falls [S.D.], where it's freezing cold. But none of that is a problem; my focus isn't on the perks. I need to improve my passing; I saw that being around Chris Webber [with the Sixers], a big guy who can pass. As I've begun to produce more, I'm beginning to see double-teams and I'm learning to find cutters, open men.

"At first, coach wanted me around the basket, because he wasn't sure I could do those things. Now, he's gotten more comfortable with me."

Going into last night's game, Smith had raised his averages to 18.3 points and 6.6 rebounds, shooting 51.9 percent from the floor in 21 games.

"Other than an injury, I'm not going to let anything stop me from getting back to the NBA," he said. "I'll do everything in my power to do it. Let it be known that, once in, they're going to have to drag me out."

Six shots

The Sixers, 29-44 coming off Saturday night's 86-82 loss in New Jersey, remain five games out of the final playoff position with nine to go in the East. The are off until Wednesday night's visit to New York . . . Good news: Samuel Dalembert is shooting 54-for-81 (66.7 percent) in the last 10 games. Bad news: Andre Iguodala, in part because of a lower back strain, is shooting 49-for-129 (37.9) in the last nine . . . The Sixers shot 11-for-22 from the foul line against the Nets, giving them 29 misses in the last three games. *

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